The Power of the Indian Agent: The story behind this 1935 letter


 By Todd Lamirande
 APTN Investigates

Curtis Cardinal says it surprised him how a 75-year old document became viral.

curtis cardLast July, he posted a 1935 letter from Indian Agent N.P. L’Heureux to Cardinal’s great-great-great grandfather Jean-Baptiste Gambler. In it, L’Heureux writes to J.H. McIntosh, who owned a general store near Calling Lake, Alberta. He tells McIntosh to withhold Gambler’s rations until he sends his children to the Wabasca residential school.

Yesterday, APTN Investigates posted the letter on its facbook page. It has since been shared over 460 times and garnered more than 60 comments.

The response to the story prompted Cardinal to call APTN and tells us more about the letter.

“The guy who was the storekeeper had an old shed. And it was sitting in that old shed since 1935, that letter, all rolled up,” said Cardinal.

McIntosh left his land to his daughter. But when she passed away without children the land was inherited by her good friend, Gwen Schmidt.

“And she was digging around and she found that old letter, rolled up. And she brought it to me at the office this July and said, ‘look what I found.'”

Cardinal is a supervisor at the Calling Lake visitor information centre and has a keen interest in the history of his community, named after Gambler.  He immediately knew the importance of the letter.

“So I scanned it and uploaded it to facebook,” he said. “So it’s been sitting in a shed, that letter, since 1935.”

JB GamblerAlso found sitting in that shed was a headdress. The same one Gambler can be seen wearing in this picture taken in 1952. However, Cardinal isn’t sure how it ended up in the shed of a long-deceased storekeeper.

Cardinal said it couldn’t have been easy decision to risk not sending his children to school.

“That was during the depression. If you were cut off from your rations it was pretty tough times.”

He told APTN that Gambler had many children over his long life, perhaps as many as two dozen before he passed away in 1957. Cardinal speculates that his great-great-great grandfather may not have sent his children to residential school after all.

“A lot of his children couldn’t read or write.”

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