Calling Lake

The final addition to the Bigstone Cree Nation’s land base was a 507.5-acre parcel of land at Calling Lake, set apart for the First Nation in 1966. While advising that this reserve “belongs to Bigstone,” elders confirmed that it had originally been established “for one family,” that of Jean Baptiste Gambler.

The daughters of Jean Baptiste Gambler advised the Commission that their father had been born at Lac La Biche and his father, Louison Matchemuttaw, was a signatory to Treaty 6 as a headman of the Peeyaysis (Lac La Biche)Band at Fort Pitt on September 9, 1876. Jean Baptiste Gambler moved to Calling Lake at some point before the birth of most of his children, and in fact probably before 1899. The Matchemuttaw/Gambler family was absent from Lac La Biche on a consistent basis as early as the 1880s, and Peeyaysis Band annuity paylists indicate that the family was living within the boundaries of Treaty 8 as early as 1883. In a statutory declaration sworn in 1915, Jean Baptiste Gambler indicated that he had wintered in the Calling Lake area since 1885.

Members of the Matchemuttaw/Gambler family were virtually the only Peeyaysis Band members who did not discharge from treaty in order to apply for scrip in 1886, and in 1911 Louison Matchemuttaw and Jean Baptiste Gambler transferred to the Bigstone Cree Nation, becoming Numbers 104 and 105, respectively. Both families were absent in 1913, the year in which reserves were first surveyed at Wabasca. In September 1915, Jean Baptiste Gambler applied for a free grant to a two-square-mile parcel of land at Calling Lake, claiming that he had been in possession of the land claimed and had made improvements on it prior to the signing of Treaty 8. Although the form of application made by him was that usually used in homestead applications, Jean Baptiste Gambler noted in his statutory declaration that, following consultations with the Treaty 8 inspector, he claimed the land in question as a “reserve” for his family.

The Department of Indian Affairs supported Jean Baptiste Gambler’s application; however, somewhat surprisingly in light of the fact that the application was made on behalf of the Gambler family, the department calculated the land to which the family was entitled under the reserve rather than the severalty provision of Treaty 8. For reasons not expressed, Indian Affairs advised the Department of the Interior in January 1919 that the 11 members of the Gambler family required a reserve of only one square mile. When the parcel of land specified by Indian Affairs was surveyed, some of it was found to be under the waters of Calling Lake, and the Order in Council setting aside IR 183 in severalty for the Jean Baptiste Gambler family established the size of the reserve as 507.5 acres.

Jean Baptiste Gambler lived on IR 183 until his death and, as his family grew (a 1939 census revealed that 24 Bigstone Cree Nation members lived on the reserve), he made several unsuccessful applications for additional land.

In 1966, a decade after his death, the Bigstone Cree Nation passed a Band Council Resolution asking that IR 183 be set aside for the First Nation. The Superintendent of the Lesser Slave Lake Agency endorsed this suggestion, noting the long affiliation of Jean Baptiste Gambler with the Bigstone Cree Nation and the unanimous support of the Gambler descendants for the proposal. Accordingly, an Order in Council passed on December 22, 1966, set aside the Jean Baptiste Gambler Reserve for the use and benefit of “the Wabasca (Bigstone) Band of Indians.”

Surviving children of Jean Baptiste Gambler remember the events of the 1960s somewhat differently. They advised the Commission that their father was affiliated with Bigstone only for the purpose of annuity payments, and they have no recollection of signing any papers consenting to the 1966 Order in Council.

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