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The Métis in Western Canada: O-Tee-Paym-Soo-Wuk

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The BeginningsThe People and Their CommunitiesCulture and Lifeways
Whitefish Lake

Reverend H. B. Steinhauer The Whitefish Lake community was begun by Reverend Henry Bird Steinhauer in 1855, to serve the Cree. Steinhauer, or Shauwanegezhick (his Ojibwa name), was an Ojibwa from Ontario who had been trained at the Methodist Credit Mission and worked under Reverend James Evans prior to his ordination. He came west with Reverend Woosey and began working with the First Nations around Lac La Biche and the Fishing Lakes area.

The Fishing Lakes area was approximately 95 kilometres east of Victoria Mission, in what we now know as the Lakeland. While the soil was not the best for farming, being sandy and with many rocks, the First Nations found the area still plentiful in the fruits of the land. The small lakes all had healthy populations of fish, and wild game could still be taken from the bush.

In a report titled "Beginning at Whitefish Lake" Reverend Steinhauer wrote in 1857 about life as an isolated missionary. He had not only to preach and visit his parishioners, but to build the mission buildings, hunt for food, collect firewood, trade for those items he needed. Above all that, he had to begin the task of breaking the ground for farming, and teaching his parishioners to farm. He worked with the First Nations people by accompanying them on their travels, much as Reverend Rundle had, conducting a morning worship service, providing school lessons for the children, and an evening service. Over time he did gain some assistance. Benjamin Sinclair assisted at the mission, as he had assisted Reverend Rundle, but he also had charge of the Pigeon Lake Mission that had been started for the Plains Cree. Peter Erasmus was too of some assistance, though he had to keep busy working to support his family.

In 8 January 1867, the community composed a "Petition from the Indians at the Whitefish Lake Wesleyan Mission." In this document, community members requested more assistance for the building up of the mission, and particularly for a school teacher to instruct their children.

Peter Erasmus, a Métis from northern Manitoba who had attended college, settled in the area after working at Fort Edmonton as interpreter for Reverend Woolsey and with the Palliser Expedition as special assistant to Hector. He worked for three years with Reverend McDougall before moving to his wife’s community of Whitefish Lake in 1864. He had met her while assisting Reverend Steinhauer.

The community that had grown up around the mission numbered around 250 by that time. When Reverend Steinhauer had first arrived, there were only three teepees, two for his family, and that of Benjamin Sinclair and family. Chief Pakan or Seenum, was one of the first converts. The area became a reserve for Chief (Pakan) Seenum’s band after the signing of Treaty 6 in 1876. Before treaty, many of the Métis people in the area joined in community activities such as buffalo hunts.

During treaty negotiations, Chief Pakan requested a larger reserve, to allow land for the people who had not been assigned a reserve. One wonders if he was thinking of the Métis people, or of the many small bands that still lived a mobile life in the unsettled land north of Lac La Biche.

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Fort Chipewyan and Fort Vermilion

Fort Edmonton and Fort Augustus

Fort George and Buckingham House

Victoria Settlement

Dunvegan

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St. Albert

Jasper House

Lesser Slave Lake

Buffalo Lake and Tail Creek

Red Deer Forks

South Branch Communities

St. Paul de Métis

Lac La Biche

Lac Ste. Anne

Whitefish Lake

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