Aboriginal History Documents (papaschase)

Indigenous peoples lived in this territory for centuries before the arrival of Europeans and eastern Canadians in the late 18th century.

Most of the First Nations in the Fort Edmonton district entered Treaty 6 on August 21, 1877, with local chiefs and headmen signing the adhesion to the treaty in a ceremony near the riverbank. Their descendants continue to live in the City of Edmonton; on the surrounding reserves of Enoch, Alexander, Alexis and Paul First Nations; in the four reserves at Hobbema – Samson, Ermineskin, Montana and Louis Bull – and in other communities across Canada.

This collection of documents contains rich genealogical information about the Cree, Nakoda Sioux, Cree-Iroquois and Métis people in the Edmonton area.

Treaty 6

Negotiators for the government of Canada committed the new nation to certain obligations to the indigenous peoples of this district in Treaty 6.

Among other promises, the Crown pledged in signed documents:

  • one square mile of land for each family of five, or about 128 acres per capita, in a permanent reserve;
  • hunting and fishing rights; farming implements and seeds; rations during times of famine;
  • a school, should they request it;
  • a medicine chest;
  • annual payments of $25 to the chief and five dollars to each member of the band; a new suit of clothes for the chief every three years; and a treaty medal.

In return, Treaty 6 required the chiefs of the North-West Territories, including present-day central Alberta, to "cede, surrender, release and yield up to the Government of the Dominion of Canada for Her Majesty the Queen and her successors, forever, all their rights, titles and privileges whatsoever" to 313,400 square kilometres of their traditional territory.

The First Nations maintained an oral history of the Treaty 6 negotiations in the years that followed. Their understanding of the promises made during negotiations varies from the federal government's written account in certain respects.

Two First Nations in the Edmonton area – the Papaschase band and the Michel band – no longer own the reserves they negotiated under Treaty 6.

The Papaschase Story

Chief Papastayo negotiated a reserve for his Cree band on the southern side of the North Saskatchewan River in what is now south Edmonton. English variations on the spelling of his name include Pahpastayo, Passpasschase and Papastew. The chief was also known in the Fort Edmonton area by an English name, John Gladu Quinn. His band became known as the Papaschase.

In 1880, a federal surveyor calculated that the 241 members of the Papschase band were entitled to 124 square kilometres on the south side of the river.

White settlers in the district began to petition the government to remove the band. On January 13, 1881, a crowd of settlers held a meeting at the Edmonton Hotel to demand that the Papaschase band be removed 20 miles south of the river. They sent two petitions to Canada's first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, advising against any Cree reserves close to "a great central point" like Edmonton. Settlers began to build cabins and cut timber on the Papaschase claim. Political leaders in the Edmonton area – including Frank Oliver, who subsequently became Canada's Minister of the Interior – pushed hard for the removal of aboriginal people from the settled areas, and the surrender of local reserve land for settlement.

The buffalo were disappearing, and the economy of the local indigenous people collapsed in the 1880s. In January 1883, the chiefs of the Fort Edmonton district appealed to the prime minister to honour the promises in Treaty 6. The federal survey of the Papaschase reserve was not completed until 1884. By then, federal authorities had reduced the land to 40 square miles.

The Papaschase band lost its entire reserve in south Edmonton under highly questionable circumstances when three men signed a surrender document on November 19, 1888, at a meeting called with four days' notice by government agent. The federal government subdivided the reserve, and sold most of the land at auctions in 1891 and 1893; a few land speculators bought most of it, and resold it to settlers.

The last remaining residents of the Papaschase reserve left the area on August 12, 1887 on the instructions of Assistant Indian Commissioner Hayter Reed. Band members moved to surrounding reserves, and beyond. Some settled on the Enoch reserve. Chief Papastayo died at Elinor Lake in northern Alberta in 1918.

The Papaschase descendants have sued the federal government to settle their land claim. The Alberta Court of Appeal ruled against the claim in December, 2006; the judgment is included in this collection. Descendants are pursuing the case in the courts.

For more information on this claim, go to: http://www.mauricelaw.com/home/papaschase.htm

The Métis, and Scrip in the Edmonton area

The Métis define themselves as aboriginal people of mixed ancestry who trace their lineage to First Nations and Euro-Canadian families, and who identify and are recognized as Métis.

The Canadian Constitution of 1982 recognizes the Métis as one of Canada's founding aboriginal peoples.

In the early history of Edmonton, Métis families lived and worked in the Fort Edmonton district, in nearby St. Albert and Lac Ste. Anne and across the territory. Almost all families in the district were Métis or First Nations before 1880.

In the 1870s and 1880s, the Métis of the western territories struggled to contend with the collapse of their traditional economy as the buffalo disappeared. They were deeply frustrated when new settlers did not acknowledge their land tenure. These tensions overflowed in the North-West Rebellion of 1885.

There was no fighting in Edmonton or surrounding communities, but the rebellion had enduring consequences for the indigenous people of this area.

After the capture of Louis Riel, and the defeat of the Métis in what is now Saskatchewan, the Canadian government sent a commission to Edmonton on June 3, 1885 with authority "to satisfy any claims existing in connection with the extinguishment of Indian title."

The commission offered scrip – a government certificate that could be redeemed in Crown land, or in money to purchase private land – to people of mixed ancestry, including band members with treaty status under Treaty 6.

