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The Key First Nation

Followers of Chief Ow-tah-pee-ka-kaw (“He Who Unlocks” or “The Key”) were residing along the Shoal River in southwestern Manitoba in the mid-1800s. The band included Saulteaux, Saulteaux-Cree, and Saulteaux-Orkney individuals when The Key signed adhesion to Treaty 4 September 24, 1875, and was told his people would be relocated further west. A reserve was surveyed 145 km northeast of Fort Pelly in 1878; but when the agent visited it in 1880 the land was badly flooded, and he relocated the band nearer to Fort Pelly. From their part in the fur trade, most adult male members were experienced carpenters, blacksmiths, boat builders, and salt or lime makers—the solidity of their houses and shelters attested to this. Their initial years of re-establishment were hard, but improved through their agricultural endeavours. In 1905 and 1909, portions of their land were lost through surrenders, curbing further agricultural expansion. In 1954 Gwen O’Soup was elected chief—the first Aboriginal woman in Canada to hold this position. In 2004, 289 of the 1,030 band members lived on their 6,404.8-ha reserve, located 15 km south of Norquay.

Christian Thompson

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