Our Land

Our Land

Nitawahsin-nanni- Our Land

Land of the Buffalo - Land of the Blackfoot
It is difficult to imagine a sight more beautiful and more awesome than a massive herd of buffalo on the move, either slowly grazing its way over the grasslands or launched into a desperate stampede seeking protection from unseen dangers..a moving carpet of black undulating over the hills and valleys of the endless prairies. There were millions of them, these hulking, shaggy beasts, so impressive in their power and strength; the prairies were their home. this was also the home of the Blackfoot. The buffalo followed an annual migration which led them to seek the lush grasses on the prairies in summer and the relative protection of the foothills in winter. They were the Creator's gift to our people. Our Blackfoot history and culture developed around the life cycle of the buffalo, and our lives "revolved around the thundering glory of the buffalo hunt." Ours was a semi-nomadic life, meaning that our people continually returned to the same sites in the same seasons that provided them food and shelter. Our culture and our community life developed in that way, in close harmony with this environment.

Siksika Our Nations Coat of Arms

In June 1992, Siksika became the first Nation to register its Symbol as a Coat of Arms with the Heraldic Authority of Canada. It is listed as Volume One, Number One in the First Nations section. Siksika Nation Coat of Arms. Just like Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, Siksika Nation designed a coat of arms that represented our people. The buffalo in the Coat was chosen as the symbolic animal of the Siksika because it provided our ancestors with food, clothing and shelter. The arrow in seven pieces represents the seven societies in the tribe such as The Horn, Crow, Black Soldier, Motoki, Prairie Chicken, Brave Dog, and Ma'tsiyiiks. The medicine pipe symbolizes peace and crosses. The tomahawk, the weapon of war which was put to rest forever. The circles represent the duration of the treaty signed by Chief Crowfoot on September 22, 1877; as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the water flows.
Our Land

Pre Treaty

Life in traditional territory before the signing of Treaty 7 is presented in this area. Siksika was one of four tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy which roamed the prairies from the North Saskatchewan River to the Yellowstone River and from the Rocky Mountains to mid-Saskatchewan. This section explores the relationships of Blackfoot people and the first Europeans – explorers, missionaries and traders and the impact they had on the lives of Siksika. Each area of this map represents a part of history from the 1700's to 1850's. These recorded events are reflective of how we interactive.

1. 1754

The Hudson’s Bay Company sent Anthony Henday and some Indian helpers to make contact with our people. When they did, it was somewhere in the area of present-day Battleford, Saskatchewan. They called us “Architenue”, which probably means “the strangers or the enemy”.

2. 1800

Peter Fidler asked Siksika headman, Old Swan, to draw him a map showing the route they had taken in a recent expedition to expel the Snake Indians from their territory. This map, now known as the Ac Ko Mok Ki map, was the first available map of our territory. They had ridden all the way from Chesterfield House, at the junction of the South Saskatchewan and Red Deer rivers, south through the Cypress Hills, down into Yellowstone country, up the Missouri and Marias rivers to the Mountains, north along the foothills to Rocky Mountain House and back again to their starting point… in effect, all of southern Alberta and Montana!

3. 1806

The President of the U. S. eventually found out about the Ac Ko Mok Ki map and requested a copy for Lewis and Clark to help them find a river passage through the prairies and through the mountains to the ocean. Unfortunately, they encountered a group of Blackfoot who turned them back, along the Marias river. They managed to escape, but then were forced to seek another route farther south.

4. 1807

Canada was in the race to the Pacific before the Americans to fulfil its own dream of greatness, but its explorers did not dare go through Blackfoot territory. David Thompson tried to go around it by following the northern rivers. Even so, he met some Peigan's near the mountains. Happily, he found them quite amenable, made friends with them and thus made good headway down a river which is now the Columbia. Unfortunately for him, he betrayed their friendship by selling guns to an enemy tribe. For that, the Peigans retaliated and prevented him from going further. He was thus forced to seek another route farther north, wasted two years in doing so… and lost the race to Oregon country and to the Pacific. The Americans got there first and claimed the land as their own.

