Editor’s note: This post is part two of the previous weeks’ article.
Written by: Judy Half
Treaty Six territory in Alberta hosts diverse Indigenous communities; however their histories are still relatively unknown. In the 1980s, Indigenous Studies looked more at the Indian politics (Treaty), and government relations and women were often left out of the patriarchal and hegemonic discourses.
Anthropology is where I found I could apply a study of Plains Cree culture. Eurocentrism and ethnocentric discourse in Alberta have entrenched a cultural lens that is built on exclusion and homogeneity of Indigenous groups. Anthropologists such as David Mandelbaum (who studied the Plains Cree in Saskatchewan) and Clark Wissler (who studied Blackfoot culture) used a selective process that was resonant of the cultural centres and cultural diffusion approaches, and that would in turn be used to interpret and influence a way of understanding the Indigenous life western Canada.
In 2008, I began work with the Royal Alberta Museum (RAM) as the Aboriginal Liaison Officer, handling repatriation applications for the Blackfoot. Within this time frame, I also began to care for Cree collections and researched sacred objects in the context of Little Hunter’s Band. While completing my Masters of Arts in Integrated Studies (MAIS) that laddered the Heritage Resource Management Program through Athabasca University, I began exploring the oppression and subjugation of the Plains Cree within the context of Heritage and Cultural Management. My research is informed by Linda Tuhiwia Smith, author of Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, as well as Paulette Steeves’ work on decolonizing education, culture and heritage, both of whom illustrate ways to approach tangled histories often seen in places where oppression and subjugation of Indigenous peoples occurs.
Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series exploring the experience of the Plains Cree through both pre-treaty and contemporary experiences. Part two will be posted next week.
Written by: Judy Half
I am an Indigenous researcher. I apply interdisciplinary research approaches (Indigenous studies, anthropology, archaeology, paleontology, history and decolonization) and a Plains Cree (Nehiyawiwin) praxis to my historical analysis. To aid in understanding the Alberta landscape, I implement traditional Nehiyaw ontology, as well as epistemology through oral histories and legends.
I have worked in various institutions and on numerous projects, conducting research on the objects and artifacts in collections. I am interested in this work as means to decolonize, through Nehiyaw interpretations about social, sacred and political spaces in Alberta. My Plains Cree world view is “pimacihowin-nehiyaw life, living and experience’. Today, traditional Nehiyaw life would not be possible without the resilient generations before me, that were challenged with Indian policies of assimilation, subjugation and oppression. Sadly, this oppression continue today in the area of culture and heritage in Alberta.
Colonizing the West and Cultural Complexities
The race to claim Canada’s west involved colonial expansion, building of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and treaties with First Nations. The expediency of this process, and the ramifications of it, are still not fully understood to this day. The use of anthropology and archaeology to interpret the past and collect culture, in a Eurocentric and ethnocentric way, has helped to create the land and heritage issues that still to this day contribute to the marginalization of First Nations in Treaty Six.
I belong primarily to Little Hunter’s/Onchiminahos (pronounced in Cree as Oonah-tah-mee-na-hoos) Band, as well as the Blue Quills Band. These two bands, along with two others, were forcibly amalgamated into one reserve after the signing of Treaty at Fort Pitt in September 9,1876. While Chief Little Hunter is mentioned in a few references after this treaty, his contributions are not well-documented in history books or academia. A similar experience had occurred with Chief Blue Quills, whose people were stripped of the lands they occupied.
I spoke with a male relative and he suggested that both Chief Little Hunter and Chief Blue Quills were aggressive leaders, and I believe that this aggression were acts of resistance against Indian policy. However, in the years that followed the treaty at Fort Pitt, numerous government policy, laws and initiatives would further the subjugation of Indigenous peoples, outlawing the practice of ceremony and cultural traditions. This created the mechanism by which many Treaty Six communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan would become marginalized from the colonial society (past and present).
In the summer of 1886, surveyor J. C Nelson of the Department of Indian Affairs surveyed the Saddle Lake reserve (Onihcikiskowapowin, the image on the lake) for the four bands: James Seenum (originating from Lac La Biche), Bears Ears (Muskegwatic) or Wasatnows Band, Onchiminahos (Little Hunter’s Band), and the Blue Quills Band. On July 28, 1886, surveys were completed the for the reserves of Goodfish (Pakan, Whitefish) Lake I.R No. 128 and Wasatnow I.R 126(Big Bears Ear). Saddle Lake and Blue Quills (Egg Lake- present day Andrew) I.R 125 would be completed two years later. The final reserve survey was completed in 1887, and Order in Council P. C 1151 stated that Goodfish Lake maintained its own land base, while the other bands lived within the reserve boundaries of I.R 125. Goodfish Lake maintain their own tribal identity.
