The Peerless Trout First Nation was officially constituted on May 19, 2010 and approved by Alberta and Canada by December 13, 2010. The First Nation is located 68 kilometers Northeast of Red Earth, Alberta.
Through the Land Claim settlement of 2010, approximately 63,000 acres are to be designated as reserve land for the Peerless Trout First Nation. As of 2013 there are currently 882 members registered within the First Nation with the majority of members residing within the two communities of Peerless and Trout Lake.
The band administration office is located in the community of Peerless Lake.
The First Nation is governed by an elected Chief and Council. For more on governance please click here.
Chief James Alook who is serving his second term as the Chief of PTFN, at the time of the signing of the Settlement Agreement; was quoted as saying:
“This is our chance …you know. We have one shot at it, and I’m sure we’re gonna do it right.”
That continues to be the view as evidenced by workshop participants repeating the phrase “get’er done” throughout the two days of Strategic Planning.
Peerless Trout Lake First Nation is located on traditional lands in northern Alberta in a setting that is rich in natural beauty. The area includes not only Peerless and Trout Lakes, but many other smaller lakes, muskegs and prairies, which supported the fish and wildlife needed to make a living. Due to this mixture of environments the land also provided a wide variety of plants, useful in many ways. Once referred to as Kapaskwatinak (Bald Hill), the name of this site was later changed to Peerless Lake by a trapper and trader originally from Nova Scotia. The settlement on the northeast shore, Peerless Lake, is located approximately 70 km northeast of Red Earth. The community, now known as Trout Lake is located at the south end of Graham Lake where once the Hudson’s Bay Company post was located. Earlier names for Trout Lake, include Old Post and Kinoseesak Kayaton. The stream connecting Trout Lake with Peerless Lake to the north is described as “Trout Lake Narrows.” The Trout Lake settlement is 90 km from Red Earth and 250 km by road from the nearest town, Peace River, Alberta.
The Sakhaw Nehiyawak (Woods Cree) people who make up this community speak Nehiyawewin, the Cree language. It is the first language for most community members and is used for the most part, in all but school settings. Until recently, the people of the Peerless/Trout Lake area were registered as members of the Bigstone Cree Nation, over 150 km to the southeast. However, they have always held to their own status as a distinct people with their own lands, history, Elders and stories. They have now accomplished their long-desired objective to have their own government and their reserve lands are currently being surveyed. Now the achievement of other goals for their community is expected. They include education, training, and employment for children, youth and adults, respectively, while sustaining a “good way of life” for the people, animals and their lands.
In the past labour was not a separate category of life. What Elders refer to as “how we made our living” was a way of life including a knowledge base and a set of activities which often relied on movement to where food and trapping resources were most available at that particular time. Visits to Hudson Bay Company posts, where credit for supplies was given in the fall and later paid back in furs took place at Trout Lake (Old Post) from the 1870s on and later at another post on Long Lake, as did gatherings for the spawning runs at Trout River, or for Treaty Days, tea dances or powwows, Christmas and Easter services. Training for traditional activities was gained from observing skilled practitioners, from storied and spiritual knowledge, from personal accumulation of experience, and from recognizing and developing the gifts each person received from the Creator. Under the Indian Act, school attendance at Canadian institutions was required, and later, it was a requirement for the receipt of family allowance. From the early 1900’s on many of the children attended mission-run residential school at St. Martin’s (Wabasca) and a few at St. Peters (Lesser Slave Lake) or St Henry’s (Ft. Vermilion). They experienced all the abuses reported in other locations. Some families moved to Wabesca so the children could attend school there. Starting in the 1950’s, families started settling at Peerless Lake, on a more permanent basis, so children could attend school there. In the late 1950’s, Father Van der Steen (RC) established a mission school at Trout Lake. Finally, in the mid 1960’s, Northland school district began operating both the Peerless Lake school and the Kateri school in Trout Lake. These various schools only went to Grade 8 and many students had less than that. Although not the case historically, today more people live at Peerless than Trout. While the great majority of residents in the area are members of Peerless Trout First Nation (PTFN), there are some non-Aboriginal and Métis families as well. Many of these Métis families are interrelated and some have now chosen to become members of PTFN.
