The traditional way of life was the only way of life known to our people previous to the 1960's. Cabins and campsites were established throughout our traditional land area. The people had the freedom to move with the seasons, livestock could graze freely and food could be hunted and gathered from anywhere that it was plentiful. With this freedom our People always recognized the value of the land and the importance of its preservation.
In the early 1900’s, there were about 100 people living in the Jasper Valley. In 1910, Jasper National Park was created. The Aboriginal people who lived there were forced to leave after having been bought out by J.J. MacLaggan of the Canadian Parks Commission. Some of these displaced people moved to the Grande Cache area where they had friends and/or relatives. Some of the people settled at Entrance, while others settled around Mahaska settlement at Shinningbank Lake, northeast of Edson. Still others moved east to Marlboro and Lac Ste. Anne, or north toward Grande Prairie, near Nose Creek. Although they were scattered, the people would travel back and forth to visit each other over the various trails they had traditionally used for hunting and trapping. Some of the Aboriginal people who left the park were compensated for the improvements that they had made to the land, however some of the Aseniwuche Winewak believe that their ancesters were evicted without compensation.
"When my ancestors left Jasper there were no roads leading to where they eventually settled. They had to transport all of their belongings, including wagons, horses and cattle, on their own without assistance from the government"
Shortly after these people moved to Grande Cache, the Federal Government tried to remove the Aboriginal people from the area despite the promise made by J.J. MacLaggan who bought out the Moberlys and Adam Joachim, in Jasper in 1910. This attempt failed, at least partly because James Shand Harvey (a local forest ranger) who was a witness to the Jasper Agreement, wrote a letter on behalf of the Aboriginal people supporting their position. The attempt to remove these people was at least partly the result of a complaint from the famous outfitter, Donald “Curly” Phillips of Jasper, who claimed that the Aboriginal people were depleting the game animals. Phillips had a vested interest in the region as his outfit made money from guiding hunters into the area. The suggestion was that the local people could be moved to Grande Prairie or Pouce Coupe, where they could be given a quarter section of land and would be close to a school. H. Riviere, who investigated the claims of game depletion, found little merit in the complaint and recommended that the local people be left alone.
William A. Switzer Provincial Park contains a number of sites, which are significant to the Aseniwuche Winewak. For example, Jarvis Lake was once the site of a small Aboriginal community. It has been used as a gathering place for the pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne and is home to a graveyard. It is also a sacred “Sun Dance” site and a place to smoke the pipe. Vincent Wanyandie once had a place at graveyard Lake, which is also home to a graveyard which dates to the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Today, the park is a “Mecca” for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts, although the Rocky Mountain Cree and the Chippewa still visit the site and hold it dear to their hearts.
Willmore Wilderness Park was part of the traditional territory of the Aseniwuche Winewak. The people used the area for hunting, fishing, gathering and travel. It was an excellent place to hunt big game, such as Bighorn Sheep. It was utilized by the Rocky Mountain Cree and by outfitters who guided people into the area during that time. There are a number of Aboriginal graves in the park. Adam Joachim's mother is buried near Adam's Creek on the Big River Flat about four kilometers below the old forestry cabin. Dolphus Agnes' sister is buried at Sunset Meadows on the north fork of the Berland River. A baby from the Delorme family is buried at Little Grave Flats near the forks of the Sulphur River, while Pierre Delorme is buried at Big Grave Flats.
There is little doubt that the Aboriginal people of the Smoky River Valley knew about the Smoky River coal deposits for years, but the coal was officially "discovered" in 1909 by people working for the Canadian Northern Railway. We know that the Aboriginal people knew about the deposits because they had witnessed the smoldering coal on the banks of the river, after it had been struck by lightning. It was they, who had christened the valley the “Smoking River Valley”, which eventually became the Smoky River Valley.
The Grande Cache coal industry has a convoluted history. In 1910, Donald McDonald of the local McDonald family showed Dr. Hoppe the Smoky River coal. Donald McDonald cut a winter road to the coal claims and hauled in supplies during 1912. Dr. Hoppe secured the initial lease, holding Donald’s share in a verbal trust since Donald could not read or write. The pair made steps to develop a mine, but unfortunately lost the lease when Dr. Hoppe could not keep up the payments. The lease transferred hands a few times, and in 1957, McIntyre Porcupine Mines took it over and created the fore-runner of today’s current mine-site.
The coal mine had a significant impact on the life of the Aseniwuche Winewak. Some people lost trap lines, travel was restricted, air and water pollution occurred, while some people obtained employment at the mine or at industries related to the coal mine such as Chic Coelen’s lumber mill, which was set up close to the mine site to provide timber to the mine.
The town of Grande Cache was established to provide housing for the miners who worked at McIntyre Mines. It is located on a plateau on Grande Mountain, far above the Smoky River Valley. The site was chosen because it is about twenty kilometers upwind from the mine site. This would minimize coal dust pollution. The town has gone through several boom and bust cycles that are so common to resource based towns. The establishment of the town has had a tremendous impact on the Aseniwuche Winewak. The town brought thousands of non-Aboriginal people to the area for the first time. It led to the opening of Highway 40, which meant improved access to Hinton and points beyond. It meant television, grocery stores, a theatre, gas stations, telephones, liquor stores … The changes were huge for a people who were living a traditional life of hunting, fishing, gathering, trapping and guiding. Some of the changes were beneficial, such as improved health care, while others were more negative, as some people lost trap lines, while others gave up their traditional lifestyle.
In the early 1970's, the local Rocky Mountain Cree people came to an agreement with the provincial government by establishing a number of co-ops/enterprises. The lease would be rent-free and for residential purposes. The group would also have a grazing permit for a maximum of sixty horses in the vicinity of the settlement. No timber rights were made available to the group, but miscellaneous timber permits could be obtained for their own use. The government differentiated the Grande Cache people into four groups. The first included those people who were evicted from Jasper and were paid for improvements, the second consisted of those who were evicted and not paid for improvements, the third was made up of those who resided in Grande Cache before the eviction, while the fourth included those who moved into the area since 1905. Joachim Enterprises and Grande Cache Lake (Kamisak) established Limited Partnerships while Susa Creek, Muskeg, Victor Lake and Wanyandie Flats established more conventional co-ops. The Aboriginal people who numbered about 260 in 1973, were each awarded six and one half acres of land. This settlement totaled 4150 acres.
Our People hold no legally recognized title to the land, and had no say in development. Our lands were cleared, a highway brought in, and the town built. Many homes and traditional hunting, gathering and camping sites were destroyed. Pollution impacted on drinking and fishing sources. These changes, and a denial of the People’s rights to land and hunting, led to the decline of our traditional economic base and our means of self-reliance.
In 2001, the Nation became the representative body of more than four hundred members; joined together in determination to work together towards a better future.