5. 1833

Count von Maximillian and Karl Bodmer witnessed an attack by Cree and Assiniboines upon a Blackfoot camp near Fort McKenzie. The Blackfoot repelled them successfully.

6. 1840-1847

Father De Smet reported that “the deadly and murderous Blackfeet were the greatest impediment to the spread of the Gospel in Yellowstone country…” Father Nicolas Point later made friends with them and went on a fall hunt with them. His impression was that most of the Blackfoot attacks were in retaliation for what had been done to them.

7. 1842

In Canada, Father Thibault meets Blackfoot people at Lake St. Ann. Father Lacombe begs bishop to let him join the Blackfoot people; he is later wounded during an encounter with the Cree but was saved by Crowfoot’s band.

8. 1848

Paul Kane, an artist, who was part of a river expedition along the North Saskatchewan, reported that a group of riders were furiously gaining on them. This group was a large contingent of Blackfoot endeavoring to attack a Cree group who had crossed to the south side of the river. There is some debate as to whether Big Snake actually died on this occasion. The Cree maintain that he did, the Blackfoot believe he didn’t!

9. 1849

In the years following 1848, several waves of smallpox and measles epidemics broke out which wreaked havoc and brought death into our Blackfoot communities. These are sicknesses against which our people had developed no immunity…the results were devastating. Our people died by the thousands.

10. Resting Place

We call the resting place of our ancestors the Great Sand Hills. Those who died from the epidemics, those who died in battle… all our ancestors, are resting in the Great Sand Hills. We know that the Great Sand Hills are a legendary name given by our ancestors referring to the Great Beyond, but these hills could be the physical link to the legendary name. Regardless, wherever it is, we also know that the Creator is taking good care of them. We will see them again.

Our Land

Treaties

Prelude to Treaty Number 7

After the Louisiana Purchase by the States and after Canada re-purchased the Hudsons Bay Company lands, there were still no laws governing trade with local inhabitants, so gold seekers, fur traders, whiskey traders, wolvers, buffalo hide agents and many other shady characters moved in with a vengeance. What resulted was epidemics of small pox and measles, an influx of alcohol, and the buffalo were rapidly depleting in numbers. The First Nations on both sides of the border wanted to protect their way of life.They believe that making treaties was a way to accomplish this. 1855- The Lame Bull Treaty in the U.S. sought to provide security for the Blackfoot people by imposing a neutral hunting zone between the Blackfoot people and other southern nations. It was advocated as a peace treaty, not a land surrender, but in effect, it pushed Blackfoot territory back from the Yellowstone River to the Musselshell River. 1874 -Area bordered by Birch Creek, Marias, Missouri and Sun Rivers ceded by Act of Congress 1874- The RCMP (then the NWMP) were founded and sent to southern Alberta to help control problems with some of the more shady newcomers. They went on to become Canada’s national police force. 1876- Two weeks after Little Big Horn, a delegation of Sioux came to see Crowfoot requesting he join them in their fight against the whites. The Blackfoot people already knew what had happened as there had been 12 Blackfoot tipis among the hundreds that Custer stumbled upon that fateful day. Immediately after that battle, all the groups dispersed and returned to their traditional territories where the Blackfoot delegation relayed what had occurred. Crowfoot responded that he would not go to war unless it was for his own people.

Treaty Number 7

1877 -Treaty Number 7, or the Blackfoot Treaty was signed. The original treaty negotiations between the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Crown took place in September of 1877 at Blackfoot Crossing, now located in the heart of the Siksika, or Blackfoot, Nation. Crowfoot spoke on behalf of 5000 First Nation people camped at The Crossing. He believed that establishing peaceful relations with the government would ensure the cultural and spiritual survival of his people as a separate and distinct nation. The treaty was signed on September 22, 1877 and it included the: Siksika, Kainai, Piikani, Tsuu Tina and Stoney Nations. It was the last of the treaties made in the 1800’s. The next treaty would not be signed for another 20 years. The signing of Treaty 7 opened up 50,000 sq miles to development, an integral factor in the building and completion of the transcontinental railroad that the Canadian government had promised British Columbia as part of their negotiation into Confederation. Without this treaty, the railroad may not have been built and Canada may have had very different borders then the ones we enjoy now. (from the 125th Anniversary Commemoration Event, 2002) 1886 Louis Riel and Big Bear sent a delegation to Crowfoot asking him to join them in their fight against the Canadian government. They sought recognition and land. Crowfoot refused and in doing so remained faithful to his word and to Treaty 7. This treaty is very important to the Siksika people and has been commemorated several times since it’s signing. Commemorations have taken place in 1927, 1937, 1977 and 2002. The most notable was the 100th commemoration in 1977 where the entire treaty signing of 1877 was re-enacted with Prince Charles in attendance and representing the Crown.”
Our Land

Chief Crowfoot

Crowfoot's Speech

Crowfoot was never a lover of war, and as great as his reputation was, his fame as an orator and as a councilor of peace was even greater. His speech on the occasion of the signing of the treaty at Blackfoot Crossing in 1877 is a matter of history, and reveals the temper and balanced judgment of a great citizen. “While I speak, be kind and patient. I have to speak for my people who are numerous, and who rely on me to follow that course which in the future will tend to their good. The plains are large and wide, and we are children of the plains. It is our home, and the buffalo has been our food always. You must look upon us as your children now, and be indulgent to us. Is the police had not come to this country where would we all be now? Bad men and bad whiskey were killing us so fast that very few would have been left today. The police have protected us as feathers of a bird protect it from the frosts of winter. It always happens that far away people hear exaggerated stories of one another. The news grows as it travels until it becomes from a little thing to a big lie. Often I hear things about the white man…..I do not believe them till I find the truth. Why should you kill us or we kill you? Let our white friends have compassion, and we will have compassion. I have two hearts my friends; one is like stone, the other is kind and tender. Treat us badly, and my heart is like stone.Treat us kindly, and my heart is the heart of a child” There is a quality and nobility and sound common sense in that speech not often found among uneducated men. As everyone knows, Crowfoot kept his word with the white men during the rebellion of 1885. It is reported that Crowfoot met Riel in Montana in conjunction with the uprising and said to him: “To rise, there must be an object. To rebel, there must be a wrong to right; and in either case, one must consider what benefit is gained from war. The buffalo are gone from our plains. The fault lies partly with us, but more with the white men far south when they killed thousands for their skins, and not for food. The food we eat today the white mother gives us.Without it we starve. There is nothing to gain by the war you suggest.”

Stories of Isapo-muxika- Crowfoot

Many stories are told of the logic of Crowfoot in his dealings with the white man. When it first became known that reservations were being set aside for the Indians, there was of course great resentment among the tribes, but the plains Indians were in a difficult position. The buffalo were gone and the red men were hungry. It was better to accept the ways of the white man then it was to starve. When the commissioner first approached Crowfoot they told him that all the tribes to the south and east had signed the treaty and were living on reservations and were getting on well. They advised Crowfoot and his followers to give up their nomadic existence and settle down in the same way. The first meeting took place at Milk River, in southern Alberta.

The Signing

The Blackfoot and the seven other tribes of Southern Alberta signed treaty number seven. On the brow of the hill overlooking the Blackfoot Crossing stands a monument erected by the Canadian Government in memory of Crowfoot. Not far away is the tablet setting forth the place where Crowfoot made his last camp and died. It is recorded that as he lay dying he left this last message for his people: “a little while I will be gone from among you, where. I cannot tell. From nowhere we came, from nowhere we go. What is life? It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is a shadow that runs across the grass, and is lost in sunset.” Crowfoot’s grave is located on a knoll in the beautiful valley where the treaty was signed. His memory is enshrined forever in the hearts of his people.
Our Land