George Auger (Okeemaw), from Peerless Lake, recalled the first bulldozers which built rough truck roads for oil exploration in the mid 1950’s and, later, the first road in to the community from Red Earth in 1974 (Kituskeenow, 1999). Early relationships with industry were often marked by disrespect and mistrust. Families were particularly upset about the effects of development on the land, something that disrupted their way of making a living, including a lack of consultation or provision of information and the destruction of trap lines through logging, the building of roads and seismic lines, and from polluting the land and waters. This was seen as a “catch 22”, in that while people felt criticized by outsiders for going on welfare most people had a hard time trying to be self-sufficient as the resources were being harmed. Elders recalled the fishing out of Trout Lake by commercial operations and the reduction in wildlife available for traditional foods. The 1960’s (70’s) was a particularly difficult period due to the results of rapid social change. In 1998, Elder Sophie Noskiye from Trout Lake recalled that in earlier day’s, life was harder, but that it was a good life and people were healthy. Today, Elders would like to see their grandchildren and great-grandchildren live a healthy life, a good life, but they acknowledge that things have changed and new types of learning and work are required. As well, Elders from the 1970’s on, as well as the current chief and council, have called for a future of self-sufficiency not social assistance.
“When I was young our survival was hunting and trapping. It was experience, not education that helped you in the bush. Now, everything has changed. You need an education now. Our survival now depends on educating our children.” John A. Cardinal, (Kituskeenow, 1999, p. 63)
Recent Claims Settlement: A New First Nation
The recent claims agreement that resulted in the formation of the Peerless Trout First Nation was signed in 2010. Members of what became the Bigstone Cree Nation signed Treaty 8 in 1899, although reserve land was not set aside at that time. Peerless Lake leader, Chief Colin Trindle, first requested that the Indian agent pursue the fulfillment of treaty promises regarding land claims to be honoured in 1935, however, no reserve lands were ever allotted to them. In the 1970’s, following an unsuccessful attempt to address this issue legally (caveat), the Alberta government came up with a lease arrangement for a small section of land where houses were located.
Begun in 1998, this new claim was negotiated in partnership with the Bigstone Cree Nation. It was based on the existing treaty and asked for fulfillment of unfinished responsibilities. The claim was based on agreements as set out in Treaty 8 under the Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) clause and the Agricultural Treaty Benefits clause. An Agreement in Principle was signed in 2007 and the final agreement reached in 2010. A chief and four councillors were then elected and the band office located in Peerless Lake. The final signing ceremony establishing PTFN and settling Bigstone Cree Nation’s outstanding claims took place in September 2011. Due to the requirements of this trilateral process involved, a great deal of the energy of community leaders was focused on the ongoing effort required by these negotiations during this period rather than community social and economic development. PTFN received both reserve lands (63, 000 acres) and funds from both the federal and provincial governments ($59 million). Further, the province of Alberta agreed to build additional infrastructure, including a new elementary school and, for the first time, a high school, along with a health centre. In 2006, Trout Lake had a population of 343 and Peerless Lake had a population of 455. Similar to other First Nation’s across Canada, the proportion of the population under 25 was high at 44.37%.
In September 2011, a final signing ceremony was held with the leaders of the Bigstone Cree Nation and the Peerless Trout First Nation and the federal and provincial governments. PTFN Chief James Alook reminded the audience that although they had waited a long time,
“today truly marks a new beginning for members of the Peerless Trout First Nation as we now are recognized as a First Nation and will have the resources to build a community. We are making progress on building our new community, which will bring many benefits to the members of Peerless Trout and allow members to grow and develop.”
Federal Minister John Duncan, remarking on the size and complexity of the claim, went on to describe the settlement as marking “a new beginning for the Bigstone and Peerless Trout First Nations, opening up new opportunities for economic development that will bring long-term benefits to the lives of First Nation members.” For his part, Alberta Minister of Aboriginal Relations, Len Webber, concluded that “this agreement creates more certainty for industry, but more importantly, a brighter and more prosperous future for the people of Bigstone and the new Peerless Trout First Nation.”