Chief Blue Quill (sîpihtakanep) was among the original four chiefs that banded together to form Saddle Lake as a result of signing Treaty Six. In 1880, Chief Blue Quill moved his band to Egg Lake (Whitford Lake now known as Andrew). In 1890, J. A. Mitchell, the Indian Agent, persuaded Chief Blue Quill to move back to the Saddle Lake reserve. Agent Mitchell promised that Blue Quills Band would have 30 acres of land broken for them at Saddle Lake, be given six cows, and compensation for the house a band member had built at their former location. Chief Blue Quill settled on the western end of Saddle Lake. The Chief was known as a compassionate man.
“There were two religions at that time – Protestant and Catholic,” Elder Stanley Redcrow stated to the St. Paul Journal. “The Catholics went to school at Lac La Biche, and my father was one of those guys. When they went there, they never came back until they were 16 years old. At that time, the road was very bad; all they could use were dog teams… So the people in Saddle Lake started to say they wanted to have a school at home.”
It happened quickly. The Federal Indian Department studied the school, and in 1898, moved it to the more populous Saddle Lake. Within a year, a pair of Oblate brothers had built and dedicated a church and school at Saddle Lake, with the help of the people. They called it Blue Quills, and the reasons, as Redcrow notes, are interesting.
“The government said they could build the school at a site, but when the Protestants saw those piles of lumber, they asked what we were doing. We said, ‘We’re going to build a school here.’ They said, ‘No, you’re not. After you pile the lumber we’ll put a match and burn it up.’ All four Saddle Lake Chiefs; pakan, onchaminahos, Blue Quill and Bears Ears, were of the Protestant faith. The Oblate fathers went to see Chief Blue Quill and told them they wanted to build a school. Alphonse Delver, a direct descendent stated that Blue Quill responded to the request affirmatively, “Yes, put it on my land. I’m thinking of the future of my grandchildren and the orphans.”
William Delver, son-in-law of the Chief, saw the future of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren whom he said would live during a time when, “kipimâcihonâwâw ka-wehcasin. kinehiyâwiwinâwâw wî-âyiman ka-miciminamihk. (Earning a living will be easy. Being Cree will be hard to hold.)
In 1931, the school was moved to its present location, 5 kilometers west of the town of St. Paul, Alberta. Almost 90 years later, the brick building is still standing, the site of a First Nations owned and governed University. Descendents of Chief Blue Quill are among the students and faculty at the college.