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Traditional Life - The Nakoda (Stoney) Nation

Nakoda girl

The Nakoda people are known by many names. They are also known as the Assiniboine, a term possibly derived from an Ojibwa word meaning “the people that cook with hot stones”, referring to the Nakoda practice of taking hot stones and placing them in water to boil the water to make broth. This interesting method of cooking was not lost on European traders who, upon encountering the Nakoda, gave them the name that is still associated with them today: Stoney.

Originally, the Nakoda were a part of the powerful Sioux nation whose traditional lands lay much further south in what is now the United States of America. The Nakoda take their name from their language, one of three known Siouan dialects, with Lakoda, and Dakoda (or Dakota) being the other two. Sometime before 1640, the Nakoda split off from the main Sioux tribe and migrated north from the Mississippi River region to the Lake Superior region in what is now eastern Canada. At this time, the Nakoda allied themselves with the Cree First Nations living in the region, and then began a westward migration towards the area around Lake Winnipeg.

The earliest written records about the Nakoda were compiled by Jesuit missionaries sometime around 1658. Encounters with European traders brought European tools and weapons into the lives of Nakoda bands. This, and their alliance with the Cree, caused the Nakoda to press westward in the 1700s, eventually splitting up into smaller groups, one of which travelled north into the woodland regions, and the other remaining the plains, eventually making their way to the lands at the lower slopes of the Rocky Mountains. The Nakoda’s aggressive push into the plains and their alliance with the Cree made them enemies of the First Nations of the Blackfoot Confederacy, and warfare with the Blackfoot and with the Tsuu T’ina First Nations was common.

By 1873, the Nakoda had broken up into a number of smaller bands. Some Nakoda bands ended up signing the Treaty 6 agreement with the Canadian government in 1876, but three Nakoda bands - the Bearspaw band, the Chiniquay Band, and the Goodstoney band - did not attend these talks, participating later in the Treaty 7 talks of 1877. These three bands occupied territory between the Rocky Mountains and the territories held by the Blackfoot and their allies.

Like other plains tribes, Nakoda social life was based on a nomadic lifestyle driven by the activity of bison hunting. Nakoda culture was a very open style of culture, and the Nakoda people were known for their hospitality to strangers and receptivity to outside ideas and philosophies that were valuable to them. As a result, the Nakoda were among the first of the plains tribes to embrace Christianity when it came to them in the form of Methodist missionaries in 1840, though they probably thought of it in terms of sharing spiritual ideas, drawing parallels and interweaving Christian thought with their own traditional spiritual beliefs and philosophies, rather than permitting foreign spiritual thought to supplant their traditional ways. As it was, Nakoda spirituality emerged from a life connected to the land, and a deep reverence for the law of the Great Spirit, the Creator.

When Treaty 7 was negotiated with the southern plains tribes in 1877, the three bands of the Nakoda who signed it were placed in a difficult position as they had to enter negotiations that were dominated by their enemy, the Blackfoot, and had to travel deep into Blackfoot territory to attend the talks.  As a result, when Treaty negotiations were underway, they camped on the opposite side of the Oldman River from the Blackfoot and Tsuu T’ina. The Nakoda were the first of the tribes to accept treaty with the British Crown, and Nakoda chiefs Jacob Bearspaw, Jacob Goodstoney, and John Chiniquay, all signed Treaty 7 on behalf of the people.

The signing of the treaty brought a share of frustration and misery to the Nakoda. The Nakoda were expected to live on a reserve and farm the land instead of hunt. However, the reserve lands did not reflect the distinctiveness of the three Nakoda bands who signed the treaty, as it was a single reserve for all the Nakoda, and not three separate ones. To make matters worse, the reserve land surveyed for the Nakoda was not agriculturally viable. The Nakoda survived through hunting, but encroaching settlement eventually made this lifestyle difficult to maintain. Eventually, the Nakoda managed to petition for separate reserve lands for the three Treaty 7 bands.

Members of the Nakoda Nation earned their places in history for the work they have done for their people and throughout the world. A few short profiles of some of these remarkable individuals are included in this section of the website.

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