The people of Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nations are Anishinabe / Ojibway who have lived in this land for millennia. The Keeseekoowenin Ojibway also known as the Riding Mountain Band signed Treaty #2 AUGUST 21, 1871 with the Government of Canada. 35,700 square miles in central southwestern Manitoba and a portion of southeastern Saskatchewan.

The Community Background:

The members take an active role in the community development and they provide a strong and effective role in the direction that the community should take in its approach to be economically self-sufficient. The Elders of the community are actively involved in giving guidance to the leadership and the community. The community has varied religious and spiritual beliefs. Some members still live and maintain their traditional culture and the spiritual teachings past onto them by their fathers and grandfathers. They believe the mother earth is a keeper of all things and the Ojibway people are the stewards of the land, the lakes and the rivers. The animals and the birds are sacred and are protected. We firmly believe that each generation must do everything they can to protect and preserve their culture, the lands, the rivers, the lakes and all living creatures.


The Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation has 3 reserve lands in separate locations. The main reserve 61 includes acres of land and is situated south of Riding Mountain National Park. The main residential site is situated near the town of Elphinstone. The Second reserve 61 A is located within Riding Mountain National Park on the North West Shore of Clear Lake. This parcel of land was set aside to be used as a fishing station and hunting base camp. The third is located in between the two other reserves and is called Bottle Lake 61B. This land was allotted for the purpose of producing hay and a stop over to rest the horses when traveling to and from Clear Lake.

The reserve includes some acres of mixed forest, farm and hay pastures. The topography varies from each reserve. The Main reserve is situated in a valley setting with the Little Saskatchewan River Flowing through. Bottle lake is a small pasture with hay and small brush. The Clear lake reserve consists of forest, with the predominant species being hardwoods poplar and soft woods White Pine. There are pockets of other softwood spruce and cedar.


History of the Riding Mountain Band:

Since the year 1800, perhaps, the Indians that lived in the area of the Riding Mountains were of the Salteaux Tribe. Salteaux is the language spoken by the Natives from the Manitoba-Ontario boundary to as far west as Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, from Pembina to the Swan River Valley.

The Sioux came after the country was settled. They were granted asylum in Canada after the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana, the Custer battle. Before that, there were very few Sioux north of the Souris River.

The First Nation people who made their home in the area around Wasagaming (Clear Lake) were the Okanese Band of which Michael Cardinal, known as Okanese, was the leader and chief. Okanese had three wives at the same time, one a Dakota, one Native and Orkney halfbreed, and one Native and French Canadian. Each wife had her own tipi and had large families. The men became very good hunters and trappers, especially the sons of the Orkney woman.

Isaac Cowie wrote when he visited the area,

“In the wooded area of the Riding Mountain from which I derived large quantities of fine furs trapped by the splendid hunters of the Salteaux Tribe of whom the family of the Little Bones (Okeneas) were the most expert.”

Okanese and his family spent seasons along the valley of the Little Saskatchewan River, ranging from Lake Audy where the river begins for some 15 miles to the site of the present reserve. A favorite camping spot was just south of the HBC post on what is now SE¼ sec 34-18-21 WPM. The valley is quite wide here, a nice open prairie away from flies and mosquitoes especially during the summer months. It was also closer to the summer buffalo hunt.

This little river had several names in 1729. It was referred to as the River St. Peter of La Verendrye. In 1806, Alexander Henry speaks of it as the “Rapid River”. Riding Mountain was then called “Fort Dauphin Mountain”. The Okanese Band called the mountain Wowwaswajicus, “The Hill of the Buffalo Chase”. The river running out of Lake Audy was called Keeseesatchewan, “Rapid Flowing River”.

There is no record of these families except for their sons. The Dakota woman had three sons: Ouchop, Mekis, St. Paul. The French-Saulteaux wife had four sons: Antoine, William Mukatapenese or Blackbird, John Jojo, and George, later chief. The Orkney woman had three sons: Yellowhead, Keeseekoowenin (Moses Burns) and Baptiste “Bateese” Bone of Clear Lake.

Keeseekoowenin was chief of the Riding Mountain Reserve located near Elphinstone, and Bateese Bone was chief of the little reserve at the west end of Wasagaming.

The Okanese Band lived a good life in the beautiful valley of the Little Saskatchewan River. In the winter months, they lived in the Riding Mountain around Lake Audy, west end of Wasagaming and north of the present-day Clear Lake golf-course. There was food, fuel and shelter at its best. Fur, moose and wapiti (elk) were abundant.

