treaties & change
Treaty 7 - 1877
Blackfoot, Blood, Peigan, Stoney, Sarcee 
First Nations of Southern Alberta  

The First Nations of southern Alberta were the most feared group on the western plains. They were fiercely independent, and did not allow any strangers on their lands without permission.

The Treaty 7 First Nations had all made many treaties before, among themselves. Peace pacts made "forever" with other tribes would sometimes be broken by adventuresome young warriors going on a horse raid. These were land usage agreements between nomadic peoples.

But the idea of even being able to sign away your land, its creatures, and everything related to that land forever was a totally foreign, and impossible-to-understand concept.

The Blackfoot had, for a long time, been selling rights to use their land and firewood, or to travel through their territory.

American traders  would always seek out the nearest chief when they entered Blackfoot Territory, and pay him for clear passage.

The whiskey traders had paid the Blackfoot for the right to erect forts in their territory.

Surveys of elders some years after the treaties were made indicate that these are the kind of rights the Blackfoot and others thought they were allowing when they signed the treaties.

Right and below the grave of Chief Poundmaker in the centre of the Battlefield at Cut Knife where his band sent the Canadian militia under Colonel Otter fleeing for their lives.

Without the restraint he forced upon his young warriors the defeat would have become a massacre reminiscent of Custer's Last Stand at the Little Bighorn, just across the border, six years before.

Petocahhanawawin - Chief Poundmaker
Painter, Edmund Morris, 1910

The Northwest Mounted Police

newGreat Canadian Heritage Treasure
Constables of the North-West Mounted Police Guarding a Trail to Prince Albert (detail)
Orig. lithograph - Size - 5" x 8"
Found - Cooksville, ON
Canadian Pictorial & Illustrated War News Souvenir Number, Pub. Toronto Lithographing Co. 1885
Americans massacring Canadian Indians led the Canadian Government to form the North West Mounted Police to prevent a Canadian version of the American Wild West, which often meant genocide against First Nations people who seemed to stand in the way of white man's progress.

In 1874, the Northwest Mounted Police had marched west and kicked the notorious American whiskey traders out of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The Northwest Mounted Police had thus won the respect of the Blackfoot, Piegan, Blood, Sarcee, and Stoney First Nations.

These First Nations especially trusted James McLeod, who insisted on one and the same law for Indians and Whites. McLeod was one of the Treaty Seven Commissioners, so negotiations went fairly smoothly.

Some, especially Crowfoot, pressed for better treaty terms, but all finally agreed to sign Treaty # 7 which covers southern Alberta.

Some of the same Chiefs who signed Treaty 7 had already signed American treaties, because their territories straddled the border.

They knew Americans were breaking their promises, yet they trusted the British (Canadian) government.

Why? Because they trusted the Northwest Mounted Police, and they especially trusted the word of NWMP Inspector James McLeod.

It was wild Mountain Men like these who carried out the Cyprus Hills Massacre in Southern Alberta
before hightailing it back into the US, where killing Indians was a national pastime from the 1860s to the 1890s.

The Missionaries  

The Roman Catholics, and the Methodists established missions all over the west. For the most part, the missionaries were genuinely concerned about the well-being of the First Nations people.

They tried to persuade the First Nations people to become farmers, and also to accept the government's treaties. First Nations who were Christians most readily accepted the treaties

George McDougall was an influential missionary. He was a Methodist missionary who had a mission on the upper Bow River, and the Blackfoot especially trusted him

McDougall assured Crowfoot that he believed Canada's history with Native people was to treat them justly.

Chief Crowfoot was firmly against those of his people who believed that confronting the white man with force was in the best interests of safeguarding Indian rights.

Crowfoot believed his people would get a better deal by bargaining honourably with honest white men like Inspector James McLeod.

Overlooking the site where he signed treaty is the grave of Chief Crowfoot.

Chief Crowfoot
Painter - John S Perry, 1920

The Translators  

The government had very poor translators at the treaty-making negotiations.

When Chief Commissioner Laird opened his speech with flowery language, then waited for hired translator Jerry Potts, Potts was speechless. Though Potts was fluent in Blackfoot and Blood languages, he spoke only basic English. He had no idea what Laird was talking about, or how to translate the concepts into First Nations languages.

Government officials scrambled to find other translators.

We have no record of what they actually said, but we do know that the major concept at the heart of the treaty, i.e. extinguishment of all land rights, could not have been translated clearly into Native languages. Those concepts simply did not exist.

It is quite clear that the concept of extinguishment of title to all their lands forever was not in any way understood.

Most groups did not even pay much attention to the lands they chose as reserves, because they had no idea that they would be confined to these lands. Several tribes later refused to move onto the lands they had chosen as reserves, and had to be given alternative lands.

newGreat Canadian Heritage Treasure
Inspector Cotton and Inspector Perry Dispensing Justice to Blood Indians at Fort McLeod
Orig. lithograph - Size - 7" x 9.5"
Found - Cooksville, ON
Canadian Pictorial & Illustrated War News Souvenir Number, Pub. Toronto Lithographing Co. 1885
Above, the middle man, Jerry Potts has to be the medium between white administrators, who cannot speak the Aboriginal tongues, and First Peoples who cannot speak English. Lots was missed in the translation by an interpreter whose own short-comings in language - not to mention his private agenda - influenced what was said and understood by both sides.
Building the Canadian Pacific Railway

The government transferred 20 million acres of land to the CPR company, and exempted it from taxes for 20 years.

To save money to pay for the railway, the government  cut back on supplies for the starving Indians.

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Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. 2007