Co-Authors Sharon Bear and Melissa Antony spoke to a gathering at the Yorkton Public Library Tuesday evening.
The duo were speaking about their recently released collaborative effort Pimatisiwin Wawiyekamaw: A History of Jacob Bear and the Round Lake Mission.
Truth in history can be clouded by who is recording what has happened.
That seems particularly true when it comes to First Nations and their role in the development of Canada, suggests author Melissa Antony.
“I strongly believe in educating Canadians on the true history of our country and paying tribute to the Indigenous elders that managed to maintain the unique and valuable oral histories and traditions of the Indigenous peoples of Canada,” details Antony in the Foreword of her new book Pimatisiwin Wawiyekamaw: A History of Jacob Bear and the Round Lake Mission.
So when Sharon Bear asked Antony to write a book more accurately reflecting the history of the Round Lake area, and her grandfather’s role in that history, she took on the project.
“I understand the difficulty and complexity of this topic and in no manner wish to imply sole truth, but rather to begin a discussion about the true history of Canada and how Indigenous perspectives have not been considered or documented in the means that they should be,” she again wrote in the foreword.
With the complexity of the project, and real jobs, the book took time to be finished.
“It took a long time to get it to where we wanted it,” said Antony, who was working in part to fulfill a long time vision for Sharon Bear.
“Elder Sharon Bear had wanted to write this book for 30-years,” said Antony, relating how Jacob Bear was remembered for being something of a bridge between cultures as the interpreter at the Round Lake Mission.
The greatest challenge was finding documentation to provide details for the story beyond the remembered oral stories.
There were a series of letters between Jacob Bear and Rev. Hugh McKay.
“She (Bear) basically handed me this pile of letters that were hardly legible,” said Antony, leaving her as author “to make sense to what they said.”
But those letters would become an integral aspect of the book which focused on Jacob Bear.
“She (Sharon Bear) wanted the role of Jacob Bear and what he had written about,” said Antony, adding she came to appreciate “his role was so important.
“She wanted that to be in the book.”
Jacob Bear, originally from St. Peter’s band in Manitoba, first learnt English in a program in Winnipeg that was being offered to First Nations to train them to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company. After schooling, Jacob went on to work as an interpreter and educator for Hudson’s Bay Company and finally as an interpreter for an Indian Agent in Okanese. Being that anyone who could speak English and Cree was very valuable for the department at that time, Jacob went on to apply for a position in Saskatchewan. Jacob arrived at Cowesses reserve around the signing of the treaty and became a legal band member of Cowesses First Nation. His first role as interpreter in Saskatchewan was at Marieval Indian Residential School, however he was pushed out by the Catholic priest because Cowesses was predominantly Catholic and Jacob had strong Protestant beliefs. Jacob then moved on to work at the Mission at Round Lake School. Jacob’s wife Nancy moved with him and they remained together working at Round Lake and travelling to the surrounding communities. Jacob was known as a generous person who prayed for the sick and travelled between communities acting as an interpreter between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, meanwhile spreading the information of the Christian Mission.
The importance of an interpreter was paramount to creating discussion and understanding between the First Nations and European immigrants, but also a role that was difficult as Jacob Bear was left to translate things for the European side be might not have fully understood, or words in both languages may not have existed.
“There’s a whole cultural context, a whole different world view,” said Antony.
As an interpreter between the English Missionaries and Cree people, Jacob Bear, who had moved to the area first as a Missionary in Cowesses then moving on to Round Lake, played a significant role in the Round Lake Mission. In November 1885, Jacob and his wife Nancy Bear came to Round Lake and Jacob worked alongside Hugh McKay acting as interpreter and occasionally holding services among the Cree people.
Antony said with the book complete she hopes it can be one small addition to a broader discussion to look at history in a more balanced way.
“I feel frustrated that education has been so skewed for so long,” she said, adding hopefully the book will help some people begin asking more questions to learn more of the actual history.
“People need to learn, to be educated about the real history of Canada, especially the local area.”