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History Of Little Red River Reserve

Angus Merasty

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE 1972      v03 n06 p10  
Angus Mirasty
As told by Angus Merasty

Little Red River Reserve about 40 miles north of Prince Albert is unique in Saskatchewan in that it is not a separate band but belongs to two reserves, Montreal Lake and La Ronge.

Little Red River has no Chief but four councilors are elected, two for each of the bands.

The history goes back to the late part of the last century.

On February 16, 1889, people from La Ronge and Montreal Lake gathered at the mouth of the Montreal River at the north end of Montreal Lake. The reason for this meeting was for the signing of Treaty Number 6.

James Roberts was chief for La Ronge and William Charles was chief for Montreal Lake.

Councilors for La Ronge were Amos Charles, Joseph Charles, Elias Roberts and John Cook. Montreal Lake Councilors were Benjamin Bird, Isaac Bird, Patrick Bird, and Moses Bird.

No land was allotted at the time of the signing as the people were trappers and fishermen and ranged over the entire area south of Foster Lake and north of Waskesiu.

In 1873, things began to change. Archdeacon Mackay who was principle of the old residential school located near the present sight of the Saskatchewan Penitentiary visited with Chief James Roberts.

Archdeacon Mackay was a Metis who spoke fluent Cree. It is said that he traveled on foot with only a pack on his back and lived off the land.

The Archdeacon spoke with the Chief in La Ronge. "Someday," he said, "all this land will be taken, the fish and moose will disappear and you will be destitute.

Farms will never disappear but will grow in value."

The Chief thought about this for a long time. One day he told his wife to make three pairs of moccasins for his long journey. His wife got the help of some other ladies and next morning she gave him his moccasins. The Chief then traveled by dog team down the Montreal River across Montreal Lake where he met Chief William Charles. Together the two of them went to Prince Albert.

Archdeacon Mackay interpreted and the two chiefs gave their case to the government officials. Philip Halket, 10 year old resident of Little Red River Reserve recalls that the two chiefs never gave up, they continued, through the Archdeacon to write letters and pressure government for land.

Finally in 1896, land was set aside south of Prince Albert National Park for those members of Montreal Lake and La Ronge who wished to farm. This was a 99 year lease but the Chiefs were unaware of this.

It was difficult at first. The people from the north knew nothing about farming and those that moved down continued to trap and hunt. Only a few attempted marginal farming operations.

In 1946, Mrs. Jones, an Indian Agent presented a petition to the people that the land was only on a 99 year lease and since the people had not become farmers they would have to give up the land and move back north.

Councilor William Bear wrote three letters to Indian Affairs in Ottawa. These letters were unanswered and returned to Indian Agent Jones.

Angus Merasty, a member of the land and now a Senate member in the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians then wrote to Premier T. C. Douglas. At that time, there were 15 Indian Veterans on Little Red River who had seen active duty overseas.

"Why do we not get land after we fought for this country? It is a shame that we return home to live a hand to mouth existence," Mr. Merasty stated in his letter.

The Premier forwarded the letter on to CCF Leader Couldwell who in turn handed it over to C. D. Howe who was in charge of Indian Affairs.

The letter returned through T. C. Douglas stating the matter would be brought before cabinet when they met.

In March 31, 1948, the reserve was confirmed in perpetuity by the Governor General of Canada.

Since that time the people of Little Red River have gone on to clear land and build up their farms. The farmers now are second generation and are much more knowledgable than their fathers who originally settled the land.

Fifty sections are also leased out which brings in an average annual income of $75,000 on to the La Ronge Band.

It was through the wisdom and courage of the old people like Chief James Roberts and the foresight of Archdeacon Mackay that the dream of a reserve for farming became a reality.