The Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement is one of eight Métis Settlements in Alberta. The community is located in the northwest corner of the province near the Peace River. It is 1,739 km2, or roughly two and a half times the size of Edmonton. This makes Paddle Prairie the largest of the eight settlements in terms of area. It also makes it larger than the largest First Nation reserve in both the province and the country. (Blood 148, held by Kainai Nation in southern Alberta, is 1,342.9 km2.) The population of Paddle Prairie is 536, according to the settlement’s 2019 census. In addition, people may be a member of the settlement but live elsewhere.
The Alberta Métis Settlements were established in 1938 following a provincial inquiry known as the Ewing Commission. The inquiry was the result of Métis leadership lobbying the provincial government to set aside land for Métis settlers. While treaties in Alberta and elsewhere in the country set aside land in the form of reserves for First Nation peoples, Métis people were excluded from these agreements. The Ewing Commission examined the socio-economic conditions faced by Métis in Alberta. It recommended “Métis colonies” be established. The Government of Alberta accepted these recommendations and eventually established 12 Métis “colonies” or settlements in the central and northern portions of the province. By 1960, the provincial government had rescinded four of those settlements (Cold Lake, Touchwood, Marlboro and Wolf Lake). The remaining eight settlements (Paddle Prairie, Peavine, Gift Lake, East Prairie, Buffalo Lake, Kikino, Elizabeth and Fishing Lake) continue to be vibrant Métis communities.
In 1989, the province and the Métis Settlements signed the Alberta-Métis Settlements Accord. The accord defined the principles of a new relationship between the provincial government and the Métis people of Alberta. It led to the creation of a suite of legislation pertaining to the Métis Settlements, including the Metis Settlements Act. The act provides a land-base for the preservation and enhancement of Métis culture and identity. It is also structured to promote self-government among the Métis Settlements. The Alberta Métis Settlements are the only legislated, physical Métis communities in Canada.
Traditional Land and Activities
For members of Paddle Prairie, traditional land extends beyond the borders of the settlement. Traditional land is defined as any area of land that is sacred to the Métis people for the purposes of a culturally significant activity or belief. Belief sites are areas used for spiritual gatherings, both historically and at present, and burial grounds. These sacred areas are primarily recognized through oral histories passed down from generation to generation. It is important to document and record these histories and traditions so that they are not forgotten through the passage of time.
Traditional, land-based activities include hunting, trapping, fishing, and the gathering of medicines and berries. Many members of Paddle Prairie practice traditional activities throughout the year. For example, moose, deer and elk are important sources of food for many families.
Townscape and Infrastructure
The majority of Paddle Prairie’s land base is un-surveyed and used for traditional, land-based activities. Homes are located adjacent to Mackenzie Highway 35, which runs north-south through the settlement. On the east side of the highway and at the centre of the land base is a hamlet. The settlement’s administration office, post office, school, recreation centre, local store and gas bar are located here. The hamlet is also home to two churches, one Catholic and the other evangelical.
The Paddle Prairie School provides early childhood education through to grade 12. It has approximately 120 students, including children from the nearby communities of Carcajou and Keg River. The school offers both academic and career and technology studies courses.
Chuckegg Creek Wildfire
The Chuckegg Creek Wildfire — one of the largest in Alberta’s history — devastated Paddle Prairie (see also Forest Fires in Canada). In May and June 2019, the fire forced the evacuation of the entire settlement. Residents were displaced for as long as 33 days. In total, the fire burned 865,000 acres over an 17-month period, including 149,760 acres within Paddle Prairie’s boundary — about 35 per cent of the settlement’s area. Sixteen homes were destroyed and several other structures partially damaged. A costly recovery effort is now underway throughout northwestern Alberta.
The Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement, like all Métis Settlements in Alberta, is self-governing. The settlement’s government is made up of three to five elected council positions, consisting of one chairperson and between two and four council members. The elected council is voted on by the settlement members and elections take place every four years.
Economy and Current Projects
The natural resource industries that are most developed on the settlement are timber harvesting and farming. Paddle Prairie is also located on substantial oil and natural gas reserves. Most recently Paddle Prairie has developed several different solar projects. The projects subsidize the power consumption of the settlement’s buildings. The largest is a 240 panel installation at the water treatment plant and an 80 panel installation at the community arena.
The Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement has always had a close connection to sports and recreation. Many members are avid hockey players in the winter and play slo-pitch in the summer. Horseshoe tournaments and cribbage games are played throughout the year.