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New book tells the story of Muskeg Lake First Nation

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Peter Derbawka, Sage Writer, Saskatoon







Page 7

A new book by Muskeg Lake band member Judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, brings a First Nation's perspective to Saskatchewan history.

Maskeko-Sakahikanihk, 100 Years for a Saskatchewan First Nation is a great introduction to a vast topic. It tells some of the stories of Muskeg Lake families, going back 100 years and beyond to the signing of Treaty 6 in 1876.

Turpel-Lafond wrote the book to tell the story of First Nations people in Saskatchewan.

"I was very concerned that Aboriginal people are always discussed as a problem," she said, "and I wanted to tell the story of our community in a very accessible book, so people can see we are not a problem. We are families with hopes and dreams and history. We've made a contribution to Saskatchewan and we will continue to do that."

Turpel-Lafond is a mother of four and still keeps a busy schedule sitting as a judge. In fact she wrote the book while on maternity leave. She is also active in her community, and sits on the Saskatchewan centennial committee for Muskeg Lake, which has many events planned.

"We're really trying to celebrate the centennial in a way that's meaningful to our community," she said, "and that gives meaning to our community."

The book also brings a First Nation's perspective to Saskatchewan's centennial. "History can teach us a lot about the strengths in our families and communities," she said. "The strengths that we need to call upon when we tackle issues and when we go out into the world. If you look at the history of Muskeg Lake that the Elders have shared with us, you can see these stories of leadership, but there's also a lot of stories of heartbreak.

"One of the things that's important to remember about Saskatchewan is that the boom period in Saskatchewan history-1905-28, which was the greatest period of economic expansion in Saskatchewan, and attracted immigrant farmers to build the province-was also the period during which First Nation's lands were taken without proper compensation, including those lands under successful cultivation in Kahkewistahaw, in Thunderchild, in Moosomin, and at Muskeg Lake.

"It's very important to see the triumph and celebration of this great Saskatchewan province was at the expense of many communities like ours that didn't have a chief at the time. But because of the perseverance of our families, hard work, and stories, very human stories of people, we can see how hard Muskeg Lake people have fought against those things to build a good community and continue to do that. They're important stories and they're often passed over in the history, so that was the real motivation to do the book."

The other motivation was her children. "When people said there was this 'First Nations problem,'" she said. "I'd think, here's my children, I don't think they're a 'problem.' They're my family. I wanted to tell them stories about Muskeg Lake, because I wanted our children, and the broader community as well, to know that we are not a problem. We have a history, a very proud history of perseverance, a very honourable history of leadership, a very strong history of never standing down. A Muskeg Lake tradition, going back to Kitowehaw and Petihkwahakew, the two brothers who took treaty in 1876. They were very special brothers, and their story needed to be recorded formally, even though it's part of the oral history, because they showed a great deal of courage, and today we often need to draw upon that type of courage in our communities."

This is not Turpel-Lafond's first book, and it likely won't be her last. "I've written a few books before," she said, "One with Ovide Mercredi on First Nations history and the law, and I've written law books. But this is the first more popular thing I've written in a while, because now I write judgements in the courtroom, so most of my official writing is there. I'd like to do more. I really enjoy writing very much. It's just a question of time."

The book will help the commnity remember and learn about the leadership values that influenced leaders in the past in a very concrete way, Turpel-Lafond explained.

"We're taking the proceeds from this book and we're putting them into a fund for post-secondary education and leadership for people from our communities."