Audio Part 1:
Audio Part 2:
RICK BELCOURT: Can I have your full name?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Yes, Chief Sam Young, of Wabiskaw Bigstone Band.
RICK BELCOURT: How long has this reserve been in existence?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Since the treaty, about 1899 [Treaty 8]. Chief Joseph Bigstone signed the Treaty. He was the first chief. I was the last time (elected) chief.
RICK BELCOURT: Can you remember anything your father told you about how this land was before the white influence?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Not really. I don’t remember too much, but when the treaties were signed… there’s a reason why we have five reserves in the Wabiskaw area apart from Neeps (?) 166, A,B,C, & D. Now that time the people who were living here didn’t want to get away from this land, and that is why Chief Bigstone said, “Well, O.K. We will be the Reserve, and live wherever you say, and tell others to get out.”
The reason why we have five reserves is because each family liked that land, separate and apart.
RICK BELCOURT: How did they live?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Their livelihood was trapping and fishing, that was their only livelihood. But at that time I don’t think they realized that the population would grow. We’ve got big reserves and small reserves. Now we are fully populated in the Bigstone Band — fourteen hundred subjects. Now if these people at that time thought that the Indian population would grow, maybe they would have taken more land. Now if the government at that time knew that the population would grow, they never told the Indian people.
RICK BELCOURT: What kind of entertainment did you enjoy?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: The only entertainment the people had at that time was the culture of the powwow. I think that belongs to the Indian people as a religious thing. It was handed down from generation to generation and the songs that they sang were not entertainment. They were a religious kind of thing. You can find this in the encyclopedia and in books. The songs that they sang, my Dad sang them. That’s all that is left to us now. They were handed down by the Spirit in our dreams. My dad sang songs… he had never seen his grandfather, but he still knows them songs. They sang songs handed down from maybe the sixteen or seventeen hundreds [1600’s or 1700’s], but they still exist and are sung today. Before the white man came here the people know there was a God, and this is why the Indian people still exist today.
RICK BELCOURT: I ran across some Indian incense the other day. Was that used in you ceremonies too?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Indian incense came from the birch. [In the north a “Shelf fungus” which grows on birch was used as incense]. You light this thing when you start your ceremonies at all times. When the incense is lit, the fellow that makes the ceremony talks, and preaches to young people about the ways of God and all those things. It is very interesting, to hear them talk, in our Cree language — just to put these things into young people’s minds. There is a religion for our tribe.
RICK BELCOURT: That is, – before the Roman Catholics came?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Yes, that was before the Roman Catholics and it still exists.
RICK BELCOURT: Would you tell how you got your name?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Well, my dad was baptized in the English Church, by Bishop Young, and he said, “I’ll give you my name”. That was Jeremy Young.
After the Roman Catholics came they rebaptized my dad and gave him the name of William Young. “Therefore I baptize you in the name of the Catholic Church and you are a Catholic now.” So my dad and mum were Catholics and we were brought up in the Mission. By then he must have been really clean. (Laugh)
RICK BELCOURT: Now, who did you sell your furs to, Sam?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: The Hudson Bay, and Revillon Brothers. There were two stores here — my dad was a good hunter and trapper. He sold his furs to Hudson’s Bay all his life. If any animals are alive it’s no thanks to us for we sold thousands and thousands of furs in order to survive as a family of eleven.
RICK BELCOURT: Did you know that Revillon Brothers had the whole of Grouard all planned out (as a town). Have you seen those maps?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: No, but I have a map of Reserve 166. It belonged to the Roman Catholics. At that time, there was no reserve and they were operating. In my map it shows so many acres were theirs. There’s another place in that same reserve, 2.0 or 2.2 acres that belongs to the Hudson’s Bay. Noboby can prove where those acres were for the stakes are not there. That must have happened in the 1800’s
RICK BELCOURT: How did the Roman Catholics get that land?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Well, they were there first before the land was taken by Chief Joseph Bigstone. I don’t know whether the government gave it to them. It still states on my map that it belongs to them, but how can they prove it?