Amalgamation was used as a tactic in other adjacent areas. The four bands comprising Maskwacis is a similar example, however, each maintain their own tribal identities. In what is now the City of Edmonton, Papaschase reserve was dismantled by Indian Department and many band members relocated to other Indigenous communities, including Maskwacis, Enoch, Saddle Lake and Beaver Lake . In the United States, the reservation period involved the displacement or dispossession of enemy tribes within the same reserve space (this was the case for the Shoshone and Arapahoe Nations).
Adding to the complexity was the implementation by government to control band membership. Henry Bird Steinhauer was an Ojibwa Methodist who lived with the Goodfish Lake Band and established his mission there, but later his family joined the Saddle Lake Band registry.
Chief Little Hunter, leader of the Onchiminahos Band, lived in areas south of Bodo and Sounding Lake, but had associations to the Crow, Nakoda and Assiniboine tribes. The Peace Pipe, still used today in ceremony and other events, was used at treaty negotiations to illustrate commitment and relationship. Peace pipe agreement on the plains were held with the Assiniboine, Kutenai, Crow, Blackfoot and the Dene. Similar peace pipe treaties existed, but more research is needed to define the law and governance systems that were practiced on the plains.
Traditional adoptive systems were also implemented within Plains Cree governance, such as that of “wahkohtowin,” which translates to all my relations. This practice existed between the Plains Cree, Assiniboine, Kutenai, Stoney, Crow, Sioux, Métis and Blackfoot. Traditional adoptions are still practiced today; many times I have witnessed these transactions between the Stoney and the Cree.
The influx of diverse nations—through government tactics, forced amalgamations, reserve surrenders and/or marriage and adoption—had created tangled genealogies and cultural complexities not fully understood or captured in anthropological study. To fix this, we have to visit the experiences of the First Nations in Treaty. This process will illustrate the complexity and impact of colonialism on Plains Cree of Alberta.
Onchiminahos Band was also dismantled prior to treaty. The building of the CPR, the signing of treaties and the political events and policy used to control band leadership is seen in Little Hunter’s case. Little Hunter’s membership relocated to different reserves, including Ministikwan First Nation in Saskatchewan, and Onion Lake Cree Nation on the border of Saskatchewan and Alberta.
In the tumultuous year of 1969, Canadian queers suddenly found themselves in a new legal landscape. The bill that decriminalized homosexuality passed the parliamentary vote in May – in August, that bill was voted into law. No one was quite sure what it would mean as far as day-to-day life for gays and lesbians, but some forward-thinking folks in Edmonton decided that with this new legal reality, it was time to create Edmonton’s first official queer gathering place.
They chose the name Club 70, even though it was autumn of 1969. Not only was 1969 almost over, but a few of them felt that naming it Club 69 was just a bit too cheeky. And so they heralded the approaching decade by naming the bar with an eye to a new future.
The location was on 101 street and 106 avenue, in the basement of a building that still stands today. Back then, a Greek restaurant occupied the main floor. Even though the Milla Pub is still open, the building is grubby and the yellowing plaster shows neglect. But if you look at the north end of the building, there is a brightly painted door that leads to the basement. It was behind that door that a queer person would nervously descend down the stairs into the very beginnings of Edmonton’s very first official gay club.
There had always been places where the Friends of Dorothy could discretely congregate – generally in one corner of the taverns that occupied the main floor of the large, grand hotels that dominated downtown: The Mayfair, The Corona, The Royal George, and the King Edward (or King Eddie). But these gay hangouts were never official – they just sprung up out of necessity in cities across Canada. It was in these early unofficial gathering places that ‘the community’ began to recognize each other in the smoky half-light, and began to connect and communicate. Even as recently as the early 80s, a gay man could stroll into one of these smoky taverns, and once his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could find a group of men like him, taking over one corner or certain tables in the room.
None of these hotels stand today – they’ve been replaced by downtown malls, or newer high-rises. Only the Corona LRT station keeps one of those names alive. But somehow the early gay club scene’s first legal footprint has escaped the wrecking ball of progress.
Through those nondescript doors, one descended down a flight of stairs into a space no bigger than a large living room. Everyone had to sign in, although pseudonyms were the norm – people were still very afraid to be ‘outed’ and the last thing one would want was to be identified by logging into a register of a gay bar. There was hired security – a straight man who kept a scowling presence at the bottom of the stairs.