Reserve

Indian Reserve- First Nations

In Canada, an Indian reserve is specified by the Indian Act as a "tract of land, the legal title to which is vested in Her Majesty, that has been set apart by Her Majesty for the use and benefit of a band." The Act also specifies that land reserved for the use and benefit of a band which is not vested in the Crown is also subject to the Indian Act provisions governing reserves. Superficially a reserve is similar to an American Indian reservation, although the histories of the development of reserves and reservations are markedly different. Although the American term reservation is occasionally used, reserve is normally the standard term in Canada. The terms First Nations reserve and First Nation are also widely used instead of Indian reserve; confusingly, First Nation also designates a group which may occupy more than one reserve. The Indian Act gives the Minister of Indian Affairs the right to "determine whether any purpose for which lands in a reserve are used is for the use and benefit of the band." Title to land within the reserve may only be transferred to the band or to individual band members. Reserve lands may not be seized legally, nor is the personal property of a band or a band member living on a reserve subject to "charge, pledge, mortgage, attachment, levy, seizure distress or execution in favour or at the instance of any person other than an Indian or a band" (section 89 (1) of the Indian Act). As a result reserves and their residents have great difficulty obtaining financing. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has, however, created an on-reserve housing loan program in which members of bands which enter into a trust agreement with CMHC and lenders can receive loans to build or repair houses. In other programs loans to residents of reserves are guaranteed by the federal government.

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Provinces and municipalities may expropriate reserve land only if specifically authorized by a provincial or federal law. In all, there are over 600 occupied reserves in Canada, most of them quite small in area. Few reserves have any economic advantages, such as resource revenues. The revenues of those reserves which do are held in trust by the Minister of Indian Affairs. Reserve lands and the personal property of bands and resident band members are exempt from all forms of taxation except local taxation. Corporations owned by members of First Nations are not exempt, however. This exemption has allowed band members operating in proprietorships or partnerships to sell heavily taxed goods such as cigarettes on their reserves at prices considerably lower than those at stores off the reserves. Most reserves are self-governed under guidelines established by the Indian Act. Source information from Wikipedia.org. Reserve life, however, was not the peace the Siksika had hoped for. The Siksika adapted to farming and ranching life on the land they had once hunted on, but life under the control of federally appointed Indian Agents meant that the Siksika would not gain much financially from farming, even when they proved successful at it. In 1912, under pressure to sell off their reserve land to outside interests, the Siksika sold 61,000 acres of land for just under one million dollars, and in 1918 they sold another 55,000 acres for just over one million dollars. With the funds generated from the sales, the Siksika built up infrastructure on the reserve. The funds for such projects ran out by the end of the Second World War, but the Siksika remained determined to continue the work they had started.
Our Land

Chief Crowfoot

The Story of Crowfoot's Encounter

The story is told that on that occasion the white man spread many one-dollar bills on the ground and said, “this is what the white man trades with; this is his buffalo robe. Just as you trade skins, we trade with these pieces of paper.” When the white chief had laid all his money on the ground and had shown how much he would give if the Indians would sign a treaty, Crowfoot took a handful of clay, made a ball out of it and put it on the fire and cooked it. It did not crack. Then he said to the white man, “Now put your money on the fire and see if it will last as long as the clay.” The white man said, “No….my money will burn because it is made of paper”. With an amused gleam in his eyes the old chief said, “Oh your money is not as good as our land, is it? The wind will blow it away; the fire will burn it; water will rot it. Nothing will destroy our land. You don’t make a very good trade.”

Then with a smile, Crowfoot picked up a handful of sand from the river bank, handed it to the white man and said, “You count the grains of sand in that while I count the money you give for the land”. The white man said, “I would not live long enough to count this, but you can count the money in a few minutes”. “Very well”, said the wise Crowfoot, “our land is more valuable then your money. It will last forever. It will not perish as long as the sun shines and the water flows, and through all the years it will give life to men and animals, and therefore we cannot sell the land. It was put there by the Great Spirit and we cannot sell it because it does not really belong to us. You can count your money and burn it with a nod of a buffalo’s head, but only the Great Spirit can count the grains of sand and the blades of grass on these plains. As a present we will give you anything you can take with you, but we cannot give you the land.”