The Kainai (Blood) Tribe is a part of the Blackfoot Confederacy that includes the Piikani (Peigan) and the Siksika (Blackfoot), Sarcee and Gros Ventre. The Blackfoot Confederacy refer to themselves as Soyi-tapix, which means "the Prairie people." At the height of their power, the Confederacy controlled territory from the North Saskatchewan River, south to the Missouri, and from the present Alberta - Saskatchewan border to the Rocky Mountains.
The Blood Tribe was a nomadic tribe (always on the move) known in their native tongue as Kai-nau or "Many Chiefs." They followed the buffalo, hunting them by foot and, after 1700, on horseback. Horses became an important aspect of their way of life, broadening their territory and increasing their wealth. Around 1860, the tribe began to lose its cohesion as the infiltration of whiskey-traders and arrival of the white man took hold.
The decline of the buffalo, combined with alcoholism, disease and persistent warring, led them to the 1877 Treaty talks with the federal government at Blackfoot Crossing on the Bow River. By some accounts, the Kainai were pleased that treaty negotiations would begin. The meeting, however almost did not happen. The Blackfoot chief Crowfoot wanted the meeting in First Nations territory. He insisted on changing the meeting from Fort Macleod to Blackfoot Crossing, along the Bow River near present-day Calgary. This change upset the Kainai. They claimed the site for the treaty session was within Blackfoot territory and thus made travel for the Piikani and T'suu Tinna too difficult. The government treaty commissioners refused to change the location.
Negotiations finally took place on October 19th, 1877, after waiting two days for the Kainai representatives. Finally, Chief Medicine Calf was joined by other Kainai representatives and the treaty was signed on September 22nd, 1877. However, in 1883, new reserve lands were chosen by the Kainai who wanted to be in their traditional winter camping area along the Belly River. These traditional lands are still held today, making the Kainai reserve the largest in Alberta and Canada.
The Kainai cultivated the lands they had secured through the treaty process and produced successful root vegetable yields. The harvesting of vegetables such as potatoes helped to sustain the Kainai and their agricultural successes surprised many government agents. This achievement led to other farming endeavors. Although the Kainai had become skilled and resourceful farmers, they had also maintained a strong sense of pride and independence, and maintained many traditions, such as the Sun Dance, secret societies and medicine pipe dances. They were able to thrive throughout droughts and unsuccessful attempts by the government to force the surrender of lands. However, things began to change for the Kainai after World War I. Unable to keep up with with the changes in faming technology as machines began to replace the the horse, Kainai communities went into some decline until the end of the Second World War, when the benefits of improved health practices and access to higher education stemmed the decline.
The Kainaiwa reserve is approximately 200 km south of Calgary, adjacent to the city limits of Lethbridge. The Kainai were the largest tribe in southern Alberta to sign a treaty. The community has built schools, band offices, daycares, a fire hall, community centres, halls, agriculture and sports complexes and police stations. Today the Kainai have become involved in economic activities such as farming, artisan activities, silk screening, irrigation projects, cattle operations, trades, and environmental preservation projects.
For more information on First Nations issues and history, please visit some of the following websites:
• The Making of Treaty 8 in Canada's Northwest
• Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta
• Treaty 7 Tribal Council
• Alberta: How the West Was Young
• The Aboriginal Portal
• Amiskwaciy Academy
• Turtle Island
• Government of Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs