Like much of the Canadian interior, Whitecourt was once under part of a massive inland sea. This was during a period of global warming that happened millions of years ago. Ancient riverbanks left high ridges that are visible today, most notably Shining Bank ridge to the west at 3,800 feet, and the House Mountain uplands to the east at 3,850 feet.

The earliest group of people thought to have inhabited the area were the Clovis people. Artifacts have been found north and south of Whitecourt, along their migration corridor, that are about 11,500 years old. Dunvegan and Drayton Valley are two of the places in Alberta where such spear points have been found. A different people, referred to as the Folsoms, may also have hunted in the area. The names of these peoples are taken from the locations where artifacts documenting their existence were first found in the U.S.

The next known inhabitants of the area were the Beaver peoples, or the Tsattine. Whitecourt’s Beaver Creek is thought by some to be named after them.

Something to keep in mind regarding the names of various native peoples is that their nationalities were often different names, depending on which other Native nation you talked to. Sometimes the Europeans documented the name of a tribe according to how they were described by a hostile neighbouring tribe.

The Beavers were forced back to northern Alberta by invading Crees and their Assinboine allies. These peoples had moved west as the fur trade expanded, and were aided in their conquest by the European firearms that they had traded for. The Assinboine had left the Yankton Dakotas, a Sioux people, to migrate northward, before allying with the Cree and pushing westward. The Assinboine were known to some as the Stoneys, apparently for the stones they heated for food preparation.

Around 1782, the Beaver and Cree/Stoney alliance ended their war through a truce at Peace Point. The Beaver Indian River became known thereafter as the Peace River to Europeans and Natives alike. Whitecourt was known at this time as Sagitawah, Cree for ‘where the rivers meet’.

The famed European Palliser Expedition commented on seeing a Stoney, or Assinboine, encampment a few miles east of the confluence of the McLeod and Athabasca rivers in 1859. This would be just past the present day site of the Graham Acres baseball facilities. Woodlands Cree shared the area with their Stoney allies.

Native trail systems networked the Whitecourt locality with other places and were later utilized by early settlers. The old Cree war trail crosses Highway 43 near Sangudo, while the Beaver trail led from Carson Lake up into Peace River country.

There was a short period of relative peace and prosperity for Natives, helped by European technology and efforts at establishing peace between warring nations; (when the European nations weren’t warring among themselves). However, the cost for these improvements eventually proved devastating for the Native Nations. Smallpox epidemics came to the west. Around 1782, 1837 and 1869, the Cree and Stoneys lost as many as 90% of some communities to this disease. This was followed by the near extinction of the buffalo in the late 1870’s, so that famine followed disease.

The response from Ottawa to this was to centralize relief efforts, which resulted in a cut in rations in 1883. Local agents protested, and in some cases resigned, as the Native death rate from the effects of starvation accelerated. A western paper leveled scathing criticism of the Ottawa mandarin who assumed he knew more about the requirements of the Natives from thousands of miles away, than the agents who were on the scene of the crime, so to speak.
Other Ottawa edicts, such as the Pass Law, were often ignored by local white officials, who correctly regarded them as unconstitutional. Not to be stymied, Ottawa implemented a bizarre anti-machinery law in 1889 that stipulated all Natives who had taken up farming had to turn in their mechanical equipment, and farm using only primitive tools. Any white farm instructors who complained were to be fired.

Often, the desperate plight of the Natives was used as leverage to get them to sign Treaties officially giving up land, and in 1899, Treaty 8 was signed for Natives north of the North Saskatchewan.

There were two rebellions, centered in what is now Manitoba, against the arbitrary federal government policies. In 1869, revolutionaries under the leadership of Metis Louis Riel seized Fort Garry, later to become Winnipeg, in response to the purchase by the federal government of western Canada from the Hudson's Bay Company. The purchase took place even though ownership was in doubt, and with the inhabitants of the area not being informed until after the fact. This Red River Rebellion was quickly put down and Riel fled to the U.S. He returned to lead the far bloodier Northwest Rebellion in 1885, in which some starving Alberta natives joined. Lac St Anne natives, which would include natives in the Whitecourt area, pledged their support for the rebellion. After battles and some slaughter of civilians, this rebellion was also put down, and Riel was eventually executed by the victorious federal government.

In fairness, it should be mentioned that many of the invading Europeans, such as the Scottish highlanders were fleeing other invaders. During ‘clearances’ Highlander homes would be set on fire with people inside. The Irish had been victimized during a potato famine, where landlords exported ample amounts of wheat, dairy products and meat to England, even as over 1 million Irish people starved to death. As mentioned, First Nations also had a history of dispossessing other First Nations and so on.

Sometimes it seems as if the differences of peoples are highlighted by the federal government, rather than the common history of a trail of tears through the ages. Dispossession continues to run rampart today, not only internationally, but even in Canada by less obvious means. Rather than focus on differences, now is the time to get together to create what famous futurist Alvin Toffler called the first truly human civilization in history.