Kalyna’s Native Heritage

Kalyna Country’s Aboriginal Heritage

The Kalyna Country Ecomuseum is situated on lands that for millennia were the domain of a succession of Aboriginal peoples. Since the mid-1700s, the Native population of east central Alberta has largely been comprised of Cree as well as Métis inhabitants, who migrated into the region via the North Saskatchewan River with the establishment of the fur trade.

In these early years, Woodland and Plains Cree hunters, along with the Métis, traded furs at a series of Hudson’s Bay and North West Company posts that operated at various times at six different sites on the North Saskatchewan between 1792 and the 1880s. In addition to pelts, the hunters and trappers also supplied the forts with the pemmican that was the “fuel” of the fur traders who transported the highly prized skins to the markets of central Canada and the ports that conveyed them to Europe. The Blackfoot tribes from Central and Southern Alberta also traded at the posts in Kalyna Country, which sometimes brought them into conflict with their rivals, the Cree. Kalyna Country was the scene of occasional skirmishes and pitched confrontations between the Cree and Blackfoot, as is testified to by scattered sites that are littered with the remains of arrowheads, spear tips and clubs. Indeed, the “Battle River” region in the south of Kalyna Country takes its name from this warrior legacy that is an integral part of east central Alberta’s history.

Of course, with time the Native and Métis inhabitants of Kalyna Country gradually settled and adopted agricultural lifestyles after trapping and buffalo-hunting were no longer able to sustain them. In negotiations over land, hunting, fishing and other rights, all of East Central Alberta came under the provisions of Treaty Six, an agreement originally signed at Fort Pitt in 1876 and subsequently expanded in 1899. In the course of this process, First Nations Reserves were established at Saddle Lake, Goodfish Lake, and Frog Lake, where the majority of Kalyna Country’s Native population currently resides. Despite experiencing numerous hardships over the years, the Cree and Métis have gradually overcome many of the challenges that they face and today they are vital part of the multicultural fabric of contemporary rural East Central Alberta.

Not surprisingly, Kalyna Country’s Aboriginal forbears and their present-day descendants are well versed in the wonders of the highbush cranberry, which has always been a source of fruit, juice, and ingredients for traditional Native medicines. Indeed, another name for Kalyna Country is “Nipinahtikwaski,” the Cree way of saying “land of the Highbush Cranberry.” In English, the Cree word for kalyna, nipiminana, got mangled in the process of being transliterated and ended up getting written as “Pembina.” If you think of all the things that were eventually named Pembina – from the great river east of Edmonton that flows into the mighty Athabasca, to the Pembina Institute and Pembina Hall at the University of Alberta, its easy to appreciate how the highbush cranberry continues to be an important a part of Alberta’s evolving identity.

By Jars Balan