Treaty 7 was signed by the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Canadian Government making all Albertans treaty people
The Treaty 7 territory is home to many indigenous and non-indigneous people. Due to the colonization that occured in the 1800s Treaty 7 was signed to keep the peace between the settlers and the indigeous people.
The treaties are a vast part of Canada’s history and help shaped our society. Active members of the Blackfoot Confederacy take pride in embracing their true culture and sharing their education, dancing and creations with the rest of the world.
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Treaty 7: An introduction to our shared history
Why this controversial document affects all Calgarians
Everyday thousands of Calgarians commute to and from work via Deerfoot Trail, Crowchild Trail or lackfoot Trail. The names of these roads are reminders of the history of this land. But how much do Calgarians actually
know about Treaty 7, the agreement that made Mohkinistis – the Blackfoot name for Calgary – possible?
Treaty 7 was signed nearly 140 years ago, in 1877, between First Nations of Southern Alberta: Siksika, Piikani, Kainai, Tsuu T’ina, Stoney Nakoda, and the British/Canadian Government.
The signing of the Treaty saw First Nations transfer the majority of their lands to the Canadian government, which allowed European settlers to move onto indigenous lands. In return, indigenous nations are to receive benefits such as health care, education, economic development, the right to hunt in their traditional hunting grounds, and five-dollars for every treaty person (no adjustment for inflation.)
Randy Bottle, former councilor of the Blood Tribe, says benefits evolved over the years.
According to Bottle, in the late 1800s education meant a schoolhouse on the reserve, health care meant a medicine bag, and economic development meant a plough for farming.
Hunting on “traditional lands” was also limited to hunting on reserves.
Dr. Liam Haggarty, Assistant Professor of Indigenous Studies at Mount Royal University, says Treaty 7 is controversial because of competing interpretations between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people, as to the meaning of the document.
According to Haggarty, the Indigenous people were, “negotiating a way where you and I could live next door to each other and not kill each other, that everyone can use the resources in a sustainable way, and everyone can prosper in the same place.”
Haggarty says the non-Indigenous side had other goals beyond allowing for new settlements. It would go on to actively interfere with life on the reserves through controlling how the natives lived and farmed, and ultimately through efforts to assimilate them into the emerging Canadian society through residential schools among other ways.
“Obviously, by the Canadian government’s ensuing actions, that’s not at all what was going on. It wasn’t sustainable, it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t shared,” says Haggarty.
Although it’s contested, Treaty 7 is a foundational agreement that, for better or worse, affects every Calgarian who lives on, and benefits from, the land.
“It isn’t just a matter of historical trivia, but Treaty 7 is fundamental to land use, land management and cross-cultural relationships today,” says Haggarty
‘We paid the price’
Tsuu T’ina educator advocates for respect of Treaty 7 traditional lands
Lee Crowchild was born and raised on the Tsuu T’ina Nation. Crowchild has been actively involved on his reserve as a community developer and educator. He is also an advocate for the environmental protection of traditional Treaty 7 lands.
Crowchild says, as a young man, his interpretation of Treaty 7 was fuelled by indignation. Now, as a grandfather, he sees the agreement as something necessary at the time it was signed.
“It was signed so we wouldn’t have to kill them, and they wouldn’t kill us,” says Crowchild. “When you boil it right down, (the government) wanted to build a railway across here.”
“They didn’t think it would last forever. It was supposed to be (for a period of time), until they were able to make us like them and then the treaty wouldn’t matter anymore. We paid the price through residential schools, oppression, and racism. We paid the price through colonization. ‘Hey you guys, we beat you. Now you guys got to be like us.’
“There was mostly Blackfoots in that area and us Tsuu T’ina and Stoneys were their allies, so it was important a confederacy was called, even though it was called the Blackfoot Confederacy, we all had to work together. In the ensuing years, all those chiefs of all those tribes worked hard at working together.”
Crowchild explains that the American Indian Movement in the 1970s was the start of what he calls a “cultural renaissance” for all First Nations in North America. In the time of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the Liberals presented a White Paper, a proposal that outlined ending treaties and the legal status of an “Indian” which the government believed would create equality among all Canadians.
“The Canadian government was very aware of the power that Treaty 7 had, and anything that was being floated out as policy in the Canadian government, they would actually consult with the chiefs in Treaty 7,” Crowchild says. Numerous leaders across Canada including representatives from Treaty 7 presented the Red Paper in opposition to the White Paper being promoted by Trudeau’s cabinet in the 1969.
Because of collective action, First Nation voices were heard and treaty rights have remained in place for almost 140 years. Through his personal discovery, Crowchild completed degrees in kinetics and metaphysics, and has been involved in media spheres and community development.
He hopes his grandchildren will understand the impact treaties have had on their people. For Crowchild, the We Are All Treaty People campaign connects every person living today in traditional First Nations’ territories, whatever their ethnicity, and promotes respect for the land and indigenous culture.
He hopes as well that his grandchildren will develop a connection to the land through his teaching of understanding rather than anger of the past. “I’m doing my part to look after this land, and when you look after the land it looks after the people, and I would like (you) to be apart of that from your perspective.”
Sisika woman’s ties to Treaty 7 strengthened through dance
Shirley Hill uses traditional dancing and craft-making to teach First Nation values
Shirley Hill was born on the Siksika Nation, and raised an hour or so west in Calgary. Hill is a competitive and decorated Woman’s Fancy Dancer in Canada, and is making a name for herself as a respected figure in the powwow community.
