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Before the days of starvation on these western prairies, there were two young men who went on a vision quest to a place where wild horses were often seen racing into a lake, known to this day as Manitou Lake, in what is now the province of Saskatchewan. These two young men were Paspasces (Woodpecker) and Misatimwas, who slept on the shore, fasting and meditating.
On the second night Paspasces was missing; his tracks led into the lake. He returned on the fourth night; he had communed with the spirits in the lake, but he never revealed this spiritual experience.
These young men became military leaders of the Plains Cree. They both had war shirts they wore in battle, for protection. Paspasces was wounded once in a battle against the Blackfoot and Sarcees. Misatimwas was wounded on Cutknife Hill, May 2, 1885. They became Medicine Men in their later years.
Like most Indian leaders in that period, they lost their independence and were forced to accept the Treaty made by the Queen's representative Governor Morris.
"Paspasces and his headman Tahkohc (On Top) signed an adhesion to Treaty Number six on August 21,1897 at Fort Edmonton. Two hundred and two members of their Band took their annuities with them." (Morris Treaties pp 360-361).
Of this number, about a quarter, including Chief Paspasces were descended from John Quinn (Kwenis) and his wife Lizette Gladu. This family had moved to Edmonton (Beaver House) in the late 1850's where they worked for the Hudson's Bay Company. They hunted in the Beaver Hills area south and east of Edmonton.
They were known as the Quinn family, or the "Tahkohc Outfit". Tahkohc a belated warrior had killed a Sarcee and a Blackfoot in the skirmish to keep them away from trading. The blackfoot attacked in retaliation but the Hudson's Bay Company purchased the safety of the Blackfoot from Tahkohc and his warriors. There was a rumour that Tahkohc was a "murderer" of four men among the white population. They were afraid of the Quinn family.
"The year following our acceptance of the Queen's promises, we were starving and many of us went south hunting for buffalo. We always believed they would return. It was our experience that their were periods when the buffalo disappeared, and then there was great hunger: There were others including the Assiniboines who wandered about as far as Cypress Hills, some went as far as "The Other River" (Missouri River). Some birds and small animals kept us alive, but the big animals were gone. Even the wolves suffered. They were being poisoned by white men from the other side of the line, "the Long Knives"
We eventually depleted our means of support. We had no ammunition and there was nothing to snare on the prairies except gophers. We drifted back to Battle ford and to Beaver House. We had been promised food when there is great hunger:
We had a meeting with one of their Head Chiefs. We talked all day to the White Chief trying to persuade him to give us all the things they had promised. Paspasces talked about how all things depend on each other: "The land was good before you came" he said to the Agent "We had alt we needed. The buffalo gave us food, clothing, ropes, tipi's and we had pemmican to store for times like these. The land, the animals and the people are all part of 'The One Above' who looks after us. You people came to destroy all things that were given to us and to you. The Queen said All my children will be treated equally No one will have more than others.' Those are good words, they are words that were lived by us. No one starved. We shared what we had. That was the law of the One Above. We will not accept payment unless all other promises are received."
We were not able to convince the Head Chief.
The next day the agent paid Treaty to other Bands and "stragglers" who were from Paspasces Band. The day after Paspasces gave in and collected his annuity along with his band. They were too poor to hold out
The surveyors came and ran a line southward. Paspasces realized that it was not going to be forty-eight square miles as promised. He stopped the surveyors and removed their instruments.
The inspector M. Wadsworth, suspended Paspasces from his Chieftainship, but when Commissioner Dewdney arrived, he reinstated him. However; Dewdney did not support Paspasces for an additional eight square miles.
It was in August of 1884 that the reserve was finally surveyed. The Band had to be satisfied with forty square miles rather than forty-eight as had been promised four years earlier; based on population at the time when Paspasces signed the Treaty
We had a very hard winter and many infants and children died of starvation. We were all angry and the leaders had a meeting. The leaders were Paspasces, Bobtail, Samson, Irmineskin, Tommy Lapatac, and
Ironhead. They decided to ask the priest to send a letter to the Chief Agent in Ottawa. We were slowly being starved by the government, we said, and that we knew the Blackfoot were receiving beef and that they were well armed.
We were given rations eventually but in July of 1883, the Bear Hills Indians came to Beaver House to see the Indian Agent. Our Chief Paspasces joined them, with some of his warriors. Four men were selected to confront the Chief Agent for food. He said he had none. Even if he had food, he would not give them any But our men said, "There is plenty of food at the Hudson's Bay Company", the Agent refused firmly so one of our men, Grasshopper; dragged the Agent by the arm to the Company store. Eventually the store manager gave us food to save the Agent, but we did not realize that we were to pay for it from our promised payments.
Then, two days later; Red Coats (Police) came and asked all of our leaders to go to Beaver House for a meeting. We assembled the next morning before the Police as if going on a scouting expedition. We were all dressed for war. We danced a Sioux dance and fired our rifles and gave war whoops. Then we sat down to talk.
Paspasces was our spokesman. He stood up and said, "We are desperate; we are hungry and are poorer than ever before. We tried our best to feed ourselves, but now there is not game. Truly we want to help ourselves. We had to come for rations, our children and women are hungry We did what we thought was the only way when we realized that the Agent was not going to listen to us." The debate continued by others reiterating what Paspasces had said, thereby showing their approvaL
The Indian Agent for his part, insisted that he did not want to feed them away from their province.
The Chief Red Coat stopped the meeting and said, "I know you are hungry I will give you rations from our storehouse." He sent us home, saying, "Next time report any complaints to the Indian Commissioner" We returned home happy to know that perhaps if we had not appeared as warriors, the Red Coats would not have given us food. Secretly many of us were ready to fight if we were forced into it.
