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Peter Erasmus, interpreter for Treaty Six, was extraordinary for his
involvement in some of the major events in what is now Alberta. He was
born in Red River in 1833 of a Danish father, who he was named for, and
a Hudson’s Bay Company Métis. We know from his own writing that he was
the nephew of Reverend Henry Budd,1
the first ordained Native minister in the Anglican church. He was chosen
as one of the few children in the next generation who would be offered a
college education in return for dedicating their lives to the ministry.
Feeling he did not have the necessary dedication, he was on the point
of leaving school when he was asked to go and assist Reverend Woolsey, a
Methodist minister, working out of Edmonton. He acted as guide and
interpreter for Woolsey more or less continuously until 1862 when he was
replaced by Mr. Monkman. While he was employed by Rev. Woolsey, the
Palliser expedition borrowed him to assist Dr. James Hector. This he did
ably for two years. After refusing an offer to accompany them to England
as an example of native people, Erasmus spent some time with other Metis
acquaintances in the goldfields of B.C.
When he finally married and settled down, it was in the community of
Whitefish Lake, east of Victoria Settlement. The community had been
begun by Reverend Steinhauer. He was living there during the Resistance
in 1870 in Red River, but due to its relative isolation, the community
was much more troubled by the terrible smallpox epidemic that year than
they were by political troubles.
It was as a trusted member of that community that he was asked, by
Mistawasis (Big Child) and Ah-tuk-a-kup (Star Blanket), to translate for
them for the upcoming treaty. They knew that the time would soon come
when they would meet with the Commissioners, and wished to have someone
they trusted be at their side. They made the request a year ahead of
time, and when the Commissioners were on their way to Fort Carlton, they
sent their sons to bring Erasmus.
When they arrived at Carlton, he was happy to meet old friends among
the huge crowd, not only Big Child and Star Blanket, but many people he
had come to know from his travels, including his little sister. There
were over 250 teepees in the First Nations camp, as well as a crowd of
traders hoping to gain something by being there.