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Treaty 7 Communities

Treaty 7The Blackfoot, once the masters of the Prairies, were, by 1877, but a shadow of their former strength. Decimated by epidemics (the 1870 smallpox epidemic had halved their population) and driven by grief, many had attempted to drown their sorrows in drink. The buffalo were fast disappearing as professional hunters south of the border shot them down, while, within Canada, Métis hunters were killing off the herds in the lucrative buffalo-robe trade. In 1874, following the Cypress Hills Massacre, the North West Mounted Police arrived in the vicinity of the American border, and put an end to the destructive whiskey trade that had created havoc and desolation in the First Nations' communities of the region.

Treaties had been signed with all of the tribal groups west of the Great Lakes, across the Prairies, except for those who lived near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Thus, in 1877, Minister of the Interior David Mills commissioned Lieutenant-Governor David Laird to enter into a treaty with the Indigenous Peoples of the area:

The unsurrendered portion of the territory, including about fifty thousand square miles, lies at the south-west angle of the territories, north of the boundary line, east of the Rocky Mountains, south of the Red [Deer] River (Treaty Number Six) and west of the Cypress Hills, or Treaty Number Four.(1)

The Treaty was undertaken with what Mills called "the most warlike and intelligent but intractable bands of the North-West".(2) The tribal units concerned were the Siksika (Blackfoot), Piikani (Piegan), Kainaiwa (Blood), these three being from the Sioux or Algonquian linguistic family. There were also the Chiniki (Stoney or Assiniboine) and the Tsuu T'ina (Sarcee). The former are of the Sioux or Algonquian linguistic group, the latter an offshoot of the Dene, an Athapascan linguistic group. Arrangements had been made to have appropriate interpreters for each group as the Stoney and Sarcee did not understand Blackfoot.

The Government of Canada, and potential investors, was beginning to grasp the strategic importance of the southern plains, long seen as an arid region with little potential. An agreement had been entered into with the colony of British Columbia to provide it with a rail link to eastern Canada in exchange for entering into Canadian Confederation. As the Blackfoot were very territorial and aggressive, there had been few incursions into their territory. Since the 18th century, few fur traders had been successful in this large region. It was known that the mountain passes to the South were of lower altitude but, since the beginning of the 19th century when explorer David Thompson had been forced to use the higher Yellowhead Pass further to the north, when it came to decide upon a route for a railroad, it was assumed that it would cross the Northern Prairies. However, the Americans were expanding their railway system rapidly and it was feared they would soon pierce routes into Canadian territory to exploit the rich coal deposits near the 49th parallel. At this time, coal was the fuel source for locomotives, and investors in eastern Canada were pressuring to have access to this valuable resource. It also appeared that the Blackfoot, undermined by disease and the liquor trade, had ceased to be a threat. In fact, they chose to remain under the protection of the Mounted Police rather than move south of the border, which was also part of their traditional hunting grounds. Although the route of the railway line was not decided at this time, maintaining Canadian sovereignty North of the American border was a big concern and completing the Treaty made the passage of a railway line possible.

The description of the ceremonial proceedings of Treaty 7 in Morris' The Treaties ofCanada says little about the Indigenous contribution to the event. Eighty officers of the North West Mounted Police had preceded the Commissioners to Blackfoot Crossing, a site east of present-day Calgary, on the Siksika Reserve. They provided gun salutes and a military band. There is no mention of ceremonial activities on the part of the First Nation participants, as there was at Treaty 6, although there was a sham battle by the Blackfoot at the conclusion of the event. It seems the ammunition used was live, and the bullets whistling by the spectators were a little too close for comfort.(3)

Some of the interpreters were consulted before the event and, even though the Commissioners expressed satisfaction as to their reports, it may be that, in some cases, the translators hindered the cause of the First Nations. It is possible that the advice given by these interpreters was not adequate. The terms of the settlement were quite similar to those of earlier Treaties. Land allotments were one square mile (1.6 square kms) per family of five. Reserves could be specified at the Treaty or general locations indicated, but the Crown maintained the right to establish transportation corridors through the Blackfoot Reserve.

