Many historical organizations tell part of the story of the prairies, but a group of individuals from the Turtle Mountains area felt that there was a fundamental part missing from the story: the voices of the First Nations and Métis people.
The group wants to tell the story of the land before the arrival of European settlers, and the story of the meeting of the First Nations and European settlers. The group has significant political interests, as it is working towards meeting the demands of different cultural groups where a sense of distrust has existed for a long time.
The desire to tell the history of the First Nations and Métis groups from around the Turtle Mountains stems from seven round stones that sit in the Moncur Gallery in Boissevain. These stones are the seven council stones that were once used by the seven Nations of the Plains, who gathered near the Turtle Mountains. Each tribe had one stone which represented their people around the fire.
When the reserve that hosted the council site was broken up by the Canadian government in the 1920s, the stones where given to a local farmer, William Moncur. William had befriended the chiefs of the band, they told him that the stones were to be kept together. Mr. Moncur guarded these stones and maintained close ties with the bands learning their traditional accounts and their knowledge of the land. Before Mr. Moncur passed away, he shared the knowledge with James Ritchie who had the same love for the area as he did. The responsibility of repatriating the stones was passed to James.
Throughout the years, James Ritchie has continued to speak with elders and numerous native bands around the area. Mr. Ritchie has done a lot of research that has helped native communities with land claims and has helped bands receive proper status neglected to them through history. Some of James’ supporters and some leaders in the community felt it would be best if James could be publicly funded to do his research and development work. They wanted the whole region to realize what an important resource James was, and the significance of his research.
The group of friends held meetings with towns and Rural Municipality councils. They were able to raise enough money from the local council to call their first meeting. The meeting gathered together people James had been in contact with throughout the area, and the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Eric Robertson. After numerous community meetings the project began to roll and a regional committee was formed — the Turtle Mountain-Souris Plains Heritage Association.
So far all work has been done by volunteers, which has been limiting. Currently the committee is meeting with all local municipal and town councils to urge councils to budget money toward the group so they will be able to hire an administrator to get the project on its feet. The committee already has $15,000 promised for the next year, enough for a part time administrator.
The Stones have attracted a lot of attention from First Nations groups trying to rebuild the ability to inspire their children with their history. The committee has continued to meet with Métis groups and First Nations bands. The committee wants to create trust and partnership between different cultural groups in hope of increasing sensitivity towards eachothers’ concerns. The committees also wants to facilitate discussion regarding how land is used, how resources are extracted so all will become respectful towards the land. The group is continuing the work of repatriate the stones.
There are ancient trails in Turtle Mountains that roamed the Mountains. There trails were once used for trade and peacemaking. The Turtle Mountains were at one time considered a sacred site that no group could lay claim to. This was a place where everyone could hunt, trade and meet, a place in the center of Turtle Island. The committee wants to reclaim it as a place of peace making and a place of trade.
The committee wants people to open their eyes to the cultural, educational and economic opportunities around them. The committee wishes to see the Turtle Mountains declared an International Heritage Site, focusing on bringing forward the stories of the site that are alive the an oral history. It is difficult to bring people to the actual historical sites however through oral tradition a greater understanding by all groups can be achieved.