Re: Official Name Change to “Maskwacis” (Bear Hills) in Place of “Hobbema”
The official name change to “Maskwacis” is seen as a welcome change. It signifies respect for our Cree way of life, our language and our authority over the traditional territories we have historically occupied. The Maskwacis Cree, collectively, and individually known as Samson Cree Nation, Ermineskin Cree Nation, Louis Bull Tribe and Montana First Nation, are a distinct part of the Plains Cree Nation, who have occupied a territory known as “Maskwacis” since time immemorial. The territory is shown on the attached map obtained from a collection of maps of John Palliser’s Expedition to the West between 1857 – 59. The Elders speak of being related to he land; of knowing the land. The identity of the Cree peoples is intimately tied to the land which has always been known as our mother, the earth. Individually, the Crees of Maskwacis are also known as:
Neyaskwayak (the Northern treeline) or Ermineskin Cree Nation
Kispahtinaw (the end of the hill) or Louis Bull Tribe
Akamihk (across – the river) or Montana First Nation, and
Nipisihkopahk (willow meadows) or Samson Cree Nation
In much the same way, Maskwacis is a reflection of the physical surroundings. At one time, this large area, including the hills at the crest of highway 611 West driving towards the Queen Elizabeth Highway, from Ermineskin, were covered with blueberry bushes attracting a large population of bears to the area, hence the name Maskwacis or Bear Hills. Also, one of the local creeks is known as Muskwa (Bear) Creek and it drains into Bear Hills Lake just north of present-day Louis Bull reserve.
As long as Maskwacis Elders can remember, to the present day, this area has been called Maskwacis. Some of this territory would eventually be set aside for the Maskwacis Cree as reserve lands under Treaty. Today, the combined reserve land base of the Maskwacis Cree is comprised of some 319.8 square kilometers located in the area known as Maskwacis and Pigeon Lake.
Reclaiming our traditional names for Maskwacis territory, instills a sense of pride in Cree values, languages, culture and history and a sense of belonging among our Nations, especially our youth. In particular, as the bear is so significant to the history, culture and spirituality of the Plains Cree at Maskwacis.
Since 1891, Maskwacis has also been known as “Hobbema”, named after a Dutch landscape painter who was admired by the then President of the Canadian Pacific Railway. When the railway line between Edmonton and Calgary was built, he chose “Hobbema” as the name for the flag station established in Maskwacis territory.
Despite there being many indigenous place names in the surrounding area, including Wetaskiwin, a Cree name meaning “Hills of Peace”, Ponoka, a Blackfoot name for “Elk”, Minihk, another nearby flag station (or siding) along the Canadian Pacific Railway meaning “Spruce” in Cree, yet, for more than a century, the official name for Maskwacis, namely Hobbema, has persisted until now. The Maskwacis Cree have been advised by the Ministers and Ponoka County that the name will be changed effective January 1, 2014.