Some of the more popular winter campsites were along the west short of Wasagaming near the Indian Cemetery, another just north of where the Clear Lake golf course is located now, also around Lake Audy, and another favourite winter camp was at Kennis’ Creek along the old Gilbert Plains on Dauphin Trail. Fishing was good. There were game birds. Lake Audy was noted for the abundance of water fowl in the fall when ducks and Geese stopped there on the migration south. Lake Audy was called Poneeakesakaekun, or “Bird Landing Lake”.

In the summer, the band moved out onto the plains on the southwest side of the mountain for the buffalo chase and drying of meat, kaskkeewuk which was later pounded into nokkeewaquanuk, then mixed with tallow and wild fruit into pemeekkesegun, or “pemmican”, which was stored in bags of hide or cartons of birchbark.

The people seemed to have had a good life with plenty of food and clothing. They seemed to be very thankful for these essential things of life. There did not seem to be any territorial disputes with other tribes. They lived a happy peaceful life.

Horses were of great value to these people, and there were many famous horse owners in this band. The Riding Mountain provided good forage for these horses. The plains of Lake Audy and along Clear Creek were excellent wintering grounds for livestock.

At this time, the Okanese trappers had to trade either at Fort Ellice or Manitoba House on Lake Manitoba. Since the fur-trapping and hunting was good in the nearby area, so about 1850 the Hudson’s Bay Company had a winter outpost on the east side of “Lake Audy”, where James Audy was in charge. In the Spring of 1868, the Okanese trappers had arrived with a good winter catch of fine fur, only to find the post closed and the trader gone. They burnt the post to the ground.

Robert Campbell, chief factor of Swan River District and John Archie McDonald from Fort Pelly arrived at Fort Ellice to discuss a year-round post at Riding Mountain. Walter Traill, a clerk at Fort Ellice, volunteered to establish the post. He set out on September 15, 1868, with the men and equipment for the buildings. Trail met two American prospectors at the junction of the Carlton and Fort Ellice trails, and when he learned they were house-builders, he hired them. When the crew arrived at Riding Mountain, Trail chose a location at a beautiful part of the Little Saskatchewan River valley near where Chief Okanese was camped — in fact, it was the Chief’s favorite camping spot.

Okanese was not at all pleased with the idea of a post, since the memory of the previous spring’s experience was still fresh in his mind. Traill entered into negotiations, ending up with an agreement that higher prices would be paid on Riding Mountain fur. Traill and his American carpenters went about their work, and by winter, the post was ready. Traill remained in charge for the next three years.

In the early years, Riding Mountain House was supplied from Fort Ellice. The trail ran southwest from the Post past Glen Forsa, past Menzie, south past Ipswich to the south end of Shoal Lake. Here it joined the main trail west through Fort Ellice on west to Fort Carlton.

With settlement, the new post could get supplies from Rapid City. When lumber camps were established about six miles to the north of the post, they too looked to Rapid City for supplies. The main freighter was a man named Jack Hales. He would haul the freight overland to the HBC Post, and from there the cargo would move up the Little Saskatchewan River. In the spring, piles of winter-cut logs were rolled into the river to float down to sawmill when the ice broke up.

The Rapid City trail began about the same as the CNR route to near Moline, then ran northwest to Newdale across the Little Saskatchewan, and along Wolf Lake to Riding Mountain House up the river to the camps by Jim Prout’s place. Jack Hales would board at the Prouts, and stop at Jordy Jackson’s stopping house at the south end of Wolf Lake to rest his horses.

When Okanese died about 1870, he was buried on a knoll about a half-mile south of the post. His son Mekis became chief, and in 1871, it was Mekis who signed Treaty Number 2 entered into on behalf of Queen Victoria. Mekis died in 1874, and his younger half-brother, Keeseekoowenin (also known as Moses Burns) took over as chief until his death in April, 1906, at age 87. He was a strong man, quiet and kind, 6’1″, slim, broad shoulders, an excellent athlete as a youth. He was known as a great buffalo hunter and horseman. Robert Campbell called him “one of Nature’s gentlemen”.

With the coming of the settlers and the settling of the region around Riding Mountain and the forming of the Riding Mountain Reserve, the Okanese Band seemed to do very well, especially the family of Chief Keeseekoowenin. Although the Treaty called for a reserve at Lake Dauphin, Okanese’ Metis and Orkney sons tended to prefer land to the south of the Mountain. Keeseekoowenin himself had chosen the southeast corner of the reserve where a small creek ran into the river. There were good meadows, plenty of hay for his cattle and horses, and a good field for grain.


Land Claim:

The Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation had two land claims settled. The Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation filed a specific land claim to particular lands in the Park with the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada in the mid-1990s. The claim is commonly referred to as the 1906 Lands Specific Claim. Canada accepted the basis of this claim and has agreed to return 320 acres, described as East 1/2 Section 8, Township 20, Range 19, in the Province of Manitoba, to the Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation as Indian Reserve lands.

