Bringing back their name means reconciliation for a nation

Cowessess First Nation is currently working to rename the nation to it’s original spelling which is Quewezance. Cowessess First Nation signed to Treaty 4 during 1874 and the signatory chief at the time was named ‘Quewezance’. Photo by Heather O’Watch

For one southern Saskatchewan First Nation, correcting it’s name means more than changing the spelling.

For Cowessess, it means taking action towards reconciliation and an opportunity for the community and its members to have their name accurately reflect the original chief who the community was named for. The name “Cowessess” does not translate into any known language, but the term has caused confusion throughout the community members due to it sounding eerily similar to the Cree term “K’awasis” meaning “Your Child” and the Salteaux term “Quewezance” meaning “Small Boy”. Both Cree and Salteaux are the dominant language groups that make up the community.

Cowessess First Nation signed to Treaty 4 during 1874 and the signatory chief at the time was named “Quewezance”. Current Chief Cadmus Delorme explains the community had named a few buildings and services with Cree terminology, but one late elder confirmed with him differently.

“One of our eldest members, she had passed away last year and she was 101 years old, her name was Margaret Redwood, and she confirmed that Cowessess was Salteaux.”

Quewezance had led the nation during the forced relocation of the community from south-west to south-east Saskatchewan and had passed away in 1886, Delorme also said that during the signing of Treaty, Quewezance’s name appeared closer to the Salteaux spelling. “When you look at the actual Treaty document, Chief Quewezance was the third chief to walk up and touch the pen and it is actually very close to “Quewezance”, “It was almost spot on,” Delorme said.

After learning this information Delorme had went back a second time to share with elders and community members the findings of Quewezance’s name and to further pinpoint where exactly in history “Cowessess” had first been recorded. He learned that in 1883, when federal land surveyors had come to survey the reserve land during the relocation, they had spelled Quewezance’s name as what is currently represented.

Chief Delorme believes the findings of the correct language and spelling of the original chief will bring the community together with pride.

“In order to succeed in life you got to know who you are individually,” said Delorme. “You got to know your strengths, your identity, your values, and your genealogy. So correcting our name will bring even more pride to who we are as the people of Cowessess First Nation.”

He also said that “when you are out there in the world and you say I am from Cowessess First Nation it brings a pride to you and to say that you are from Quewezance First Nation, our original chief’s true name. It would add that extra pride knowing that we are really getting to the core of who we are as a people.”

Debbie Delorme, Indian Registry Administrator for Cowessess said her involvement with the steps of correcting the community’s name and that the initial conversation around looking into the name had started in the early 2000s. The last couple of years revealed more recent findings, noting that both elders and Chief Delorme look forward to the name transition.

“When they have their Elder’s meeting they ask and talk about it and there is still discussion on it, Debbie Delorme said. ” Cadmus said he would like to see it change too.”

Delorme also emphasized why it is important to follow through with correcting the name and that it would “—give us an identity and a proper one.”

The next steps for Cowessess are to continue the consultation with community members and to hold a traditional ceremony to ensure this process is done in line with cultural protocol. Chief Delorme also explained why traditional ceremony is important to this process and to the larger process of reconciliation.

“This is all about reconciliation for Cowessess,” said Cadmus Delorme.  “This is healing for Cowessess and with healing and reconciliation prayers are foundational.”

There is no formal voting referendum that will need to take place but states that consultation with members is important  and he expected the new name to be in place by 2019 or 2020.

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