Our people have a rich heritage and history: modern bloodlines descend from Cree, Iroquois, Beaver, Sekani, Assiniboine, Ojibwa and Shuswap. During the late 1700’s and early 1800’s these groups were forced to relocate from the area by the Assiniboine, Ojibwa, Iroquois and Cree. The Iroquois came west with the fur trade. Most returned east after their contracts had expired, some stayed and married into local Cree, Sekani and Beaver groups, becoming the patriarchs of local families. The Assiniboine began their push west after starting trade with the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Ojibwa originated in the eastern Canadian woodlands. They had good relations with the Cree and Assiniboine people; but settled mainly in the Edmonton and Rocky Mountain House areas.
Migrating west, the Cree had the advantage of established relations with the fur trade companies, and had access to advanced technology, mainly rifles. Gradually the Cree and Assiniboine overtook the area. The Beaver and Sekani people moved north and the Shuswap moved west to the Okanogan. The few Iroquois in the area were assimilated into Cree traditions and language. Presently the culture and language of the Aseniwuche Winewak is predominately Woodland Cree.
Since ancient times, different groups of Aboriginal people have traveled and lived in the rich, fertile slopes of the Rocky Mountains. There is archeological evidence of human civilization near modern-day Grande Cache from 14,000 years ago. At some time, the Aboriginal people in this area became known as Aseniwuche Winewak, Cree for “Rocky Mountain People”.
The Beaver, Sekani and Shuswap were the first inhabitants of our traditional area.
The Beaver people call themselves the Dene-Saa and are from the Athapaskan language group. They were known as strong fighters. The Beaver lived in wigwams that can be described as being conical teepees covered with spruce bark or caribou skins. They hunted animals such as moose, caribou, and beaver with snares, spears and bows and arrows. They used toboggans in winter and spruce bark canoes in the summer. They placed their dead on platforms in trees. Prior to contact with the Europeans, there were about 1500 Beaver, but by 1974, there were only about 600 left in the Peace River area.
The Sekani were Athaspaskan speakers know as "people of the rocks" or "rocky mountain people". They were considered nomadic hunters who used the bow and arrow, spear, snare and a club made from the jawbone of a moose to hunt animals such as moose, caribou, bear, porcupine and beaver. Their tools were primarily made of bone and wood.They lived in conical lodges covered with spruce bark and/or animal hides. They cached their spare food in trees and wore clothes made from animal skins. The Sekani canoes and cooking vessels were made from spruce bark. Several of the Iroquois who came out from Montreal with the fur trade married Sekani women, so it is possible that some of these people were still living in the area in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. At present, there are very few of these people left in North America.
The Shuswap people were originally called the Secwepemic (pronounced suh-wep-muh). They were referred to as the “Snake” or “Snaring” people. Linguistically, they are from the Salish group. They believe that the Earth was made by the “Old One” with help from the coyote. They were a hunting, gathering and fishing society that lived in the river valleys. In the winter, they lived in pithouses dug into the ground. During the summer months a framework of poles covered with reeds allowed for a mobile shelter, more convenient for traveling. The Shuswap vacated the area between 1840 and 1858 due to the influx of Cree and Assiniboine people and food shortages.
The Iroquois, Assiniboine and Ojibwa moved from east to west into our traditional area in the late 1700's and early 1800's. Because of their early introduction to the fur-traders, they obtained guns much earlier then the western people. This advantage allowed them to push the original inhabitants of our traditional area further west. This conquest was done through war and helped by natural causes such as food shortages.
Most of the Iroquois who came to Alberta were Mohawks from Caughnawaga, which is now called Ganawake, near Montreal. The majority were trappers or skilled voyageurs, but a few were hunters or interpreters. The first Iroquois trappers arrived in the 1790's hired primarily by the North West Company, but some were also hired by their rival; the XY Company. It was the heated rivalry between these two fur trade companies that led to the influx of the Iroquois. Between 1800 and 1804, about 300 came to the west to trap. By 1815, even the conservative Hudson Bay Company had hired a few Iroquois to trap in the Athabasca District. The Iroquois came west because they wanted to live a traditional lifestyle and they wanted the adventure. Most of these trappers returned to Montreal when they had completed their contracts, but a few stayed on as "freemen," men who had completed their contracts and were now free to earn their own living. These Iroquois trappers were so good at trapping with steel traps that they were sometimes resented by the local Aboriginal people.
By 1810, there were some Iroquois trapping along the Smoky River in what was to become known as the Grande Cache area. It appears that there was little resentment of the Iroquois in this region, as it was sparcely populated. In fact, some of the Iroquois men married Sekani women and became patriarchs of local families. Since the 1820's, these Iroquois have considered the Eastern Slopes from Grande Prairie to Jasper to be their homeland. The intermarriage with the local Cree and isolation from other Iroquois eventually led to the loss of the Iroquois language and the use of Cree.
The Rocky Mountain Assiniboine migrated from the Eastern woodlands. The name Assiniboine comes from Assinipwat or “stone people” because they used hot stones for cooking. They would dig a hole in the ground, line it with hides, fill it with water and place heated stones in it to cook their food. The Stoneys were excellent warriors, good hunters and were considered to be very hospitable. In the fall and winter, they broke up into small groups and hunted big game in the foothills and mountains such as deer, elk and moose, but in the summer, they would sortie out onto the plains in search of the buffalo.
The Ojibwa people are not native to the plains nor the Rockies, but are from the eastern woodlands. In the 1780’s and 1790’s they began to move west for economic reasons; primarily the fur trade, but also to avoid diseases like small pox and to find better hunting, as some of their traditional lands had been hunted out. The local Cree and Assiniboine people welcomed the Ojibwa as their numbers had been decimated by small pox from 1780 to 1782. By the 1790’s the Ojibwa had been recorded as far west as Edmonton House and Lac la Biche. After the Hudson Bay Company and the North West Company amalgamated in 1821, there was less competition for the furs that the Ojibwa trapped, so some of them took to the plains and adopted a more plains culture. In 1837, there was another small pox epidemic. This one decimated the Blackfoot people on the plains, so the Ojibwa moved even further west. Eventually, some of them reached the Rockies and established a reserve near Rocky Mountain House.
The term Cree is short for Kristineaux, which is French for what the Cree called themselves. The Woodland Cree were the "middlemen of the fur trade". They obtained guns from the Europeans and started pushing west from their homes in the eastern woodlands. They spoke an Algonkian language. By the 1750's, they had pushed into the Rockies. In 1784 and 1838, small pox epidemics decimated their numbers. The Cree people of the Rockies are descendants of the Woodland Cree, which are also called the Swampy Cree or Muskegon. They wore tattoos and lived in small family groups. In the Rockies they covered their lodges with pine bark or hides. By 1820, they were living in teepees instead of wikiups, which were conical shaped lodges made of logs and covered with bark and moss. These people were hunters and trappers. They hunted big game such as caribou, bear and moose as well as beaver, hares, ducks, geese, grouse and ptarmigan. They fasted and had visions. Widows and orphans were well looked after by the group. The majority of the culture today comes from these people as they held the majority of our traditional lands