'It's fascinating': Touchwood Hills book aimed to preserve Sask. First Nations history

Andrew Miller said the history changes a person's perceptions of Saskatchewan.

Collaborator Andrew Miller said the history changes a person's perceptions of Saskatchewan

Elder Irvin Buffalo is from Day Star First Nation and was one of the elders involved in the creation of the book. (Submitted by Andrew Miller)

A new Saskatchewan book was started by an elder's wish to collect stories from others.

Bill Strongarm made a presentation of the Cree and Saulteaux names of different places in the Touchwood Hills area. He was concerned people who remembered the names would soon be gone.

This hit home for a First Nations University of Canada professor and researcher, Andrew Miller.

"He began telling stories that pushed things back hundreds of years," Miller said. "It completely changes the depth of history."

"It just became a very almost magical kind of experience to see a familiar place become much more."

The Touchwood Hills People: Our Land is available at the Touchwood Agency Tribal Council in Punnichy, Sask. (Submitted by Andrew Miller)

Miller, Strongarm, Miriam McNab and others all collaborated together and have now published The Touchwood Hills People: Our Land.

While gathering knowledge for the book, one story that surprised Miller was a camp with different artifacts. Some artifacts dated back as far as potentially 8,000 years, Miller said.

"They can identify the style of those stone tools," Miller said. "There's a single camp where there was, it appears, more or less continuous occupation for almost 8,000 years. It just blows your hat in a ditch."

Bill Strongarm on a hilltop near Quinton, Sask. The hill is known as asawâpiwin or Scouting Hill. During the summer when Touchwood people gathered to camp in the flats below. (Submitted by Andrew Miller)

The peoples of the time also travelled and had specific places and routes with signs, Miller said. Elder Tom Favel described how when the foxtail grass opened, then was time for people to travel west to a lake with a number of chokecherry bushes and go duck hunting.

"There's an environmental signal," Miller said. "They're nice and fat you know getting ready for migration. And that was the time to catch them."

The environmental signs that link together are things that not many people know about anymore, Miller said. But they can educate people on how the world is changing.

"It's fascinating to hear it from a historical or cultural perspective but it also has a great deal to tell us about environmental change," he said.

A glacial erratic near Watrous, Sask., is known as mistasini kaapit or where the big rock sits. Andrew Miller said it was a place where Touchwood peoples offered prayers for healing. (Submitted by Andrew Miller)

The stories also hold educational practices to teach the next generation their history. Students were also involved in the book by being present while interviewing elders, transcribing the interviews and creating lesson plans, Miller said.

"Students are gaining experience, professional experience," Miller said. "There's a lot to be really, really happy about with this project."

These stories need to be preserved because it's important, Miller said.

"If we allow ourselves to be aware of history, it really changes our understanding of who we are and where we stand and the big picture of what Saskatchewan is," he said.

Dean Cortus of the Ministry of Agriculture, Bill Strongarm and Harold Littletent at Mt Hope Community pasture. To Touchwood elders the pasture is known as kâ-takwahiminânâhtikoskâk – “Many chokecherry bushes”. (Submitted by Andrew Miller)

Often, the colonial history of English and French settling the area is only told, with First Nations having no history, he said.

"It's just not true," Miller said. "There is a fascinating history that goes back hundreds of years thousands of years. But we have to get our heads around it."

Touchwood includes members of the Kawacatoose, Gordon First Nation, Muskowekwan and the Day Star First Nation. The book was published by the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre and can be found for $20  at the Touchwood Agency Tribal Council in Punnichy, Sask.

The Touchwood Hills book goes through the history of the land, important landmarks, and more in a total of 86 pages. (Submitted by Andrew Miller)