MOSTOS (Moostoos, meaning “the buffalo”; occasionally known as Louis Willier), Woods Cree headman, trapper, and fisherman; b. c. 1850 at the western end of Lesser Slave Lake (Alta), eldest of the ten children of Masinigoneb and Marie Kowikkiu; m. there 7 Nov. 1892 Niyaniskipimuttew (Nanette Auger), and they had at least two sons and an adopted daughter; d. 19 Nov. 1918 at the Sucker Creek Indian Reserve (Alta) in the influenza epidemic of that year.
Mostos first came to the attention of government officials during the negotiations for Treaty No.8 An enormous amount of land was at stake – the northern half of what is now Alberta, and parts of present-day British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories; it was home to Woods Cree, Beaver, Sekani, Chipewyan, and other peoples. Mostos and his younger brother Kinosew (Kinoosayo) were the key spokesmen for the Cree at talks in June 1899 at Willow Point, on Lesser Slave Lake. Kinosew was recognized that year as chief of the people who lived in the region of the lake and Mostos as the most prominent headman. Their negotiating styles were different, but both men were strong advocates of Indian interests. They sought to protect the traditional way of life and to secure additional benefits so that the survival of future generations would be assured. For its part, the Canadian government wanted to guarantee safe passage for prospectors on their way to the Yukon gold-rush and to open the area for training and settlement.
The negotiations began on 20 June and lasted two days. After the opening ceremonies, the commissioner of Indian affairs, David Laird, outlined the government’s offer of treaty terms and stressed that the freedom to hunt, fish, and trap would not be curtailed but rather confirmed. Kinosew responded by asserting the right to negotiate additional terms that would benefit his people. Mostos supported him but also opened up different approaches to the discussions and tended to be more conciliatory. He stressed the need for peace between Indian and white man, a stance that may in part be attributed to the caution of age and his apparently good relations with the Roman Catholic Church and Father Albert Lacombe, who accompanied the commissioners. “Our country is getting broken up,” he said to Laird. “I see the white man coming in, and I want to be friends. I see what he does, but it is best that we should be friends.” Later he spoke to the education issue and received a positive response from the commissioner. He continued: “We must know what type of teachers the government intends to give us. Does it mean to impose on us those it likes, or will it take our opinions into account?” A correspondent for the Edmonton Bulletin, commenting on the speaking skills of Mostos, remarked that “he is acknowledged to be the orator of his people in this country and he certainly is.”
In the years subsequent to the treaty, both Mostos and Kinosew pressed for implementation of the promises made. In 1900 they and other headmen asked for a reserve to be surveyed east of the Driftpile River on Lesser Slave Lake. By 1910, however, the federal government had come to the realization that Chief Kinosew and Headman Mostos each had his own followers, as did other headmen. Separate reserves were therefore established at Driftpile for Kinosew and at Sucker Creek for Mostos. Although Mostos continued to be referred to as a headman by officials, clearly his own band members saw him as their chief, and he served as leader of the Sucker Creek Band during his lifetime. He was also recognized as a medicine man and healer. His medicine bundle, which contained herbal remedies and objects of great spiritual power, has been passed down in his family.
Even the leader of an extended family could not remain untouched by the flow of prospectors into the Lesser Slave Lake area. In September 1904 members of the Sucker Creek Band reported “some strange things” to the local officer of the Royal North-West Mounted Police which caused him to go down with Mostos to a deserted camp-fire on a seldom-used trail near the creek. The two men discovered the charred remains of a body. Band members helped search for evidence (Mostos even had them drain a nearby slough), and various personal possessions were found. Prospector Charles King was charged with the murder of his gold-rush partner. At the trial in Edmonton in March 1905, Mostos and a number of his followers appeared as key witnesses for the crown. Although the Daily Edmonton Bulletin sneered at them, and the defence counsel in desperation suggested that they might have been involved in the killing, King was convicted. A mistrial was subsequently declared but in June, at a second trial, the same verdict was reached despite another attempt by the defence to blame the Indians.
In photographs taken by Ernest Brown, Mostos presents himself as a prominent, well-attired Indian leader with a European-style suit combined with moccasins, a bandanna, a sash, and a large crucifix. Perhaps his dress symbolizes his strength as a headman – that he was able to respond wisely to dramatically changing times for his people and to adapt to a variety of circumstances.
Arch. of the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan (McLennan, Alta), Constant Falher, “Moostoos or Mustus is Louis Willier (Masinigoneb)” (genealogy, 1939). Indian Assoc. of Alberta, Treaty and aboriginal rights research (Edmonton), Letter from S. St. Amour, Dept. of Indian Affairs, Ottawa, to Victoria Caillou, 6 Nov. 1984, listing chief and councillors for Sucker Creek Band, 1899–1983, extracted from annuity lists; Louise Zuk, “Documentation relating to the historical separateness of Swan River and Sucker Creek in the pre-treaty era” (October 1987) [includes an English translation of Treaty No.8 negotiations as found in Grouard, cited below]. NA, RG 10, 7777, file 27131-1 (mfm. at PAA). Daily Edmonton Bulletin, 1–10 March, 27–29 June 1905. Edmonton Bulletin, 6–10 July 1899. Can., Treaty No.8, made June 21, 1899, and adhesions, reports, etc. (Ottawa, 1966). Richard Daniel, “The spirit and terms of Treaty Eight,” in The spirit of the Alberta Indian treaties, ed. Richard Price (Montreal, ; repr. Edmonton, 1987), 47–100. René Fumoleau, As long as this land shall last: a history of Treaty 8 and Treaty 11, 1870–1939 (Toronto, [1975?]). [É.-J.-B.-M.] Grouard, Souvenirs de mes soixante ans d’apostolat dans l’Athabaska-Mackenzie (Lyon, France, et Winnipeg, ), 367–70. D. F. K. Madill, Treaty, research report: Treaty Eight (Ottawa, 1986 [i.e. 1987]). Charles Mair, Through the Mackenzie basin: a narrative of the Athabasca and Peace River treaty expedition of 1899 (Toronto, 1908). David Young et al., Cry of the eagle: encounters with a Cree healer (Toronto, 1989; repr. 1990).