Education privileges were a bit different. Schools were not to be maintained on reserves; only salaries for the teachers would be paid. Although the Commissioners were well aware of the fertile potential of the land, ranching is what they expected the Treaty 7 Nations to take up. Agriculture was more or less discouraged, although seed, farm implements and tools were provided, but in a somewhat different way than in previous Treaties. The Treaty 7 bands were encouraged to undertake cattle raising, and far less emphasis was placed on farming. More cattle were given to each family, but those who were actually cultivating land would receive one cow less, but they would receive the compensation of more agricultural implements. There was no chest of carpenter's tools for the Chiefs such as had been allocated in Treaties 3, 4 and 6. Surprisingly, there was no famine clause or medicine chest as had been negotiated by the Treaty 6 Bands. The lack of a famine clause caused much distress a short time later as the buffalo completely disappeared and livestock raising was still far from successful. The large coal deposits were also well known, but these rights were claimed by the Crown.

There were around 4,000 people present at the Treaty signing. There were many Chiefs and their Headmen who signed. There were questions raised, particularly as to the use of resources. One man, who Laird names Button Chief, a name which is not listed among the signatories, points out that the land was given to the Aboriginals by the Great Spirit, and not by the "Great Mother" (Queen Victoria) and, while praising the peacekeeping work of the Mounted Police, asks for an annual stipend of $50 per Chief and $30 for everyone else, and compensation for the timber that has been chopped down by the Police. Laird dismisses Button Chief's demands, and the entire assembly laughs at his suggestion that it should be the Indians who should pay for the work the Police have done. In the end, he agrees to sign. This chief, who Laird identified as a minor Blood Chief, was also known as Medicine Calf, and he was war chief of the Bloods, not at all a minor position.(4) This same source notes that Laird did not understand that the assembly found it preposterous that they should pay the Police for using their resources, and that was what they thought was so funny. They were not laughing at Button Chief/Medicine Calf. As well, although Morris' interpretation of the events makes it seem that the assembly was agreeing to everything, Sir Cecil Denny, an officer with the Mounted Police, stated that several times, it seemed as if the entire assembly was preparing to leave the negotiations.(5)

Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot was hesitant to sign immediately. In fact, initially he refused to accept any supplies, thinking this would be taken to be an acceptance of the Treaty terms. In the end, he did sign although it seems it was against the advice of his Shaman. Other renowned chiefs are Bull's Head of the Sarcee, Old Sun of the Blackfoot, Eagle Tail of the Piegan, among many others.

In his analysis of the understanding of the leaders of these First Nations of the terms of the Treaty, John Leonard Taylor points out that Treaty 7 was seen to be a peace treaty, and they did not think they were surrendering the rights to their land.(6) There is no doubt that the intention of the Commissioners of the government was to obtain the land rights.


Morris, Alexander. The treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North- West Territories, including the negotiations on which they were based, and other information relating thereto,Toronto, Belfords, Clarke, 1880. http://www.canadiana.org/view/30387/256.

Taylor, John Leonard. "Two views on the Meaning of Treaties Six and Seven," The Spirit of the Alberta Indian Treaties, edited by Richard T. Price, 3rd edition, University of Alberta Press, 1999.

(1) Alexander Morris, The treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, including the negotiations on which they were based, and other information relating thereto,Toronto, Belfords, Clarke, 1880, p. 245,

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid. , p. 273.

(4) John Leonard Taylor, "Two views on the Meaning of Treaties Six and Seven", The Spirit of the Alberta Indian Treaties, edited by Richard T. Price, 3rd edition, University of Alberta Press, 1999, p. 32.

(5) Taylor, p. 41.

(6) Ibid., p. 44-45.

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