(Papachase Chief and Council at Edmonton city hall. Photo courtesty: Theresa Wynn)
APTN National News
The chief of the Papaschase Band based in Edmonton, Alta., said he is happy with the progress the band has been making to be officially recognized.
In April, the Papaschase Chief and council were officially sworn in in a public ceremony attended by officials from all three levels of government.
Chief Calvin Bruneau told APTN National News in an interview last July that Edmonton sits on stolen “Indian land,” and what happened to the band in the past had been lost in the city’s consciousness, even though its descendants are alive and well today.
“The government wants it forgotten, but it’s always been kept alive in families,” said Bruneau in that interview. “We are asserting our own sovereignty and saying we never surrendered the lands.”
His said his ancestors lived in what is now the Rossdale Flats and River Valley area in Edmonton and were designated a reserve of approximately 60 square miles upon signing Treaty 6.
The reserve stretched across the North Saskatchewan River and into what is now Edmonton’s south side. As the area began to grow settlers became uncomfortable with living so close to an Indian band and sent petitions to Ottawa to have them removed.
But the swearing in ceremony held on April 23 marked the first time the band held an inauguration.
“It felt very special,” said Bruneau, who has been working toward gaining recognition by the federal government since 2011.
“We’re making progress for one. We’re getting recognition. That’s what drives me. There’s still unfinished business. We still want to file a claim with the feds and we might be able to reopen the former court case. The big thing is, is getting the recognition. Because under Canada’s policy you need to be a recognized band. That’s why I’m pushing hard now to get our band recognized. This has been going on for a long time, we’d like to see something to get done. I want to see this happen and to succeed,” he said.
Edmonton Strathcona NDP MP Linda Duncan attended the ceremony and said she admires Bruneau’s determination and now it’s up to the Liberal government to give them “the time of day.”
“They (Liberals) profess that it’s their number one priority (new relationship with Indigenous in Canada.) As you’re aware they have a huge backlog on comprehensive claims…add the Papaschase to that list. Let’s hope they give expedited attention, these aren’t new issues,” said Duncan.
She went on to refer to the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling that stated Métis and Non-Status “Indians” as referred to in the Constitution are indeed “Indians”.
“The Court ruling is confirmed that the Federal government is responsible for Métis people and for urban non-status Indian people. I think we’re (Edmonton) now the highest Aboriginal population in Canada and a very young population- so we need to be addressing those needs.”
In a written statement, City of Edmonton Ward 6 Councillor Scott Mckeen who attended the ceremony said that although it has no direct responsibilities for the Indian Act or Status and Title it supports the Papaschase in their efforts to find a “sense of belonging.”
Edmonton supported efforts of the Papaschase in the creation of the Papaschase Cree Nation Society, the traditional burial grounds and the Fort Edmonton Cemetery in Rossdale Flats where upwards of 200 ancestors are buried.
The city also announced a historical research study into the Treaty No. 6 Adhesion which includes Papaschase.
“The research project’s objective is to provide information regarding the impact that adhering to Treaty No. 6 at Fort Edmonton had on the band, and Chief Papachase’s contribution to the process. This project also has the potential to explore members understanding of this history which will help tell the story of the Papaschase and the Treaty adhesion into the future,” said McKeen.
Bruneau said the people coming forward with requests to register with the band have ballooned in the past year with some coming from the west in B.C. and some as far away East as Toronto and New York.
He estimates the total Papaschase population could be as high as 20,000. Currently the band has approximately 1,000 registered members, he said.
First term councillor Murray Mackinnon said he was disconnected from his Indigenous culture and embarked on a journey to reconnect when he discovered he was a Papaschase descendant about a year ago.
“I was very displaced. It (my culture) was not on my radar scope at all. I was mocked as a kid. For being dark…” said Mackinnon, who ended up meeting Bruneau’s mother at a prayer meeting and became intrigued with the plight of the Papaschase that she shared with him.
“It’s been really interesting. And finding out whether my heart was engaged or not with the First Nations people… But it really ignited a passion in me.”
MacKinnon was sworn in along with five other counsellors. He said it was Bruneau and his strong vision that ultimately drew him in to help the Papaschase people to work to gain back their territory.
“Calvin is so unique. It’s amazing when you hear the story of what the Papaschase are doing- It’s ‘you guys are not looking for a handout, you’re looking for a handup,’” said MacKinnon.
Bruneau said feedback has been positive.
“I’m hearing from our people they like what we’re doing but we have to start getting things done.”
Alberta Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan expressed support on behalf of the province,
“I recently met with representatives from the Papaschase community to learn more about their history. I am always open to listening and learning from them about their journey towards formal recognition. I look forward to following with interest the Papaschase people’s ongoing and future conversations with the federal government,” he said in a statement.
Bruneau said he wrote a letter to federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett in March asking for help in getting Papaschase recognized, but hasn’t heard any response.
APTN tried reaching out to Bennett’s office for comment but didn’t receive a response at press time.
Initially it was harder to be a Chief amongst other Treaty leaders said Bruneau,
“I still have to knock on doors and I still have to meet with Chiefs. I tried to get resolution at a Treaties 1-11 meeting. They (Chiefs) weren’t willing to look at it (it was to recognize unrecognized bands).”
But despite the setbacks those relationships are now improving.
“We took the course to going where we’ve been going and that support has been growing,” he ended.