Cree Country

 As told by Norman Johnstone


The first whiteman that wintered in Saskatchewan was Peter Pond. He followed

Cree Camp

Saskatchewan Archives S-B-10803

 the Saskatchewan River right to Jasper House in the Rockies. It was Cree territory all the way. So he had the Hudson’s Bay make a deal with the Cree to put their forts on Cree land. Our north eastern corner was Cumberland House. Initially they were called houses, for example Prince Albert was called Hudson House. Later the ones in between were called Forts. The first fort was Fort-a-la-Corne in the James Smith Reserve. Then there was a fort at Prince Albert, Carlton, Battleford, Fort Saskatchewan, Vermillion, Fort Pitt and Edmonton, and on an on until you reach Jasper House.


They had a Hudson Bay man in each forth. These forts were all situated along the Saskatchewan River. They would get in the boat in Jasper House and they would just sail down the river to the great lakes and get on their ships and sail away. But the river was owned and run by the Cree, so when they put their forts up the Hudson Bay Company didn’t have to defend it. The Cree had been doing that for many years; they had defended their territory against the Blackfeet. Old Mistawasis was the head of the prairie tribes. Starblanket was the head chief of all the trapping Northern Indians. They called them Sak-kaw-wen-o-wak or Bush People.

There were 121 thousand square miles of Cree land under negotiation, 640 acres for every 5 people. This was the yard stick they used to create the reserve. We had about five or six hundred people, then now we have about 1300.


“You reserve a piece of land and we’ll build schools,” they said Mistawasis heard this second hand from his son-in-law and his grandson, they were Dreavers who ran the Hudson bay Store in P.A. They were instrumental in a lot of what he could expect to develop in a settled country, civilized as they called it. We were supposed to be lost so the whiteman came and found us. The whiteman told the Indians they would not be able to practice their medicine because they would need a license. The medicine chest covers all types of medicine. It’s in the Indian Act.


Mistawasis went to Sandy Lake and they planted potatoes to see if they were going to be able to eat them. They prepared the ground and old Mistawasis got the seed from his son-in-law, Dreaver. The first potatoes were planted in Sandy Lake.


Before the Treaties an old man called Hines would come here and teach. He had a house on Sandy Lake Reserve. After the treaty was signed they couldn’t take his quarter section because he had squatter’s rights. He a school past the old grave yard in Sandy Lake, that was their village there.


When the Treaty was signed the Indian people let everything go completely and accepted he new; that was 114 years ago. Now some people want to go back to the old way. How do they know how it was, they weren’t ever born yet? Back then they had to accept the whiteman’s way at that time or die. Now they could live that way but without welfare they would die.


The creation o the Indian Act required consent of the Minister or the Government-in-Council for anything and everything that was done on Indian reserves. They were in charge of all these things farming, health, welfare, conservation of the treaties, everything in that book. The Whitman cannot break the Indian Act but we can if we don’t hold the government to the treaty promises that the Indian Act is supposed to help fulfill. The Indian Act is supposed to help fulfill. The Indian Act guarantees and education. You can be gone from your reserve for 60 years or more if you want. There is still a place you can call home, if you want to go there.


Anyone else, white or Chinese, as soon as they don’t pay their taxes they’re out on the street. They have no place to go! We are about one of the only people in the world who can call a piece of land their own. The treaty is proof enough that we owned the 121 thousand square miles of the best part of Canada. We sold it and they’re never going to be through paying for it. The ones complaining about Indians getting too much are living on the land the Government bought from us and hasn’t finished paying for yet.


They are the ones paying the taxes in order to stay on the Land. The Government had to give those promises to us because they had no money at the time the land was sold and the treaties were signed. They had to bring settlers into settle it for them.


The Government was appointed Trustee of the Estate and they owe us millions of dollars that they’ll never finish paying for, as long as the grass is green, the river flows, and the sun shines. This is their, law not ours and it is in writing. The Act is there for us to use and when we die it’s still intact. But as soon as we put ownership in it that’s the end of the ball game. This way it goes on and on forever.


Norman Johnstone is a former chief of the Mistawasis band from 1985 to 1987.