Carmen was raised on the reserve by a single mom. Life without a father left him confused and angry. He played sports as a way to try and release his internal pain, but eventually, when he was in his 30s, he realized his need for healing. Carmen discovered it was a personal relationship, not religious attendance, that God was looking for. As he opened his heart to God as a perfect Father, he was able to find healing. Today he works in his community as a youth worker!
Chief George Coté
220 years ago, in 1800 over 40 million buffalo roamed the North American prairies. This provided the foundation for the shelter, food and livelihoods of the indigenous people of the prairies. Just 70 years later - by 1870 the buffalo had disappeared.
Hunted to extinction by settlers wanting indigenous lands to settle on, with the full support of governments who wanted the “Indian problem” solved, natives were forced onto reservations and children taken away from families and put in residential schools.
With their livelihoods taken away, the Indians, who were traditionally hunter/gathers, faced starvation.
To solve this problem, the Government of Canada made treaties with the Indians, promising them financial and technical assistance if they agreed to surrender all their lands except certain small, reserved portions to the crown.
Nearly all the Indian bands agreed to this plan. September 15, 1874, Treaty #4 was made between the Crown and 34 First Nations in Fort Qu’Appelle Saskatchewan. On behalf of his people Chief Gabriel Cote, Chief George Coté’s great-great-grandfather, signed.
In this treaty, they gave up 74,600 square miles of land to the crown and agreed to live on reserves. In return, they got the Coté Reserve - 56.5 square miles in eastern Saskatchewan. Over the ensuing years, the Government and railways expropriated 45% of this land for a pittance.
Promises were made and immediately broken. Training in farming and cattle ranching was promised to help the people transition to this reserve. All the promises were broken. Government officials stole the grain and cattle. They took the best land and gave it to white settlers.
The Coté people were starving. Local townspeople gave bribes and whiskey to the Chief and Councillors to convince them to give up more land. Under the pressure and the inducement of bribes, the Band was pressured to surrender another two-mile strip of the Reserve.
Under the terms of Treaty 4, the government was obligated to provide education for children. They turned this responsibility over to the Church. Seven generations of Coté children were taken from their families and sent to St. Phillips Residential school, operated by the Catholic Church.
Survivors tell stories of sexual assault, physical and mental abuse, and very little education. It has scarred everyone. The people suffered from limited education, broken families and relationships, and inadequate support systems. Hope was limited. Band leadership was troubled.
Seven years ago, George Coté was elected as Chief. He was just re-elected for the second time. Chief George, a vibrant and strong Christian, has brought unprecedented progress to his people and their First Nation. www.tearfund.ca
As Christians, we recognize the need for reconciliation and the building of long-term friendship. The “Bring back the Buffalo project” is a means to support an indigenous led initiative that is working.
Partnering with an Indigenous ministry called Loko Koa, our aim is to facilitate the return of the buffalo back to their traditional lands of the Cote First Nation. The goal of this project will be to build at least 10 sustainable buffalo herds on First Nations land across Treaty 4. They will help restore cultural identity and provide food for their own people. It will be more than a “project,” but the start of building long-term relationships.
The Coté Buffalo Project started in December 2021 when 24 buffalo were introduced back to Cote First Nation land. For the first time in over 150 years buffalo roamed the land.
This initiative has helped restore Native identity and dignity. Schools in the surrounding communities have come to see the buffalo and learn about them for science and history classes.
Over the next 5 years, the herd will continue to grow under the care of the Coté First Nation, at which point 22 buffalo from the herd will be gifted to another First Nation.
In the coming years, we will support Loko Koa and their team’s dignity and identity-building initiatives in “Bringing back the Buffalo”.
Tearfund is not the lead on this project but the behind-the-scenes supporter. www.tearfund.ca