Canada’s maps will have to be revised next year thanks to the initiative taken by the Samson Cree Nation, and the support it received from its three neighbouring communities, to have the original name of their community returned to them. As a result, Maskwacis (Bear Hills) has been reborn; Hobbema is no more.
Before the turn of the 19th Century Maskwacis (Bear Hills) was a thriving community and home to the Crees of Maskwacis, a collective of First Nations groups that included the Neyaskwayak (Northern Treeline or Ermineskin Cree Nation), Kispahtinaw (End of the Hill or Louis Bull Tribe), Akamihk (Across – The River or Montana First Nation) and the Nipisihkopahk (Willow Meadows or Samson Cree Nation). Then along came the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CPR) Calgary-Edmonton line. CPR president, Cornelius Van Horne is the man credited with having the named changed to Hobbema, in order to honour a Dutch painter of that period.
On March 13, 2013, Samson Cree Chief Marvin Yellowbird and 11 councillors signed a document that re-affirmed their power over their traditional lands and a determination to have the original name of its community restored. They were supported by all of the neighbouring bands. In the months that followed municipal reeves, mayors and councillors and the Alberta Government signed on to the idea. The official name change became effective on January 1, 2014.
The community gathered at midnight on New Year’s Eve to celebrate through song and dance as families shared cheers, tears and memories at a special Round Dance to celebrate the occasion. The Chiefs of theMaskwacis Nations gathered at midnight to host a special commemoration and to sign a memorandum of understanding; local and provincial representatives were in attendance. A Pipe Ceremony and a traditional feast rounded out the event.
“This is a really special night for our four nations here,” said Elmer Rattlesnake, a member of the Louis Bull Tribe who served as emcee for the evening program. He was quoted in the Edmonton Journal saying, “It is like a new beginning for everyone…Hobbema has been synonymous with gangs and shootings, but now everyone has a chance to start over.”
“For me, the real treasure of changing our name back is that it means something to the young people,” said Conrad Young, a band councillor with the Ermineskin Cree Nation. “Maskwacis connects to our language, our history and our tradition. It really allows us to show who we are and where we are from.”
As the crowd rang in the new year, Chief Yellowbird addressed the gathering.
“We are free, Cree and Maskwacis,” he said.
According to an Edmonton Journal report, the crowd roared in agreement and moments later, everyone was dancing in celebration.
The name change is expected to enhance culture, self-esteem and self assuredness and instil a new kind of pride in the community. As such, the community is also eager to rid itself of the image and reputation it’s gained as being a troubled community where gang violence is an ongoing problem. The recent (January 6) announcement by the federal government that it is about to contribute nearly $3 million for a new initiative to combat gang violence in Maskwacis will help in the community’s efforts to move on to a positive and better future.
The money will provide needed aid to the Maskwacis Conflict Resolution Program (CRP), an initiative administered by the Samson Cree Nation. The program is expected to work with about 600 Aboriginal youth, many of whom are already in gangs or at risk of joining them.
Wetaskiwin MP Blaine Calkins told media that “along with our partners, we are taking steps to tackle gang violence, while providing at-risk youth with the tools and opportunities to steer clear of crime.”
by Ennis Morris