After 150 years, rare treaty medal remains with family of man who signed Treaty 2

A rare treaty medal that was given to one of the original signatories of Treaty 2 has been passed down from generation to generation and still remains with the family nearly 150 years later.

Pinaymootang's Richard Woodhouse was among those who signed the treaty on Aug. 21, 1871

The Woodhouse family have kept the rare Treaty 2 medal in their possession for 150 years. Left to right: Assembly of First Nations Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse, her son Kyler Nepinak, and Pinaymootang Chief Garnet Woodhouse. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

A rare treaty medal that was given to one of the original signatories of Treaty 2 has been passed down from generation to generation, and still remains with the man's family nearly 150 years later.

"This was given to my great-great-grandfather, Richard Woodhouse, when he signed the treaties on behalf of our community where we live today," said Garnet Woodhouse, chief of Pinaymootang First Nation.

Garnet Woodhouse has been the chief of Pinaymootang First Nation, also known as Fairford — about 220 kilometres north of Winnipeg, in Manitoba's Interlake — off and on for the last 18 years.

The silver treaty medals, which show two people shaking hands, were a gift given on behalf of Queen Victoria to the nine First Nations leaders who signed Treaty 2 on Aug. 21, 1871.

That treaty covers much of southwestern Manitoba and the Interlake region.

Richard Woodhouse signed Treaty 2 on behalf of Pinaymootang (Fairford) at Manitoba House, near present-day Kinosota, Man., on Aug. 21, 1871. He is seen here wearing the original medal. (Submitted by Cindy Woodhouse)

The Woodhouse family's medal has stayed in their possession since then. It's been a custom in the family to pass it down from father to son.

Woodhouse was given the silver medal in 1974 by his mother, the day after his father died.

"Before [my dad died], he told my mom to hand it over to me," said Woodhouse. "The next day, the first thing my mom did, she says, 'Your dad left this with you … to keep it, honour it, respect it.'"

Garnet Woodhouse also has a medal that was given to chiefs to commemorate Manitoba's centennial in 1970. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

A decade ago — on Aug. 21, 2011 — Woodhouse decided to pass the medal down to his grandson, Kyler Nepinak, the oldest son of newly elected Assembly of First Nations Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse.

"I seen something in him, because in the future he will lead," said Woodhouse. 

"That's my prayer. And of course, we have to pass this on. But this medal belongs to him now. He'll carry it and we'll keep it in a safe place."

Commitment to treaty 

The Woodhouse family celebrated Cindy's election to the Assembly of First Nations earlier this summer.

She said in her new role, she is committed to honouring the treaties, noting Canada wouldn't be what it is today without them.

"We shouldn't be poor in our own homelands.… When we look at all this beautiful land here, all these people that benefit from our treaties, they benefit from having their homes and having good jobs," she said.

"They don't realize that it's … our people that allowed for all these people to come here and to share with us."

Her ancestors were thinking seven generations ahead when they signed the treaties, she said, and her son Kyler, who now carries the medal, is the seventh generation from the original signatory.

"He has a duty to make sure that treaties are being upheld in this country and that they are being implemented."

Kyler Nepinak was five months old when he was given the medal by his grandfather on Aug. 21, 2011. (Cindy Woodhouse)

Kyler, 10, vows to "protect these medals forever."

"It feels awesome" to be responsible for the medal, he said. He also said treaties need to be taught in all Canadian schools, "so they can learn about our Indigenous history."

Medal represents 'equal nations and partnership'

According to the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba website, the "silver medals were very much a part of the regalia of the treaty ceremony" and provided "a lasting visual reminder to all the participants of their treaty commitments."

Harry Bone, a respected Anishinaabe elder from Keeseekoowenin in Treaty 2 who works with the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, said that the Woodhouse Treaty 2 medal is one of two that he is aware of in the hands of First Nations people.

The other is in the possession of someone from Keeseekoowenin, in southwestern Manitoba.

"Garnet is pretty fortunate to have his own medal and was able to show it off when his daughter got elected as a regional chief," said Bone.

Elder Harry Bone said new medals will be given out this weekend to Treaty 2 chiefs to honour the 150th anniversary of the signing. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

He said that the symbolism on the medals, which includes the sun, grass, water and two people shaking hands, signified the importance of the relationship between the newcomers and First Nations who signed the treaties.

"There's two people shaking hands there —equal status, equal footing, equal length," he said.

"One to one. That means equality and equal nations and partnership. That's what it represents."

On Aug. 21, the nine First Nations that signed Treaty 2 will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the historic milestone with performances at Clear Lake in Manitoba.


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1