A powwow is a celebration of First Nation culture that features traditional dancing and drumming. Hill says that powwow dancing is a big part of who she is today. “Dancing has always been in my blood, it has always been in my heart and my spirit,” Hill says.
“Being from Siksika has made me a proud native woman. When I travel I don’t usually put Calgary as where I’m from, I put Siksika because I feel more connected with the Treaty 7 area.”
Hill lived on her reserve for a short time as a child, but calls the Treaty 7 collective home. As a powwow dancer she travels throughout traditional Blackfoot territory every summer, and describes the connection between the reserves as being intertwined.
“It’s a beautiful connection with all the tribes, the Blackfoot confederacy, it’s a good place to be born. We have so much heritage and culture at places like the Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump, all the areas where there are teepee rings. “It’s just a really rich culture in Treaty 7.”
For Hill, the signing of Treaty 7 in 1877 is understood as the background to giving her, as a First Nation member, a good life.
“It is about having the rights of education and access to medical needs that were written into the treaties and I find that myself, I feel really blessed that I have some of those treaty rights that enable me to have a good life,” she says.
“I never, ever take anything for granted. The treaty is also about land claims as well as being a steward to the land.”
Hill has used the teachings that she learned from her mother and relatives in what she does today through her traditional craft making. She spends hours a week sewing and beading regalia, as well as teaching dance to youth across Alberta and Canada.
“So I have the opportunity to go to many schools to teach and that’s what I am doing here in Creston. I am going to be teaching at three different schools. I love it. I know that I have the opportunity to bring joy, laughter, healing and bring the people and students some knowledge about native culture.”
She also has had opportunities to travel the world and has danced in Tromsø, Norway, and Taiwan for the Global Indigenous Peoples Performing Arts Festival. In 2015, she was asked to be the head Northern dance judge for the Gathering of Nations powwow in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“I am just so honoured and amazed and thankful it was just really a special time just to be honoured in that way.” Hill is also a grandmother and hopes her grandson grows up to be a well-respected provider of his family, and also a proud Niitsitapi, which means Original People.
“I would want health and happiness for him but just to be proud and know the history of his people, Pikanii and Siksika and to have a healthy attitude to live a good, strong life. And when he starts a family to be a good provider like in the old ways. To know that the cultural part of their history will be embraced and to be proud of where he came from.”
Blackfoot activist focused on history and future
Cowyboy Smithx says it is important to hear all sides of a story
In making presentations regarding aboriginal issues, Cowboy Smithx takes great pride in educating people about indigenous history, but also in being a part of the solution to bridge the divide between indigenous and non-indigenous cultures in Canada.
Smithx, a member of the Blackfoot community and an activist on aboriginal issues, travels around the country as part of the Redx Talks program delivering presentations.
“It’s really time for society in general to grow-up and mature and not be caught up in all the divisive tactics of antiquated systems of government and policy vox populi propaganda,” says Smithx. “It’s important for us to all unpack these stories.”
Along with filmmaker Chris Hsiung, Smithx tells the story of the struggles of indigenous people. The documentary, Elder in the Making: a Blackfoot Aboriginal and a Chinese Newcomer Rediscover their Shared Heritage, explores issues such as the impact of residential schools, and how some members of first nations reserves in Treaty 7 think the historical agreement in 1877 is not being upheld by the Canadian government.
Getting as many voices into the conversation as possible is the goal according to Smithx, because when there is a lack of perspectives, information can be misleading.
“It is important to hear several sides of the story,” says Smithx “There’s a danger of telling one story, one side of the story and that’s what we have been subject to for many years and a lot of it comes from colonial perspectives and those perspectives have obviously a very clear agenda to exploit the resources of a territory.”
The saying “We Are All Treaty People” is growing in popularity and is something that Smithx firmly believes in, using and explaining the statement in most of his presentations. The activist explains that the saying holds deep meaning and serves a purpose.
“It’s a reminder that our ancestors made not only a legal agreement, but a sacred agreement that implicates everyone living within the Treaty 7 territory.”
Treaty 7 turns 140-years-old this year and despite its age, the meaning and relevance still holds just as much importance, Smithx says. The first thing that springs to his mind when thinking of Treaty 7 is, “the responsibility, the sacredness of that treaty.”
“Our ancestors made a pact with nature, with the sun, the territory, with the animals and with the newcomers, with the settlers, so it’s a more holistic perspective that I have as an indigenous person from Treaty 7.”
That sacredness is why Smithx feels that younger generations have a responsibility to learn the history.
He also believes that if you aren’t learning something and engaging in community initiatives “you are doing a disservice to not only your community, but your children, your grandchildren and future generations because it is our responsibility to gather the knowledge and transfer those knowledge bundles to the next generation.”
The Blackfoot member, points out that technology is helping younger generations gain access to the information that concerns indigenous history. He mentions that he is pleased to see several sides of stories being expressed through collaborations of multiple projects.
Cowboy Smithx says that he will continue to contribute to the discourse as much as he can through the many art projects that he is involved with. He argues that he cannot do it alone, but is optimistic and “excited to see new producers, filmmakers and storytellers get involved in this movement.”
A previous version of this article misspelt the names of the Piikani and Siksika tribes. It also indicated Treaty 7 was signed nearly 150 years ago. Corrections have been made and the Calgary Journal regrets the errors.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of Bert Crowfoot
The editor responsible for this story is Melanie Walsh, email@example.com