The Duncan’s First Nation adopted its name from Duncan Tastaoosts (Testawich), who was identified as “Headman of the Indians of Peace River Landing and the adjacent territory” when Treaty 8 was signed on the 1st day of July 1899. 1 Within the Treaty 8 document, Duncan Testawich was also identified as “Headman of the Crees” and biographical notes indicate that Duncan spoke Cree, Iroquois, English, French, and some Chipewyan. 2
Historian David Leonard, citing information from adventurer Warburton Pike [who travelled through the Peace River country in the fall of 1890 and was assisted by Duncan`s brother, Jean-Baptiste “Tustawits” (Testawich)], concluded that the Testawich brothers “were the grandchildren of Francois Tustawits”. Leonard described Francois Tustawits as “an Iroquois who had purportedly come to the Peace River area with George Simpson [Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company], in 1828.
Photo of “Daukhan Tustowits” (Duncan Testawich) taken in 1893 when he was 45 years old. Published in H. Somers Somerset (1895). The Land of the Muskeg. William Heinemann, London. Page 72.
Additional documents suggest that through his mother, Duncan Testawich, who was born in 1848, may have been a descendant of Baptiste Bisson, one of the voyagers who travelled with Sir Alexander Mackenzie on his epic trip to the Pacific, in 1793. 3 Later, the great nephew of Sir Alexander Mackenzie, with the same namesake, would become the step-father of Duncan’s Member William McKenzie, after whom the Wm. McKenzie reserve (#151K) is named. In 1869, Duncan Testawich married Sophie Thomas, a sister of Napoleon Thomas, a man of Iroquois ancestry who played a significant role in the development of British Columbia’s northeast. 4 One of Duncan Testawich’s sons, David Testawich, in 1895 married Angelique Thomas, another sister of Napoleon Thomas. Duncan’s brother, Jean-Baptiste Testawich, who was born in 1846, married the daughter of Jean-Baptiste La Pretre of Fort Vermilion in 1869 and later lived at Spirit River. He worked both for the Hudson’s Bay Company and as a free trader.
It was clear that the population of the central Peace River spent a considerable part of their working years in the fur trade. “The most striking characteristic of Duncan‘s Band”, remarked lawyer and historian Neil Reddekopp in his thoroughly-researched 1996 paper, The Creation and Surrender of the Beaver and Duncan‘s Band Reserves“, was the association of a large proportion of its Members with the Hudson‘s Bay Company.” 5 Although present-day Members of Duncan‘s First Nation are descendants of Cree and other Aboriginal groups, including Iroquois and Métis, the Reserve General Registers maintained at Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada emphasize only the DFN‘s Cree components. Hence, the Registry states with respect to the DFN: “The Duncan‘s Band, comprising Cree Indians, adhered to Treaty #8 on 1 July 1899 under Duncan Tustaoosts (Tustawits [Testawich]) as their Headman.” 6