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.”
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 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.”
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.