Ward Karhiio: Tall Beautiful Forest GAR-EE-HE-O

As the fur trade expanded westward, Iroquois men traded in the North West Company and Hudson’s Bay Company. Iroquois men married Cree and Métis women from the settlements and trading posts established long before the West formally joined Canada as a nation. From these unions, a distinct and culturally diverse Band of Iroquois, Cree, and Métis backgrounds was formed: the Michel First Nation

Karhiio is a significant word for the Michel First Nation. It means “tall beautiful forest.” 

Michel First Nation settled in the Lac Ste Anne area. The county is home to God’s Lake, or Wakamne for the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation who resided on the western side of the lake; or Manito Sahkhagian, or Spirit Lake, by the Cree. 

The lake is the site of an annual pilgrimage in which hundreds of people seeking spiritual nourishment, healing and religious worship, come to the shores of the lake. The pilgrimage, which takes place every July, has existed for over 100 years and has become the largest annual Catholic gathering in Western Canada. 

Chief Michel signed Adhesion to Treaty 6 in 1877. In 1880, the Michel Callihoo Reserve was created approximately 30 km northwest of Edmonton. The Chief’s father, Louis L’Iroquois, had nine children whose descendants number in the thousands and who still reside across Alberta. Notable descendants include Felix Callihoo, a founder of the Métis Association of Alberta and John Callihoo, a founder of the Indian Association of Alberta. 

Since the early 1900s, the Michel First Nation has been subjected to breaches of Treaty agreements, and were involuntarily enfranchised (the process for terminating Indian status) on March 17, 1958. Nearly all members of the Michel First Nation lost their Indian Status as a result. Lands were sold by the Government of Canada and families were scattered, losing connection to land and culture. In 1985, amendments were made to the Indian Act, restoring the status of 750 Michel Band members. The Michel First Nation continues to fight and advocate for status acknowledgment, reinstatement and land recognition.