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Perspectives - Elder's Voices

Elders’ meeting

A very important group of people among the Treaty 7 First Nations are the First Nations Elders. While in official legal and governmental circles, the Treaty 7 document is a tangible paper testament to a binding arrangement, in the halls of the First Nations, the Elders are the equivalent: they are the living documents of Treaty 7.

In First Nations culture, the Elders are the ones who remember, the ones who know. The history and culture of First Nations Peoples is preserved and articulated through Elders’ voices. In recent years, the vital importance and weight of oral history in Treaty 7 First Nations culture has been addressed, and several projects have endeavoured to record the stories the Elders have to tell, especially in regards to the events surrounding the signing of Treaty 7 in 1877.

In 1979, The Spirit of Alberta Indian Treaties, edited by Richard Price, included testimonies of Treaty 7 Elders among Elders of other Treaty First Nations Peoples to arrive at some understanding of the First Nations perspective on treaties. This book has since been reprinted in its third edition, with the first edition no longer available in print.  

In 1991, the Treaty 7 Elders and Tribal Council gathered with authors and scholars to record the narratives of the Elders with the purpose of producing a written record of the events that took place during the treaty signing – a record that would offer the First Nations’ perspective on the events at Blackfoot Crossing. In 1996, these testimonies were gathered in a print publication entitled The True Spirit and Original Intent of Treaty 7.  In the book, the Elders pass on the stories that have been told to each generation that followed the time of the treaty talks in 1877.

What emerged from these sessions with the Elders was quite remarkable. For one thing, though the Elders interviewed came from different First Nations, Kainai, Siksika, Piikani, Tsuu T’ina, and Nakoda, they all carried a very similar, if not exactly the same, perspective regarding Treaty 7. Treaty 7 was a peace treaty according to the Elders. It was a sacred agreement in the interests of peace and the sharing of land and knowledge so that all could survive. It was an agreement signed with the smoking of the sacred pipe before the first words of negotiation were even spoken, but it was never meant to be a yielding of the land because land given by the Creator to a people cannot be owned or bought or sold.

Other similar projects have been arranged with Treaty 7 First Nations Elders in order to deepen understanding of First Nations life and values, rather than specific accounts of the Treaty 7 negotiations. The Ten Grandmothers project was an oral history project coordinated by Linda Many Guns of the Nii Touii Knowledge and Learning Centre in southern Alberta, who wanted to gain the perspective of Treaty 7 First Nations women regarding traditional culture and beliefs. Like the Elders who shared their stories on Treaty 7, the Elders of the Ten Grandmothers project can be counted among those attempting to build a bridge of understanding between Treaty 7 First Nations and the non-Aboriginal people with whom they share land.

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