Chief Peguis monument coming to Manitoba Legislature grounds

A long-awaited announcement is coming today about a statue of Chief Peguis on the Manitoba Legislature grounds.

It will be the first monument to a First Nations leader on the downtown Winnipeg property. A statue of Louis Riel, a Métis leader and founder of the province of Manitoba, has stood on the grounds since 1973, but there’s never been one of a First Nations leader.

A news conference is set for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the grand staircase in the legislative building, featuring government ministers and Friends of the Peguis Selkirk Treaty.

That 1817 document was signed north of present-day Winnipeg, between Thomas Douglas, the fifth earl of Selkirk and one of the owners of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and five First Nations chiefs brought together by Peguis.

It allocated land along the Red and Assiniboine rivers to Selkirk’s settlers and was the first formal written agreement in western Canada recognizing Indigenous land rights.

It preceded the numbered treaties that followed. Treaty 1, which includes most of southern Manitoba, was signed 54 years later in 1871.

A bust of Peguis was erected in Kildonan Park in 1923. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Chief Peguis was the Saulteaux leader who welcomed the first of the settlers in 1812, five years before the treaty was signed. He helped them during those first difficult years, when the settlers found none of the promised gardens or houses awaiting them.

Peguis guided them to Fort Daer in present-day Pembina, N.D., carrying the children of the settlers on ponies provided by his people.

The Saulteaux also showed the settlers how to hunt and sided with the HBC during its dispute with the North West Company. After the 1816 battle at Seven Oaks between men from the two companies, with settlers on the side of the HBC, Peguis helped the survivors.

The new monument is intended to promote reconciliation between First Nations and non-Indigenous Manitobans, and remind all Manitobans of the historic spirit of sharing, co-operation and conciliation between Peguis and allied chiefs and Lord Selkirk, a government news release said in 2021 when the province announced $500,000 in funding to help build it.

The statue will also feature inscriptions that pay tribute to all of the treaty’s signatory chiefs, acknowledge the violations of the treaty by settlers, and recognize the contributions of First Nations in the founding, naming and development of Manitoba.

The exact spot for the monument has not yet been identified. The province said in the 2021 release that it would be installed in “a prominent location” on the legislative grounds.

A statue of Queen Victoria that used to stand front and centre on the grounds, leading up to the main entrance of the legislative building off Broadway, is no longer there.

A statue of a woman seated on a throne stands in front of the Manitoba legislative building, which has stairs leading to several stone columns and a dome topped by a golden statue.
The Queen Victoria statue at the Manitoba Legislature grounds was unveiled in October 1904 and toppled by protesters in July 2021. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

The monument was toppled and beheaded on Canada Day in 2021 by protesters angered by the discovery of what are believed to be unmarked burial sites of hundreds of Indigenous children at former residential schools they were forced to attend.

The push for the Peguis monument has been going since 2016, led by Friends of the Peguis Selkirk Treaty.

It is responsible for soliciting design proposals and raising funds to cover costs associated with the design, construction and installation of the monument.

It is also responsible for capital contributions to an endowment fund that will be used for future maintenance of the monument.

Peguis has been honoured in other locations in Manitoba. A bust on top of a monument was erected in Kildonan Park in 1923 and a headstone stands in the cemetery of St. Peter Dynevor Anglican Church in the rural municipality of St. Clements.

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