(Editor’s Note: Representatives of the Kaministikominahiko-skak Swampy Cree nation recently approached the Daily Herald about doing a weekly column that will last for a couple of months. By revisiting and explaining their history, it will outline who they are as a people. The column won’t be about politics as they search for recognition by the Canadian government; instead it will focus on their history.)
By Armand and Nancy Dorion
We are the sovereign nation of Kaministikominahiko-skak Swampy Cree people. We are part of a much larger Nation of Cree peoples who live on Turtle Island or North America. For far too long our history has been spoken and written through the eyes of others.
The information shared in this article comes from our oral history passed through the generations. We consider this information as valid truths for our people. We invite you to read with an open heart and mind as we share the truths of our history in the spirit of relationship building.
The history of the Kaministikominahiko-skak Cree people is not well known. The Kaministikominahiko-skak Cree people have lived in the place now known as Cumberland House, Saskatchewan for thousands of years. We are the decedents of the original Cree people who occupy the lands of the Delta and Ratty Country. The Canadian government does not recognize us as Cree people.
Our traditional Cree name Kaministikominahiko-skak means White Spruce Island. Our name comes from the great white spruce trees that grew tall and majestic in the forests of our traditional territories. As a result of clear cutting by the government, very few of the great white spruce remain today.
We are the guardians of the largest fresh water Delta in North America. We have witnessed the gradual destruction of the Delta and its natural surroundings since the provincial government built the E.B Campbell damn on the North Saskatchewan River.
In the 1700s the government came to our traditional territories and established their main Hudson Bay Company Trading post and called it Cumberland House. This post was named after Lord Cumberland a wealthy land owner in England.
Today Cumberland House is known as the oldest settlement in Western Canada. This may be true for the government and their settlers but the Kaministikominahiko-skak people were there long before the government-run Hudson Bay Company arrived.
It was because our ancestors lived on these lands and many seasonal gatherings were held in this area the Hudson Bay Company came into existence. We had relationships with the European traders and trappers who had settled in our territories and had made peaceful agreements with us. Without the trade and support provided by our peoples the trading posts would have failed.
And as it so often happened, the traditional territories of the Kaministikominahiko-skak Cree peoples were re-named by the government. We became known in government records, at the time of treaty, as the “Cumberland Indians” lumped into a group with neighbouring Cree nations who also traded with the Hudson Bay Company.
Long before the time of trading posts and treaties the traditional territories of the Kaministikominahiko-skak Cree people covered a vast geographical area. Prior to the boundaries arbitrarily designated by the government of the day as Treaty 5, the Kaministikominahiko-skak Cree people occupied the lands known as the Saskatchewan Delta and the Ratty Country.
It was a good time in our history. It was long ago and far away, so much better than it is today ... it was a time when our people roamed their territories free to work and play in their own ways. It was a culture rich in sustenance and fairness where our children grew healthy and strong, where they knew the difference between right and wrong, and how to live among all of the natural world.
We lived a simple but hard-working life. We prospered in all that was provided for us in the richness of the Delta and her water ways. We hunted, fished, trapped and gathered our medicines and followed the flow of nature. We gathered according to the seasons.
We had our ceremonies to celebrate and give thanks for the bounties of the lands and all that was provided for our peoples. We gave thanks to the Creator for the plants, the animals, the pristine waters and for the blessings we received so we could be healthy and balanced.
We had all that we needed to govern ourselves. Our clan and council systems of dealing with justice, health, and social order were well established. We had our ways of giving the lessons to those who needed to be taught the ways of our traditions. We prospered in a land of plenty. We lived this way for thousands and thousands of years in balance with all that existed.
We understood what was needed to maintain a relationship with others and with all that was around us in nature. We understood that we needed to take care and respect our lands and resources -- we used only what we needed. We knew about sustainability and why this was important.
We understood we were the guardians of the traditional lands and that we were to respect all that lived upon the lands. Through our spirituality and our traditional teachings we understood we did not own the lands and resources. We did not have the right to claim or sell the lands.
The ideas of ownership, money and material wealth were not part of our traditional beliefs. It was not important to have this ownership status for our people. What was important was to live in a way that did not upset the balance and ordering of creation.
At the time of treaty making, our traditional camps were well established across a vast land base that reached far beyond the Delta. We were organized and we were strong. We had traditional gathering places and camps established in the great Delta and on the Saskatchewan River waterways. Our trading camps, hunting grounds and fishing areas were well mapped and established. We had many, many of thousands of people and hundreds of family camps. We had treaty agreements with many nations.
In the rich vastness of our traditional territories we lived and prospered as a nation. We had our ways of making treaty and nation building with our neighbours. We had an extensive system of trade and economic development. Our peoples travelled along the water ways and these were our highways. We followed our cultural ways and protocols for our sacred gatherings, our trading routes, and for entering territories of other nations.
We had well established systems of communication and ways of building relationships with other nations. We knew what it meant to be respectful and honest in our meetings and negotiations.
The truth for our people has been covered up and hidden behind the stories written through the eyes of others. The truth is ... we had a social order that was truly “for the people by the people.”
Our societies were lead by the women. We lived in family clan camps not communities. Our clans had intricate systems of decision making and our leaders were chosen through ceremony and by the people. Our clan and family systems were matriarchal. When a man and a woman joined together in union, the man became part of the woman’s family clan.
Our people, men and women, were great warriors. As the original peoples of the lands we did not own the lands. We were to share with all who lived upon or traveled through the lands in the spirit of unity and equality.
So this is the way we lived for thousands of years -- under the order of the teachings of balance and harmony with other Indigenous nations and all living things. Then there came a time when we knew this was going to change. The original peoples of Turtle Island were forewarned that there would be other nations coming from across the great waters to the east and they would bring many changes to Turtle Island. Our people had to be ready to receive them for once they set foot on the edge of the lands to the east ... it will be a very different world.
In the next article we shall share with you how our world was changed with the “settling of the west” and what this really meant for our people.
Armand and Nancy Dorion are members of the Kaministikominahiko-skak Cree Nation. You can contact them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org