Many First Nations and Métis people in the Edmonton district qualified for scrip because of fur trade intermarriages in the early years. Times were hard, and Treaty 6 promises had not been kept. The government commission took 1,000 scrip applications in Edmonton in the first summer; the commissioners and speculators returned to Edmonton and St. Albert to negotiate script at the fairgrounds in July 1886. Chief Papastayo and Chief Michel Callihoo were among those under treaty who applied for scrip.

Canada processed scrip applications for more than 24,000 Métis in the West and North between 1870 and 1935 in transactions with a land value of 5.4 million acres. Historian Frank Tough of the University of Alberta has investigated the scrip process across western Canada; he estimates that less than one per cent of these applications resulted in Métis property ownership. This pattern surfaced in the Edmonton area.

Almost all of the scrip coupons ended up in the hands of land speculators, who travelled from place to place with the government commissioners, and bought the scrip coupons on the spot from aboriginal people at a devalued rate. Subsequent court cases and historical research revealed how some speculators acquired the scrip coupons through fraudulent methods.

Scrip documents in this collection provide important information about the lineage of local aboriginal families.

The Michel Band

Louis Callihoo, also known as Louis Kwarakwante, was an Iroquois voyageur and fur trader who came to the western territory from Ganawake in 1800. His large family intermarried with local Cree and Métis families, and worked for the fur trade in many northern and western locations.

Louis' son, Michel Callihoo, brought his band into Treaty 6 when he signed an adhesion at Fort Edmonton on September 18, 1878. He claimed a reserve west of St. Albert, and it became a successful farming community in the late 1800s.

All First Nations in the Edmonton area were under constant pressure to surrender reserve land to new settlers in the late 1800s. The Michel band agreed to a series of land surrenders in 1903, 1905, 1910 and 1918, often to raise money for horses and farm equipment. The early sales were marked by corruption in Ottawa. The federal government sold most land to insiders at far below market value. One person who acquired Michel land in 1914 was the former Interior Minister Frank Oliver – who eventually acquired 26 quarter-sections of Cree land around Edmonton for $34,771 – half the appraised value at the time of the transaction.

In 1928, 10 Michel band families applied to be enfranchised as Canadian citizens, and leave treaty status. The entire band was enfranchised on March 31, 1958, and the reserve divided among families.

About 500 descendants of the original Michel band regained treaty status after Bill C-31. They formed an association with an elected chief and council. Chief Gilbert Anderson of Edmonton, a great grandson of Chief Michel Callihoo, petitioned the federal government to "resume recognition and services to the Michel Band on the same basis as services and recognition are provided to other bands/Indian Nations in Canada." In 2001, the descendants sued the federal government, alleging illegalities in the loss of its reserve and early land surrenders.

For more information, see: The Sun Traveller: The Story of the Callihoos in Alberta, by Elizabeth Macpherson. [St. Albert: Musée Heritage, 1998]

Other First Nations land claims in the Edmonton area


Mahminahwatah, known in English as Tommy Lapotac, brought the Enoch band members into Treaty 6 in 1877. The Enoch Cree Nation was named for its second chief, Enoch Lapotac, who led the community after 1884.

Settlers in Stony Plain and Edmonton businessmen asked the federal government for the full surrender of the Enoch reserve in 1898 and 1899. Enoch band members refused, but with no access to funds, they surrendered 37 square kilometres of their reserve in 1902 in exchange for fencing and farm equipment they could have claimed under treaty. Edmonton businessmen John A. McDougall and Richard Secord bought 70 per cent of this Enoch land.

In 2004, the Enoch Cree First Nation, just west of Edmonton, reached a $54 million out-of-court settlement with the Government of Canada over a land claim that covers a large area of west Edmonton. The settlement related to the surrender of 16 square kilometres in 1908. Although the land was sold to the Government of Canada, Ottawa still had an obligation to protect the First Nations' interest in the subsurface and mineral rights of the land. Rather than going to court, Canada settled the claim, and the band ratified the agreement shortly after.

For more information, contact the Enoch Cree Nation: http://www.enochecdev.ca/index.html

PO Box 29,
T7X 3Y3 780-470-4505

Alexander First Nation:

The Alexander Cree Nation west of Morinville is named for its early chief, Kipohtakaw.

Chief Alexander defended treaty rights vigorously in messages to the federal government between 1888 and 1900. He was deposed in 1903 by federal government order; he was reinstated after the Alexander band surrendered 39 square kilometres at Riviere Qui Barre in 1905.

Edmonton MP Frank Oliver became Canada's Minister of the Interior that year. To encourage more land surrenders across the prairies, he introduced legislation to offer bands direct access to 50 per cent of land sales, and to make the tendering process more flexible for speculators.

In July 2002, the Alexander First Nation signed the settlement of a historic land claim dating back to 1905. The settlement provided the Alexander First Nation with $63 million in compensation for damages and losses suffered for the illegal surrender of 3,851 hectares [9, 518 acres] of reserve land. This settlement amount was substantial because the former reserve lands are productive agricultural lands and were part of a gas unit producing natural gas from 1955 to 1997.

For more information, contact Alexander First Nation:

PO Box 3419,
Morinville, AB
T8R 1S3 780-939-5887

For more information on First Nations and Métis history in the Edmonton area: