By Deb Steel
They promised, before the Creator and man, to “well, and truly, serve the people of the Samson Cree Nation without favor or bias, malice or ill-will.”
They promised to “strictly obey all laws of the Creator and man.”
They took an oath to strive to advance the interests of the citizens of the Samson Cree Nation in all ways “both by precept and example and with honor and integrity.”
And would fulfill all duties of the office to which they had been elected, to the best of their skills and knowledge.
This morning, June 27, chief and council of the Samson Cree Nation were inaugurated and through ceremony put in their positions of leadership for the next three-year term.
Some held the bible as they read the oath of office, some a feather, and some, for a variety of personal reasons, chose to swear their oaths holding both.
New councillor Terry Buffalo explained his reasoning to do so. As a traditional person, he believed that there is only one God, and no matter how one prays it is to the same Creator.
The ceremony was held in the Nipisihkopahk High School Theatre in Maskwacis, Alta. in front of dignitaries, Elders and membership. The day began with prayers and pipe ceremonies for the men and women, who were taking on the heavy responsibility of leadership.
New Chief Vernon Saddleback addressed the gathering to provide the welcome.
He opened with a few words in the Cree language, which he said was a priority for him to continue to learn. He said he once would avoid ceremony and occasions where Cree would be spoken, because he carried shame, but one day put that shame aside and determined that if he could learn one hard word in English for his schooling, he could learn lots of words in Cree.
He thanked the people of Samson Cree Nation for their support in electing him. He explained that he would not wear his war bonnet that day, because the bonnet ceremony would be held in August at grand entry for the local powwow.
He explained that he and the council of 12 was already fast at work, despite having seven new councillors and going through an orientation that is needed for them to get their bearings.
The group was elected in May and the inauguration ceremony had been attempted on two other occasions, but life events get in the way sometimes, he said.
Chief and council will soon sit together to develop their group vision and will then go into budget determinations. Then they will come back to the people to outline what will be in store for the coming three years, he said.
In a very candid address, Saddleback explained his personal vision for the coming term. It is rooted in healthy families and healthy homes.
Those words mean something to Saddleback beyond a catch-phrase, he said, explaining he wants to go after the causes of child poverty. During the speech, Saddleback even asked his neighbors, Wetaskiwin city council, to help in this endeavor and work to get the local pawn shops from taking in fridges, stoves and beds for cash.
“We need to take away that ability to starve our kids. Parents are pawning everything,” Saddleback said. Kids don’t have beds or anything to eat, and Saddleback said he wants these basic necessities off the pawn list.
Saddleback said many citizens talk about the gangs, the children in care, the number of kids not going to school.
“They’re not the problem,” he said. The kids are just trying to do their best to survive. He said he wasn’t elected to force children back to school or force parents to take back their children if they aren’t ready. He said he wants to empower people, employ people and see people feel pride in their home.
“We all talk about what residential school has done to us as a people,” but, he explained, there was additional harm done “when we started to give ourselves (oil and gas) royalties in the ‘80s.”
“All that money that we got in the ‘80’s took away our ability to parent,” he said. There is a whole generation of 20- and 30-year-old people who are lost today because of that time. “And we need to have a conversation with ourselves as a people. What does that mean to us?”
Not wanting to live in the past, Saddleback said there are, however, lessons to be learned from what Samson Cree Nation has come through. By acknowledging what happened in the past, the people can decide how they want to move forward, by taking responsibility for their own existence.
“We are a powerful people. Can you imagine if we could get all of our kids to go to school, if we got all our kids out of care? Can you imagine what kind of people we would be then?
“That’s the challenge I want, and that’s what I’m going to do as chief. … I want to go after child poverty.”
The plan going forward is to build the town, develop work crews for mould remediation and put people to work. And he wants people to feel safe.
But it’s a journey, he said, and it’s taken 50 years to get into the position Samson Cree Nation finds itself in, and it’s going to take patience as they get to where they want to go.
But “we are going to plant those seeds of change,” said the new chief.
When the chief’s message was delivered Elders Lawrence Saddleback and Josephine Buffalo provided some direction for the leadership term.
Elder Saddleback talked about the 10 sticks (promises) of Treaty 6, and urged the chiefs to put their collective foot down with the federal and provincial governments to ensure those sticks are upheld.
“There’s a covenant here,” Elder Saddleback said.
The first is the promise that the treaty would be honored as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow and the grass grows.
“This is a very, very serious covenant,” Saddleback reiterated. He said the governments want to get out of this agreement, “and they can’t. The sun will always be going here.” That’s the oath they made… “it’s right here in black and white.”
The second stick is the land used by the settler peoples. The promise is that it would only go the depth of a plough. Saddleback said there is nothing in the agreement for anything under that earth. Not the natural resources. “But they took it anyway.”
He encouraged the leaders to fight for the rights, because the words of the agreement “will back you up.”
The third stick is the promise to provide for the people in place of the buffalo. “Not on welfare, but in actual welfare.” Provide food in times of need “because they are using our land. Because we paid for it already.”
“You need to put your foot down on these promises. They are right here.”
The fourth stick is the promise that the people will be able to continue to live the way they have lived by hunting and using the creatures of the land, waters and skies to sustain them.
“All of these animals, they were not given away,” Elder Saddleback said, adding there is nothing in the treaty about permits or regulations. “They make that up.”
Six stick represents the promise that the winged creatures will remain with the people.
The seventh stick is that the Indian agent is there to help, to be a servant to Indigenous peoples, but that’s not what happened.
“I remember years ago, you can’t even sell a cow. Can’t even get off the reserve. We were just like animals. We were fenced in…. that’s not what this treaty represents.”
The eighth stick is the people will get an education.
The ninth stick represents the Red Coats, police, will make sure that the treaty promises are fulfilled.
“I hope the RCMP gets this message today,” he said.
And the tenth stick is the promise that the people would be provided with a medicine chest. He said there should be a hospital on the land already. “There’s nothing.”
He encouraged the new leaders to start working on this “like right now.”
Elder Buffalo spoke about the leadership role as being 24/7 not 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. “It’s non-stop,” she said.
There was also a presentation about what governance means and what the qualities of traditional leadership are, including, among many things, being thoughtful and a thinker, being prudent and looking into the future, being diplomatic and tactful, being generous, kind, and compassionate, providing for and giving to the people in need.
It was then time for the oaths.
As first to read and sign the oath, Chief Vernon Saddleback called Josephine Buffalo back to the stage to sign on behalf of Samson Cree Nation as a witness to the leaders’ signatures. He said he wanted to “respect and honor the power of women in our community.”
Most read the oath in English, but some used their Cree language. Said Kurt Buffalo, in order to speak his truth, he explained.
The life journey of Frank C. Buffalo to his place on council was a tough one, he said. Frank C. said he had battled alcohol, drugs and gang life to become the man he had promised to be, a role model for the children.
Councillor Kevin Buffalo jingled as he walked to read and sign his oath. He was proud to be a Prairie Chicken Dancer and had completed Sundance to become a whistle carrier, and proud of his 24 years of sobriety, he said.
Shannon Buffalo said she was humbled to be elected and taking the oath. She thanked the community for their faith and belief in the chief and council as leaders.
Katherine Swampy said it was a blessing and honor to serve. She said she was humbled and thankful.
“I believe that with good intentions everything works out and I am here with good intentions.”
Marvin Yellowbird said it was a very special ceremony for him, and will be a special term. He had been in office for more than 20 years. He said it was sometimes a tough journey, but he had no regrets.
Other councillors sworn in were Earl Mario Swampy, Larron Archie Northwest, Ordelle Saddleback, Danny Buffalo, and Vincent B. Saddleback
The ceremony ended with an honor song.