I think back now and perhaps those who left us to join others were afraid we might go too far But we are now warriors in a different way.
The Plains Cree became more and more dissatisfied with the Government's policy of starving the Indians and what was provided for farming was inadequate. There was a great deal of unrest in the west. The frontier of civilization pushed westward toward the Rockies, destroying the buffalo and game; the Plains People, the Crees, Assiniboines, Sarcees, Blackfoot, Bloods, and Peigans were faced with two alternatives, either revolt and gain back their territory or become like whites. The Crees decided to revolt and some of the powerful chiefs and their bands were well-treated in order to keep them satisfied.
Why was Paspasces, a great military leader; absent during the Rebellion of 1885? It was rumoured at the time that Paspaces was away hunting for buffalo south of the line. When he heard what was happening he hurried back to Poundmaker's band, but by then the uprising was over.
So we sat around talking about the days gone by We were no better off than in those days of unrest The Farmer Instructor was driving around looking at the hay Most of the time he was sitting on the shady side of the house on hot summer days.
We knew later that Paspasces had received tobacco from Big Bear. All the chiefs and military leaders were sent tobacco asking for their support to fight for our territory Some extremists wanted to drive out the whites. It was many years later that we learned that Paspasces had been occupied on his reserve, even Tahkohc, the warrior; refused to accept tobacco sent to him. Apparently the Indian affairs agent had given the band oxen, to plough more land, and they were quite successful. Paspasces kept his men busy There was also a slight suspicion that perhaps Paspasces was bought privately as were Chief Crowfoot and others.
It is hard to believe that this story would end happily with Paspasces, the Woodpecker We did not know that Misiwe-otinikewin (scrip) was so complicated and that our understanding of it was different from the government's. It meant "Receiving payment for the entire country" to us; that the half-breeds were to share this, that many people were receiving a lot of money All you had to do, it was said, is to claim a relative whose ancestry was part white. Twelve members of the Paspasces band withdrew from treaty and took 'scrip' They returned to the reserve for the winter
During the winter there were many discussions about 'Misiwe-otinikewin' and the people convinced each other that this was the more fair and profitable way to settle the land we surrendered. Chief Ermineskin and Samson appealed to Inspector Wadsworth to stop the people from taking scrip and discharging themselves from treaty Chief Bobtail and most of his band had declared themselves Metis, and had taken scrip. Many families from Samson and Ermineskin's Bands besides. Even though Inspector Wadsworth had ordered Agent Lucas to stop granting discharges from treaty on July 1, 1886, it was too late.
Paspasces had two wives, he took on the name 'John Gladu Quinn". His five brothers were Batteau, alias Charles Gladu Quinn; Tahkohc, alias, William Gladu Quinn; Satooch, alias Edward Gladu Quinn; George Meechim, alias George Gladu Quinn; and Abraham Gladu Quinn. They had large families and Tahkohc had more than one wife, like his brother Paspasces.
In the summer of 1886, the entire bands from Enoch and Paspasces went to Beaver House and camped near the Payer (Scrip Commissioner) and demanded to be paid. The Agent was against it but no amount of talk
would persuade us to change our minds.
"They are trying to deceive us! They want us to continue in poverty Let us get more for our land" we thought. The Payer moved to St. Albert, we all followed and many of us signed ourselves out of treaty and received a ticket for land and some money We thought we would be more independent Many whitemen came to bring our tickets. Many reserves were disturbed. Most of Enoch's band and Paspasces "took it all" (scrip). Not many members were left in either reserve. We thought we would take over our reserve again (homestead) as part of our payment.
We were sadly mistaken. We had signed away our rights. We were told to leave the reserve, but we refused. A meeting was called by Hayter Reed, an Assistant Commissioner who had the separation agreement translated to us. We had even signed away all our buildings and cultivated fields we had worked so hard to develop. We argued that we did not understand what the written language meant, and we left our mark on paper in good faith that we were receiving the total value of land we surrendered. You cannot argue with them. We had no choice but to move out and by this time our money was used up.
Because we were so poor; we became irrational. We had demanded more than our Treaty rights and in so doing, we were the losers in the long run.
The harsh fact was that Paspasces was divided over how to interpret what was happening. His vision was blurred by change that victimized him and his people. He had faith and hope in the Newcomers as he had with his own people. But he did not realize the extent of the power that the Newcomers can inscribe on a piece of paper.
Paspasces lived the rest of his days at St. Paul HalfBreed Reserve from 1904 until his death.
The surrender of the Paspasces Reserve was to be the first surrender for sale of any Indian Reserve in the Canadian Northwest. It was not then the result of any policy for reserve land surrenders. Rather it was the reaction to a unique set of circumstances. The entire membership of the band had desired to withdraw from treaty and accept the half-breed scrip. The majority were permitted to do so, while the remnant appealed for permission to join Enoch's Band. Thus the Paspasces Reserve was abandoned and a surrender was needed to legalize it.
"A hasty meeting was called without consulting the adult male membership so a small fraction of the population voted on the surrender. At that meeting, standard surrender forms, prepared for use in Eastern Canada, were signed, without being altered to conform to the actual circumstances of the Paspasces Band and its reserve. Such irregularities stemmed from carelessness and inexperience rather than an attempt to rob the Indians. It casts great doubt on the validity of the entire procedure."
Ken J. Tyler
Thesis for graduate studies
Department of Indian Affairs
Records of the N.W.M Police
Alberta Provincial Archives Oblate Papers
Oral Tradition: Native Perspective as interpreted by the Author