Deciphering Paskwa pictograph not a simple, fast process: Delbert Pasqua

Delbert Pasqua is in charge of deciphering the pictograph of Treaty 4 negotiations, drawn by Chief Paskwa in 1883.

Pasqua is a direct descendant of Chief Paskwa, in charge of deciphering the pictograph and its message

A pictograph of the Treaty 4 negotiations, illustrated by Chief Paskwa. It is the only depiction of the treaty negotiations from a First Nation perspective. (Royal Saskatchewan Museum)

Deciphering historical imagery goes beyond conventional book knowledge when it comes to the depictions of the signing of Treaty 4.

The treaty was signed in 1874. Nine years later, Chief Paskwa created a document of his own, in the form of a pictograph, based on what he was told by an interpreter, says Delbert Pasqua. 

"[Chief Paskwa] didn't understand them, he had to take the interpreter's word that this is what [the Crown] meant, what they were promising," Pasqua told CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend earlier this week. 

Pasqua is a direct descendant of Chief Paskwa and is in charge of deciphering the images that were put to paper.

It involves more than just cross-referencing the images with the written words of the treaty, signed between the Indigenous people living on the land and the Crown 143 years ago.

Pasqua said he has sought out the consultation of elders in deciphering the images. Pasqua had two meetings with two Saulteaux elders, one meeting took place in Kamsack and one on the Keeseekoose First Nation.
Lorne Carrier, left, and Delbert Pasqua of Pasqua First Nation near Regina, hold a framed pictograph that is the only First Nations record of Treaty 4 negotiations. ((CBC))

"[The elders] knew that to do this, there are certain ceremonies you have to do before you can [decipher it]," Pasqua said.

Part of the process involved Pasqua taking part in eight ceremonies: four sweats and four feasts, one of each for the four seasons. An obstacle to deciphering the pictograph occurred when one of the the elders Pasqua had been consulting with passed away after he had finished his year of ceremonies.

"So, I was kind of lost for the longest time after on what to do," Pasqua said. 

So, he sought out direction from other elders through ceremonies to assist the remaining elder, who told Pasqua he too was left without direction.

It was suggested the pictograph be transferred to an animal hide to be used in ceremonies because the original pictograph is too delicate to keep bringing in and out of storage. Pasqua is currently in the process of seeking out another elder to help in deciphering the images.

It's a practice of patience and persistence. 

Pasqua recalled showing his granddaughter the pictograph and its importance in regard to her treaty rights.

"They're being challenged, they're being misinterpreted," Pasqua said of the promises made in Treaty 4. "Even our own people sometimes, they're interpreting them in their own way."

Pasqua thinks when it was drawn, the chief had some foresight that the treaty rights might be in danger of being diminished or disputed. Pasqua said he would one day like to deliver the pictograph to the Queen, as it was originally intended.

"If we brought it back just to simply put it back into a museum and leave it there, [then] what's the sense of bringing it back?" Pasqua added.

He said he will continue to work on the pictograph as long as he can. His goal is to give the best he can right now, and something even better in the future, if possible.

"I'll continue slowly to do my work on this," he said. "It's a big project for me. I'd like to see it done before I pass on to the next world."

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend