By Jan Olson
Northern Pileated Woodpecker (D. p. abieticola)
In the Cree language “papaschase” translates to pileated woodpecker. Interestingly, there still are several of these birds in the Mill Creek Ravine. Seldom will you see them outside on the streets and avenues, but you can often hear them. They are fairly large birds ranging from 40-49 cm in length and weighing between 250 to 400 g. They are mainly black with a red crest, and have a white line down the sides of the throat. They show white on the wings when they fly. The flight of these birds is strong and direct but has an undulating quality. Adult males have a red line from the bill to the throat; in adult females the line is black. In the neighbourhood you will also notice the more common small downy woodpecker on the street elms.
The woodpeckers live in the area all year round. They are hard to spot during the summer months and really come alive in fall and winter. The birds are well known for drumming and you can hear the sound for over a mile. It is defined as a rapid peck on wood, metal, or any resonate surface. The purpose is twofold. One is to announce territory so that others, primarily males stay away. The other reason for drumming is to attract a mate. Females hear the sound and check the male and his territory out. If she likes all that she sees, they will become a mated pair.
The birds like to forage mostly in aspen poplars and in dead trees or snags as opposed to live trees. The Mill Creek has an abundance of poplars for the woodpeckers to build nests and forage for bugs. In fact, they prefer trees with large diameters, which can be found in a variety of locations throughout the ravine. Many environmental managers feel it is best to leave dead trees standing as long as the tree does not pose a threat to humans. In our ravine you will notice that the woods are not “tidy”… that dead trees and brush are left. This is important habitat for many animals.
These birds are beneficial to the ecosystem of Mill Creek because of the large numbers of insects and pests they eat. The pileated woodpecker primarily feeds on ants, spiders, and caterpillars, although it will also eat wood-boring insects and berries/seeds.
Chief Papaschase (also known as Passpasschase, Papastew, Pahpastayo, and John Gladieu-Quinn) and his family hunted the lands near Fort Edmonton, Fort Assiniboa and Lesser Slave Lake. They traded furs and other useful items with the Hudson Bay Company. On occasion the HBC employed family members. Eventually, Chief Papaschase, along with his six brothers and their families, moved permanently to the Edmonton area in the late 1850s. Chief Papaschase secured land on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River from near the Mill Creek ravine and what is now 76th Ave in Old Strathcona south down to the Two-Hills area (Mount Pleasant Cemetery and Huntington Hill… more lovingly and accurately called Gopher Hill when I was a child). By the mid-1870’s the bison were over-hunted and over-poached, ruining the economy and culture of the Cree and other First Nations. Starving Cree moved from all over what is now Alberta to Fort Edmonton to seek help from the Dominion Government.
The government stated that they would create a reserve for the Cree living in the area if they formed a band – so, they called themselves the Papaschase. On August 21, 1877, Chief Papaschase and his brother Tahkoots, signed an adhesion to Treaty 6 on behalf of the Papaschase Band at Fort Edmonton. In this treaty the Band were subjected to a land surveyed reserve. Papaschase had originally wanted Cloverdale and our neighbourhood to be the reserve, but then suddenly he changed his mind to move to Two-Hills. It likely was not his idea to switch locations.
In 1880, the Dominion land surveyor George Simpson was ordered to delineate the perimeters of the land to be Indian reserve No.136. Simpson had incorrectly identified 241 members from 58 families as members of the band, calculated to need 39.9 square miles. Yet, in actuality there were 249 members of the reserve who were receiving annuity payments from the federal government, which would require a larger area of 50 square miles. Chief Papaschase quickly realized that the reserve size was not accurate and a dispute arose between him and the Inspector of Indian Affairs, T. P. Wadsworth. Upon this dispute Wadsworth erased 84 band members off the band list and onto a list he called “The Edmonton Stragglers,” and placed them on the north side of the Saskatchewan River. This new band included the families of Lapatac and Mahminawatou, twenty-four St. Albert Mission orphans, and the native wives, widows and children of the fur traders at Fort Edmonton. Then Inspector Wadsworth instructed Simpson to survey no more than 40 square miles of reserve land for the Papaschase Band and to not set apart any land for the Edmonton Stragglers.
Frank Oliver and other white settlers in the district wanted to petition the government to remove the Papaschase Band reserve from the Edmonton area in order to capitalize on the great potential of the freed-up land. The European settlers held a meeting at the Edmonton Hotel on January 13, 1881, to demand that the Papaschase Band be removed 20 miles south of the river. They sent two petitions to Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, stating that having reserves close to a potentially large settlement would restrict settlers land claims. Thus they asked that the band be removed and for them to surrender IR 136 for sale to white settlers. Settlers began to build cabins and cut timber on the Papaschase reserve even before they received an answer. These years were difficult for the Papaschase and other groups as the bison were gone along with many of their cultural traditions. The greatest problem continued to be starvation. From 1879-1886 the Federal Government did provide the rations and relief that were agreed upon in Treaty #6. During the eastern Métis rebellions (1885), the Half-Breed Scrip Commission came to Edmonton. They offered scrip notes, to be redeemed in the purchase of homesteads, to Métis and any treaty status Indian who could show Métis ancestry, although this latter stipulation was often overlooked. The commission issued scrip to 202 treaty Indians. Afterwards they were referred to as “Treaty Métis” or Indians of Métis descent.
The next year (July 1886) the commission returned to a starving and desperate band because the government had not honoured agreements for assistance written into Treaty 6. Only 82 members of the Papaschase band remained (mostly elders, women and children). Subsequently, due to disputes over rations and land, many of the Edmonton Stragglers and Papaschase Band declared themselves to be Métis, left the treaty and took scrip. After receiving scrip, Chief Papaschase and other members of the Band continued in the honest belief they could use and occupy IR 136. The Federal Government even contributed to this wrong belief by allowing the Papaschase band to harvest their crops in the fall of 1886.
The last remaining residents of the Papaschase reserve left the area on August 12, 1887 on the instructions of Assistant Indian Commissioner, Mr. Reed. Band members moved to surrounding reserves, and beyond. Some settled on the Enoch reserve. Chief Papaschase left the Edmonton area and died at Elinor Lake in northern Alberta in 1918.
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 the government agent. The federal government subdivided the reserve, and sold most of the land at auctions in 1891 and 1893, Land speculators bought most of it, and resold it to settlers. Railway companies also bought some of the land they needed at auction or from speculators. The final reserve would be bound on the north by 51 Avenue, on the west by 119 Street, on the south by 30 Avenue SW, and on the east by 17 Street NW. This land was annexed by the City of Edmonton during a series of seven incremental annexations between December 30, 1959 and January 1, 1982. A portion of the area was woods. Many descendents of the Papaschase band put forth a lawsuit against the Canadian government. They argued that their land was illegally stolen from them to make way for white settlers and to give the railway access through their land. Their claim was thrown out based on the fact that the Papaschase were not a legally recognized band and so could not legally sue the government. Also, too much time had passed since the incident. In 2013, roughly 1200 people claim to be descendents of the Papaschase band and are focusing their efforts on becoming a recognized band and to regroup family members who were separated over the previous century.
1. Tom Monto. Old Strathcona Before the Great Depression. Crang Pub. 2011
3. n.a. A Brief History of the Papaschase Band as recorded in the Papaschase First Nation Statement of Claim http://www.papaschase.ca/text/papaschase_history.pdf. Retrieved June 2, 2013
Web Design/ Technical expertise for Ribbons of History by Aiden In