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
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
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.
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 had the distinction of being 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,
silk screening, irrigation projects, cattle operations, trades, and environmental
For more information on First Nations issues and history,
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