RICK BELCOURT: Did your people drift in here before the white people came?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: No. I think most of them were born here. The people who usually travel, go where their livelihood is. People travel from here to Fort McMurrary, but they found that Wabiskaw was the most suitable place for what they needed at that time. They stayed after the treaties.
RICK BELCOURT: Did your people ever encounter Slaveys?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Not that I ever know except around Slave Lake. Maybe the older people would give you more facts.
RICK BELCOURT: What did the older people tell you?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Well, the Crees drifted in here, and they drove the Slavey north. They didn’t get along together and started a fight. The Crees won, I guess, time and time again, until finally the Slaveys stayed up North. That is why according to the old people’s stories, Slave Lake got its name.
RICK BELCOURT: What does Wabiskaw mean?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: There’s three things. Wabiskaw mean “white waves”’ wapas-ae, and Wabascaw also means “late in the fall – you see the grass turn white” – and another one is, Wabascaw means “a narrows”. Hundreds of years ago this was one lake, the narrows was between the bridge and the other lake. Now the white people call it “Wah-bis-caw”. I think “narrows” is the correct meaning. Also Wabascow – white waves. Maybe that is the true name.
RICK BELCOURT: What about Indian medicine? How did the old Indians look after themselves when there were no doctors around?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Oh, the Indian was given them [medicines] by the Spirit. It was from God, so the people could survive. They took them from the land. They still exist, and even the doctors are starting to use some of them now. The roots of the earth.
RICK BELCOURT: Do you know any of them?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: No! (Hesitates)
RICK BELCOURT: How about rat root? That seems most important.
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Oh, I know that! It’s for the throat. But you want to know about the Indian culture. If you want to know about the medicines of the early days, you’ll have to pay for them, not in cash. The most important is tobacco, and you can give any article — what you think it is worth. They still do that. I think Smallboy is good at the Indian way of life. He still holds these medicines for every sickness.
RICK BELCOURT: So, if you want to cure yourself, you have to go and see the medicine man first, and pay for it.
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: The most important thing is tobacco first. But any article you want to offer is all right, too.
RICK BELCOURT: What is this about Smallboy?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: I think that Smallboy’s camp is the best now – but there are also some people in South Dakota, too.
RICK BELCOURT: Did medicine come from the South to the Indians here or did they have their own?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: They had their own, it was of the North. What grows in the North isn’t in the South. So they have to have different medicines, and what they believe in,
RICK BELCOURT: What would the medicine man be called here?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Just a medicine man.
RICK BELCOURT: Do you have one here now?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: (hesitates) No. I don’t think so, not one I’d believe in! The best place to go is to Smallboy. They have steam baths and everything. I haven’t tried it myself, but some day maybe I’ll go down there.
RICK BELCOURT: When you make your approach to a medicine man — do you come right out and say, “Here’s some tobacco”, or do you talk first?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Well, you go to this medicine man and talk very nicely, and have lots of respect for him, and really believe in him. If you don’t believe in him, he can’t do any good. He will realize if you really believe, and he will say, “I will do my utmost to try to cure you”.
RICK BELCOURT: What do you think of the Roman Catholic Church’s influence on the young people now? Do they really believe, or are they looking for something more true?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: I think that the Indian people are researching more on what they really want to belong to. The Roman Catholics, I think, influenced the people too much, and with a little too much hypocricy. Now in my time, I was raised in a Mission. When the Social Credit was in power for a long, long time, the Roman Catholics really got money from the government. Now today we’ve got a different government and they aren’t looking at that church as they did in years back. This is the reason why the Roman Catholics are dropping down. The way they looked at Indians in the old days was nice. Now they don’t even look at the Indian. All that they looked at was money. The Sisters of Charity looked after us, but I don’t see where the charity was.
RICK BELCOURT: How did the old people accept them?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: They accepted them because they were highly educated people, and they say, “Believe in me, and you will be all right all the days of your life, and also your children”. They built a mission, and I was brought up there, so I believed them, for I was just a little kid. My parents put me in there, so I have to follow what my parents want me to do, for I believe in my parents. “If you put me in there, OK, I will not let you down.” It was, “Honor thy father and thy mother”, as they say in the ten commandments. Today the parents and the children are lost. As of today they say, “Honor thy son and thy daughter.” So it’s just vice versa.
