By Spencer Hall, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, RMG
Simpcw First Nation is reviving a more than century-old treaty with the Stoney Nation, in partnership with Parks Canada.
Three First Nations make up the Stoney Nation — the Bearspaw, the Chiniki, and Goodstoney First Nations.
The restored treaty — initially signed in 1895 — will allow the Simpcw and Stoney Nations mutual hunting privileges in each other’s hunting grounds, which are on land now referred to as Jasper National Park.
The Nations say the historic nation-to-nation agreement shows the long existing relationship between them and demonstrates their mutual commitment to share resources.
Under the treaty, the Nations will share a harvest of four elk, four deer, two sheep and one moose, according to Barry Wesley, consultation officer, traditional knowledge and language keeper with the Stoney Nations.
“So far, we’ve been allowed to harvest medicines here and reconnect to the mountains for healing. The last connection missing is to harvest food on Stoney traditional territory,” said Wesley.
Simpcw Chief George Lampreau said by reconnecting the ties between the Nations, the First Nations are reaffirming their connections to Simpcwúlecw (Simpcw Territory), adding that working together to take care of the land is a priority for Simpcw.
“Walking together with the Stoney and supported by Parks Canada, the Símpcwemc (Simpcw people) continue to use our ancestral lands to uphold the agreement to share in resources as one through a shared ceremony and harvest.,” Lampreau said.
Wesley said the Nations have had the agreement since time immemorial, but it stopped when Jasper National Park was established.
“We had to adapt to the Western way of life…at the same time we were forced out of the park,” Wesley said.
He said it’s meaningful to have the support of Parks Canada on the revived treaty, acknowledging that the relationship has taken time to build.
“We’ve never had that before — now we have an understanding between the Parks and the First Nations,” Wesley said.
Indigenous relations manager with Parks Canada, Mark Young, acknowledged Parks Canada had a history of removing Indigenous people from the land in Jasper.
“We didn’t make it too hospitable for Indigenous people to come back into Jasper and feel like this was a welcoming place,” Young said, adding that Parks Canada and the First Nations have been working on building relations since the early 2000s.
A temporary closure will be in effect east of Snaring River and north of Highway 16 and the Athabasca River to respect the Nations’ ceremony and ensure public safety during the hunt from October 23rd to November 13th.
Alan Fehr with Parks Canada said facilitating the harvest is one way Parks Canada is supporting the Simpcw and Stoney Nations in reconnecting with their traditional territories.
The Field Superintendent added that conservation and safety are goals for both Parks Canada and its Indigenous partners.
Fehr said Parks Canada is working with Indigenous governments to bring back traditional practices, like harvesting.
“Harvesting as an Indigenous practice is an inherent responsibility tied to caring for and stewarding the lands, waters, and ice. It will contribute to the success of initiatives related to conservation and cultural heritage,” Fehr said.
Wesley said because the Nations were unable to practice their treaty rights in the parks, many of his people — including Wesley himself — missed out on experiencing cultural traditions, such as hunting on their traditional grounds and taking part in shared ceremonies. He said this was one of the driving factors for him to revive the treaty.
“I was one of them that missed out on that journey. We’ll have our young people up there at the ceremony. It’s important,” Wesley said.
He said in his culture, treaties aren’t just words on a document, but a living spirit.
“There’s a spirit that looks after the treaty and that’s what we’re going to be calling upon at the time of the ceremony. That will take place through the sacred pipe,” Wesley said.