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Renewing Our Relationship: Whitecap Dakota First Nation and the Western Development Museum

Today is National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada. Today, and every June 21st, we celebrate the diverse cultures, heritage and achievements of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. Did you know it is also National Indigenous History Month? National Indigenous History Month is a time to learn about, share and honour the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Over the past year, the Western Development Museum (WDM) has been working to renew an historical relationship with Whitecap Dakota First Nation. Every summer for more than 20 years in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, Whitecap members participated in Pion-Era at the WDM Saskatoon. Members set up a tipi camp, performed dances and demonstrated other cultural activities, educating settler visitors about Dakota culture. Their participation was well-documented in WDM photographs, but little was known about their experience.

Group photo of Whitecap members at Pion-Era, 1955. Whitecap Elders have identified the individuals in this photograph. Front row, l-r: Annie Royal, June Eagle, May Eagle, Mrs. Littlecrow, Mabel (Flying Buffalo) Bear, Shirley Bear, Malvina Eagle, Elizabeth Royal, Doris Royal, Doreen Royal, Evelyn Buffalo. Back row, l-r: William Littlecrow, Jimmy Littlecrow, Lorne Littlecrow, Wilbert Littlecrow, Chief Harry Littlecrow. William Eagle in town clothes, at bottom of tipi. Photo: WDM George Shepherd Library.

In working with Whitecap Elders, Knowledge Keepers, leadership and staff, much has been learned about this history. Inspired by photograph naming projects like Library and Archives Canada’s Project Naming and the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society’s Visual Repatriation projects that seek to name Indigenous peoples in historical photographs, almost all of the individuals in the many photographs held in the WDM Archives and George Shepherd Library have been named. Our next steps are to reach out to other First Nations with individuals pictured in these photographs.

Letter from J.T. Warden, Assistant Regional Supervisor of Indian Agencies, Regina to George Shepherd, WDM Curator, dated June 1, 1956 granting permission for Whitecap members to attend Pion-Era under the Indian Act. Image courtesy of Warren Buffalo and family.

We also learned about the motivations for the Whitecap community’s participation. Whitecap attendees took Pion-Era as an opportunity for social, economic and political exchange that would not otherwise have been easily accessible under the controls of the Indian Act. This was a time when travelling outside of the reserve still required permission from the Indian Agent as part of the Pass System. For each visit, the WDM Curator George Shepherd had to write to the Indian Agent in Regina, asking permission for Chief Harry Littlecrow and Whitecap members to attend the event.

Travelling from Whitecap to Saskatoon each summer for Pion-Era is remembered fondly by the Whitecap Elders who have shared their history with Whitecap leadership and staff and now with the WDM. They recall that this was time to spend with relatives and socialize, as well as dress in their regalia and dance pow wow with other Indigenous people – activities that were otherwise difficult due to limited mobility and the aforementioned Indian Act controls.

Whitecap members dancing pow wow at Pion-Era, 1955. Whitecap Elders have identified some of the individuals in this photograph. William Littlecrow, Wilbert Littlecrow, Andrew Littlecrow and Jimmy Littlecrow have been identified as dancers. Bob (Robert) Royal sits drumming, wearing the white shirt. To his left is Chief Harry Littlecrow, also wearing town clothes. Malvina Eagle dances at the centre, wearing headband and white shell cape. Photo: WDM George Shepherd Library.

Today, together in the spirit of reconciliation and partnership, Whitecap Dakota First Nation and the WDM plan to share this history through the Museum in the coming years. We invite you to learn more about the Whitecap community and Dakota culture this National Indigenous History Month. One place to begin is reading the digital book WA PA HA SKA: Whitecap Dakota First Nation

To learn more about the WDM’s commitment to Reconciliation visit us at wdm.ca/reconciliation

#indigenouspeoplesday #NIPDCanada #reconciliation #callstoaction

 

By Elizabeth Scott, Curator WDM
and
Stephanie Danyluk, Research Analyst, Self-Government, Whitecap Dakota First Nation

  • Absolutely wonderful. This partnership is an act of reconciliation that truly enriches our understanding of how our communities can move forward in a good way. Thank you for doing this work.

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