RICK BELCOURT: Do you still smoke fish and dry meat around here?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Oh, yes. We do that around here, mostly moose meat and rabbits and fish. We have a domestic license from Indian Affairs to fish. We don’t have to pay for that. Any time we want fish we eat fish.
RICK BELCOURT: What about Hudson’s Bay? Did they always give fair deals?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Yes, not because I deal with Hudson’s Bay and get my groceries there. I do think the Hudson’s Bay has been dealing with the Indian people — they don’t give something for nothing, They look mostly at the old people on pension and welfare, who have cash. Me I pay cash for my groceries every month. I think they ate even better now. In the old days you had to pay in furs, and you don’t make anything (profit). But now you get more for your furs and you pay for your groceries. I think it works out better.
RICK BELCOURT: Did Indians ever have to stack up furs to get their rifles?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Oh yes, that was in the 1700’s I think. I heard lots of stories about it, but it wasn’t the same people that did it. (Not the Hudson’s Bay.) But it was about thirty, forty, fifty beaver for one gun. Let’s see now, at that time the fur was not cash. In our language “one fur” was the unit, – .35 cents for one beaver. So a gun cost about eighteen dollars. But what did the Bay get when they shipped it? About a hundred dollars at least.
RICK BELCOURT: So a rifle then would cost -?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Three thousand dollars for one musket – and they were long guns — about six feet! That’s the way Hudson’s Bay built Hudson’s Bay. It was through England. They gave Revillon Brothers a hard time, but Revillon Brothers were getting too big. They worked through France. The Bay bought them off in all Alberta.
They had a Revillon store here, right by the graveyard when I was a kid, but they were bought out in the 1930’s, I think.
RICK BELCOURT: Do your women still tan moosehides here.
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Yes, in the natural way as we used to years ago. We’ve got a tannery here in our reserve, and they are still working in it, not with chemicals but in the old way.
RICK BELCOURT: Then the white people haven’t influenced you too much. Your life is stabilized, eh?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Yes, we are stabilized in the best of the old way, and we don’t want to lose this culture.
RICK BELCOURT: Do you have powwows here?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: No, not often. Wabiskaw has just about gone off powwows. We haven’t had one here for the last year or so.
RICK BELCOURT: What about tea dances?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: That’s the same as a powwow. Nothing is really stopping us from reorganizing, but you have to have wigwams and things. Wigwams are just about nil too.-
RICK BELCOURT: What would take place first at a powwow?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Nothing too much. When there is a powwow usually you have something to eat — ducks, if you have a chance to poach for ducks, moosemeat, and tea. You eat first and then start the drumming and dancing — all the old Indian dances.
RICK BELCOURT: Do they have a cultural centre here where they teach the Indian dancing?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: No. It had been brought up that they should teach these things to the Indian people on the reserves and the Metis.
(Mr. Belcourt told the chief that there was money to be allocated by Manpower to pay old people (to teach the young people) the old crafts and get paid to do it (1973). Anything to create employment is eligible.)
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: That definitely would be possible, but these things have never been brought up at Council. They tell us, “Ask what you want.” But fifty or seventy-five percent of the time it is rejected.
RICK BELCOURT: Now the art of tanning is dying out. If these women were paid to teach, wouldn’t that be a good idea?
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: That’s a good idea!
(Mr. Belcourt spoke of the Indian tongue and teaching the old Indian songs and dances etc. in the schools sponsored by Manpower under paid teachers.)
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: There’s nothing wrong with that idea. It’s the Indian way of life, and we hate to lose these things. Pretty soon we are just gong to be the brown white people!
RICK BELCOURT: Maybe we could teach the white people, too.
CHIEF SAM YOUNG: Yes, when we have tea dances here sometimes, the white people are really, really interested and friendly to the people.
[Here the interview was interrupted by ??. Mr. Belcourt is himself a Cree Metis]