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Historical Overview - The Treaty Commission

Honourable David Mills

In 1875, the head chiefs of the Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood), Piikani (Peigan), and Tsuu T’ina (Sarcee) First Nations gathered in the Hand Hills in Siksika territory. The chiefs’ intent was to express concerns about the encroachment on the traditional lands of their peoples by Cree and Métis buffalo hunters and by European settlers. With the aid of Jean L’Heureux, a French-Canadian who lived and travelled with the Siksika, the chiefs created a nine point document addressed to Lieutenant Governor William Morris of the Northwest Territories entitled the Petition of the Chokitapix or Blackfeet Indian Chiefs. The petition expressed First Nations grievances and the desire of First Nations leaders to make a treaty with the Dominion government. This message was sent with missionaries Reverend John McDougall and Father Constantine Scollen northeast to Fort Pitt in the spring of 1876, when Morris was meeting with the Cree in negotiations for Treaty 6. The missionaries delivered the petition, urging swift action on the part of the government to create a treaty with the southern Plains First Nations. As a result of the request, Morris recommended to the Minister of the Interior, the Honourable David Mills, that a treaty should be arranged in the early summer of 1877.

In January, 1877, David Mills appointed two commissioners to negotiate terms with the First Nations chiefs. David Laird, who succeeded Morris as Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories and who had helped negotiate Treaty 4 in 1874, was chosen as one of the commissioners. The other commissioner chosen was James Macleod, who had recently been appointed commissioner of the North West Mounted Police. Macleod had a strong reputation among the First Nations of the southern plains due to his straightforward manner while driving out the American whiskey trade from Blackfoot territory a few years before. It was hoped that his presence would encourage greater attendance of First Nations Peoples at the treaty talks.

Once the treaty commission was appointed, a suitable location for the treaty negotiations was determined. At first, the Hand Hills in Siksika territory was considered because this was the meeting place suggested by the Blackfoot chiefs in the 1875 Petition, but later Fort Macleod was chosen because of its proximity to all the First Nations concerned. Fort Macleod was subsequently rejected because Siksika chief Crowfoot refused to hold a meeting in a white man’s fort. Desiring the presence of Crowfoot at the meeting because of his great influence among all the concerned First Nations, Blackfoot Crossing in Siksika territory was chosen.

The change of location from Fort Macleod to Blackfoot Crossing provoked an angry response from Red Crow, an influential clan chief of the Kainai, who requested that the Kainai and Piikani meet separately at Fort Macleod. Red Crow’s request was turned down by Laird, who desired all the First Nations representatives to be present at one location to talk. The consequence to Laird’s decision was that on 16 September, 1877, the first scheduled day of talks, many Kainai and Piikani chiefs were not present. The talks were delayed by a couple of days because the North West Mounted Police were dispatched to find the absent chiefs and urge them to attend. Red Crow and a number of other Kainai and Piikani chiefs eventually arrived at the negotiations, but not until the night before the last day of negotiations.

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