The lands, which were purchased in 1906 for the Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation, have been a part of Riding Mountain National Park of Canada since 1935 when they were expropriated for park purposes. The lands are located adjacent to Reserve 61A lands on the north shore of Clear Lake in the Park.

On the western shores of Clear Lake in Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park there sits a small reserve belonging to the Keeseekoowenin Ojibwa Band. Officially designated Indian Reserve #61A, the parcel of land is located close to the main park town site of Wasagaming and the prime tourist areas surrounding Clear Lake. The presence of this reserve within in a national park might tempt one to conclude that the federal government has historically attempted to reconcile the goal of wilderness preservation with the historical presence of First Nations people in the Riding Mountain region.

The present reserve at Clear Lake is, however, only a recent addition to the political landscape of Riding Mountain National Park. In 1935 the site was deleted from the Indian reserve system; its boundaries were wiped from the map of the Riding Mountain region and its people were evicted from within the park boundary to an existing reserve near Elphinstone. In 1939 all the remaining buildings were burned to the ground. It was not until the resolution of a specific land claim in 1994 that the Clear Lake Reserve was returned to the Keeseekoowenin First Nation. A further settlement that was not resolved until 2005 brought $6,999,900 in compensation for the lost use of the land over a period of fifty-nine years.

The expulsion of the Keeseekoowenin Ojibwa Band from their reserve in Riding Mountain National Park is only one chapter in a long international history of local displacement due to the implementation of parks and nature preserves. During the zenith of European imperialism, for example, national parks were created in rich big game rich regions such as southern Africa and South Asia in a manner that restricted local access to bush meat and to traditional hunting grounds.

In North America, recent scholarship has suggested that many characteristics of colonial conservation initiatives were associated with efforts to preserve the fading wilderness spaces of North America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly in the western part of the continent. Throughout this period, Aboriginal hunters on both sides of the Canadian border were routinely expelled from iconic wilderness spaces such as Banff, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon, their former hunting territories turned to pleasuring grounds and recreation areas for middle and upper class tourists from the east.

As the wilderness movement expanded to the east in the 1890s, Native and non-Native homesteaders alike were barred from wilderness areas such as Algonquin Park, the Appalachians, the Quetico wilderness, Georgian Bay Islands National Park, and various national parks in Atlantic Canada.

Historians have offered several interpretive models to explain the adverse relationship between the wilderness parks movement and indigenous people in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. One common thread of analysis has suggested that the U.S. government sought to empty protected areas of people in order to create a tabula rasa that was fundamental to a national identity born out of its profound cultural encounter with the wilderness.

Other scholars have emphasized the influence of upper class sport hunters who sought to denigrate Aboriginal and other lower class ‘pot hunters’ and as a justification for enclosing the hunting and fishing commons so that only the true ‘gentleman’ hunter would have access to fish and game.

More recently, the historian Karl Jacoby has advanced the notion that the wilderness and wildlife conservation movements of the late twentieth century were tied to much larger efforts on the part of the state to control and regulate local systems of resource management at the rural periphery.

Finally, scholars in Canada—perhaps reflecting the heavy emphasis the federal government placed on national parks as public pleasuring grounds in this country—have tended to emphasize the role of local and state promotion of tourism as a primary factor leading to the expulsion of ‘undesirables’ such as homesteaders and Aboriginal hunters from within the boundaries of the national parks.

The case of the Keeseekoowenin Ojibway expulsion suggests that many factors influenced the decision to remove them from their reserve at Clear Lake. From 1929 (when Riding Mountain National Park was created) until the actual removal of the reserve in 1935, local and senior parks officials offered a range of justifications for deleting the reserve from within the park boundary. These included the desirability of having the park lands administered by one branch of the federal government, the need protect local game populations, the hope that the resident Aboriginal people might take up agriculture on their main reserve, and finally the expectation that the land base accorded to Indian Reserve #61A might be used for the development of further tourist and recreation facilities along the shoreline of Clear Lake. Noticeably lacking from the discussion was any mention of preserving wilderness values in the park.

Whether this absence of a wilderness ethos in the discourse surrounding Native exclusion from Riding Mountain National Park represents a general trend in the history of the Canadian movements is a question that can only be settled through further research. Nonetheless, the case of Riding Mountain National Park suggests that local issues and concerns, particularly the pragmatic managerial concerns of park administrators and political agitation from local people who supported the park’s tourism and game protection mandates, were the driving forces behind the deletion of Indian Reserve #61A. Indeed, the attempt to ‘de-humanize’ Riding Mountain National Park was a response more to local factional interests and social hierarchies than to abstract notions of the wilderness or concrete attempts on the part of the central state to control those living at the rural periphery .