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Wood Mountain Reserve: 'Big Name', Small Band

Deanna Wuttunee


Trying to close off house before snowfall

The Chief and his cre were busy trying to close off this house before the winter snows fall

Chief William Goodtrack is the leader of Wood Mountain Reserve which is 120 miles southwest of Regina and 20 miles from the American border. Total population is 80 but it fluctuates between 15-35 people. They live on a land base of three square miles.

There are 12 houses on the reserve but half are vacant. Band members, mostly adult and male, leave to work in Alberta, Regina and the States. Those that stay raise cattle, farm (2000 acres) and work at seasonal jobs such as housing, road maintenance and other projects. The people who leave to get a higher education almost never return. Even if jobs were available, the wages are too low to keep them there.

"As far as young people getting involved in (our) politics, I try to influence them that way, more so because they are getting a better education than I've got, you need that, to direct them that way. But, they don't seem too interested yet." said Chief Goodtrack.

Presently, four children attend the joint school in the town of Wood Mountain. There, they learn French to benefit them in the future. They do not speak or understand their language. No elders reside on the reserve. They've moved away to be with their families or to be closer to health services like hospitals.

Skinning an antelope Chief William Goodtrack
Joe Ferguson and Lita Skinning an antelope.

Chief William Goodtrack of the Wood Mountain Band

The band is processing a land claim but more research has to be done. The reserve was part of a township until 1909 when it was allotted for land use but was cut in half in 1912.

Because of the handicap of living on such a small reserve band meetings are only held when necessary. For those that live on the reserve, they try to keep all contracts on the reserve.

Travelling takes a big bulk of the Chief's time. So he stays away from committees and boards as it absorbs too much of his time. He sets priorities that are of interest to the band. At the time of the interview, he was racing against the first snow to put a roof over a new house so that he can work inside.

Bill C-31 is one of his priorities as it can triple his population. There are people living adjacent to the reserve who are related to band members but not registered as Treaty Indians. Some have expressed interest but so far have not been any formal applications to the bill.

Goodtrack has mixed feelings about the breakaway of the Prairie Treaty Nations Alliance from the Assembly of First Nations because unity is important to Indian people. He said: "We should be fair to Georges Erasmus (newly elected chief of AFN) but at the same time upholding our Treaties."

On self-government he says: "Its beneficial, especially to bands that can handle their own business. But some people don't understand. There has to be a heck of alot more workshops on self-government on reserves. No use trying to figure out something after you jump into it but figure it out before you do. And someone's got to take the lead and promote it, you have to keep prodding it or it will die. Someone's got to keep it rolling. We can achieve something after a while. We have to uphold the Treaties all the time, let them (government) know that they have obligations that they have to live up to. Sometimes they want to forget them (Treaties)."

Goodtrack is living on the reserve with his wife but all his four children are seeking a higher education off the reserve. One son is in law school, two in business administration programs at Regina and another is in high school.

The Wood Mountain Reserve is part of the Qu' Appelle District.