Small stage for burgeoning drag scene
The club had no liquor license, and so bringing your own bottle was essential, as the concession only sold pop and chips. There was a small dance floor, and even a tiny stage populated by the pioneers of Edmonton’s burgeoning drag scene: Grindl performed on that stage, as did Trixie, and Millie – names that, within a few years, would become legend on the stages of the underground. Few Queens were as legendary as Millie, who in 1976 would become Edmonton’s first crowned head of state, the unofficial Godmother to all Queens who followed: Empress I of Edmonton, establishing the Imperial House of Millicent, the first in a long chapter of royal houses that still rules Edmonton through the auspices of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose; she was simultaneously crowned Mz. Flashback I. Millie has the distinction of being the only drag queen in Edmonton’s history who wore both crowns at the same time.
The tiny club could only hold about 50 people, and was only open on Friday and Saturday nights. The ambiance was more like a house party than a nightclub. But it was the first queer space. That meant safety. It meant being able to freely recognize and acknowledge people like yourself, to dance with whoever you wanted to dance with, or to freely cheer on a drag show.
That freedom was fiercely protected, however. Club 70 had a strict gay-only membership policy, for the safety and discretion of its members. Violating this policy by bringing a straight person to the bar would get you a 30-day suspension.
Club 70 bears the distinction of being the first official, registered-on-paper-with-city-hall, gay society in Alberta
However, it got off to a very rocky start. The location was short-lived, even though Club 70 was not. After a month of weekends of business, the owner of the building finally realized what sort of business had taken root in his basement, and when staff and members arrived for the weekend party, they found he had nailed the doors shut, seized the liquor, and whatever there was in the way of a sound system. The fledgling gay club was suddenly in a legal battle with a landlord. However, they won that battle, as their lease had been broken illegally, and were able to not only get their stuff back, but the owner of the building was forced to pay for their relocation costs.
Club 70 closed for a month, eventually finding a new home on 106 street; that building remained queer for the next 42 years. When Club 70 had run its course, it transformed into The Cha Cha Palace for a short period in 1978, then Boots & Saddles for decades, and lastly The Junction Bar & Grill. Once the 106 street location opened, that spot in Edmonton was a safe queer space from 1970-2012.
In 1969, the first step towards building a new sense of community was building a home; a meeting place or a town square, where LGBTQI people could gather, and for the first time, discover who they were in this brave but unknown new world.
Written by: Darrin Hagen, legendary playwright, actor, sound designer, composer, performer, director and TV host based in Edmonton.
Winner of the 2018 Alberta Historical Resources Foundation 2018 Heritage Awareness award, We Are the Roots is a documentary that tells the stories of African American immigrants who settled in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the early 1900s.
In the film, you’ll hear stories from 19 descendants of original settlers, as they moved north to escape slavery, persecution and racism in America. Once in Canada, these families would then experience more discrimination, both in Edmonton and in rural communities they settled.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Yards Magazine in September 2018. It has been reprinted here with the author’s permission.
On May 12, 1922, Lulu Anderson tried to buy a ticket to ‘The Lion and The Mouse’ at the former Metropolitan Theatre on Jasper Avenue. Lulu was 36 and a member of the Black community. She enjoyed the theatre and had visited the Metropolitan many times with her friends. But May 12 was different. The theatre staff denied Lulu entry. Worse, they “assaulted” her, according to a column in the Edmonton Journal.
Lulu decided to stand up.
Few Edmonton residents know Lulu’s story. And to understand what happened to her downtown that night, in 1922, we need to back up a bit. For starters, despite many who still believe the opposite, Alberta was home to anti-black racism. Minstrel shows were extremely common in theatres; indeed, actors of the era routinely performed in blackface. In 1920, a minstrel parade was even held downtown. Segregation was also common across the city. From 1910 to 1950, Black Edmontonians were denied entry into theatres, swimming pools, bars and even hospitals. One more well-known example is from 1938, when a Black nurse was denied entry into nursing training at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.
Author note: Five years ago, I visited Iceland and it sparked an excitement I thought could not be experienced anywhere else in the world. This was until a summer road trip to the hamlet of Markerville, an Icelandic settlement in Red Deer County. Historic Markerville is home to the Icelandic-Canadian Markerville Lutheran Church, Markerville Creamery, Fensala Hall and the Stephansson House Provincial Historic Site.
The Icelandic-Canadian, Stephan G. Stephansson, led a fascinating life. He was an immigrant, farmer, father and most notably a poet. In Icelandic and Icelandic-Canadian communities, Stephansson’s poems are well known for their evocative images of landscapes and homesteading as well as passionate portrayals of his personal beliefs and philosophies. In search of a better life, he came to Alberta and settled in the Markerville area, along with fifty other Icelanders.