History of Land and Waters to 1927
Prince Albert National Park
Prince Albert National Park is not an untouched wilderness but was created by carving out land from the traditional territories of many First Nations and the Métis people.
This landscape is a site of great natural abundance and has a long history of human occupation. This territory lies at the transition zone between the northern boreal forest, the aspen parkland, and fescue prairie. The land and waters provided everything Indigenous people living here needed to survive. Before the establishment of the park, Woods Cree, Plains Cree, Dakota, Dene, and Métis communities accessed the forest for fuel and shelter in winter, the rivers and lakes for fish, and the prairies for bison and other large animals for hunts in the fall. The diversity of the landscape provided flexibility that helped local Indigenous people thrive. The rivers and lakes in and around what are now the park boundaries were interconnected and used to connect communities with each other. The Spruce, Waskesiu, and Kingsmere Rivers were historical lines of connection for Indigenous peoples and are still used by boaters, paddlers, and anglers through to today.
The mid-1800s saw dramatic changes to life in this region. Bison and other game were in decline, diseases like smallpox decimated communities, and the West was purchased and annexed by Canada from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1870. At the same time, many settlers from Eastern Canada, the United States, and Europe flooded onto the prairies. Mistawasis Nêhiyawak and Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation signed onto Treaty 6 in 1876 with many other nations across what is now Alberta and Saskatchewan. In 1889, an adhesion to Treaty 6 was signed by the Lac La Ronge Indian Band and Montreal Lake Cree Nation, bringing these communities and their territory into Treaty 6. The numbered treaties were meant to define the relationship between First Nations and the Crown, including the rights, benefits, and responsibilities of signatories, though there were disagreements over what the treaties meant, especially regarding land. The spirit of Treaty 6 remains unfulfilled to this day.
The trees and lakes of the region were also a growing draw for private businesses in the late 1800s and early 1900s, who extracted more natural resources than this territory could reasonably bear for long. In 1927, Prince Albert National Park was established as a natural recreation area, which began the sharp decline of commercial resource extraction in favour of early conservation measures. The natural scenic features of the landscape gave it tourism value and which in the early years helped protect it.
Indigenous peoples have lived on this land long before the park was established. Treaty 6 is a living treaty and everyone who lives on or visits this territory are treaty people. Prince Albert National Park is committed to telling histories that better reflect the stories of the peoples who have lived here long before the park was founded. By sharing these stories with Canadians we hope to foster better understandings and open discussions on the histories, cultures, and realities of Canada’s history.
To learn more about the impact of the foundation of the park on local communities and the recreation history of the park, see:
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