The Treaty Makers - Jean-Baptiste L'Heureux
Of all those present at the signing of Treaty 7 in 1877, perhaps none carries so strange a personal tale as Jean-Baptiste L’Heureux, who assisted the treaty commissioners during the treaty negotiations by overseeing the signing of the treaty.
Jean-Baptiste L’Heureux was born in Quebec near St. Hyacinthe, somewhere between 1825 and 1831. He studied for the Catholic priesthood at Trois Rivieres but failed to become ordained, allegedly for some form of misconduct while at the seminary. In the late 1850s, he drifted west to the Montana Territory, and despite the fact that he was not ordained, he passed himself off as a priest. For a time, he worked at a Jesuit Mission in the region of the Montana gold fields, but was expelled for engaging in homosexual activity, for impersonating a priest, and for his involvement in reporting fraudulent gold finds.
Once again, L’Heureux found himself out in the wilderness. He was hungry and alone when he came across a band of Siksika who took him in. Living and traveling with the Siksika eventually put L’Heureux in contact with the St. Albert Mission and Father Albert Lacombe, who took him on as a helper in the mid-1860s. L’Heureux eventually joined Crowfoot’s Siksika band, and lived and travelled with the band until they moved to their reserve lands after the signing of Treaty 7.
During his time with the Siksika, L’Heureux continued to perform all the rites of a priest, performing marriages and children’s baptisms. His activities and shady past caught up with him, however. When it was learned that he had been giving religious instruction to children, he was dismissed from the St. Albert Mission in 1891.
Despite his dishonest dealings, L’Heureux did prove himself useful to the Siksika and the other tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy. While living with the Siksika, he acted as an interpreter and a scribe, and at the 1875 gathering of Blackfoot Confederacy chiefs, he helped them to draft a nine–point document outlining the chiefs’ concerns. This document was later sent on to the treaty commission, though treaty discussions would not be arranged until two years later.
When the Treaty 7 talks finally did begin, L’Heureux was present. He acted as an interpreter and also oversaw the actual signing of the treaty. It was L’Heureux who attached names to each X signed by each of the First Nations leaders present at the talks. In the years following the signing of Treaty 7, L’Heureux remained among the Siksika for a time. He continued his work as an interpreter and scribe, helping the Siksika in their lobbies for the rights promised to them by the Crown. He produced a number of writings detailing Siksika culture during the time he spent with the Nation and worked as an interpreter for the Indian Department on the reserve.
L’Heureux left the Siksika reserve around 1890. He was dismissed by the Indian Department because he had continued his religious work on the reserve. He drifted to the area around Pincher Creek and lived a solitary life until his death on 19 March 1919.