Canadians, Métis and First Nations had very different visions of the West in the 1860s and 1870s.
Canadians envisioned the region as the piece they needed to complete their transcontinental Dominion.
The Métis envisioned part of their homeland as a province within Confederation — a place where their rights, culture and property would be protected.
First Nations envisioned maintaining their way of life in spite of the newcomers’ encroachments.
Envisioning Peaceful Coexistence
Between 1870 and 1877, Plains First Nations negotiated seven treaties with the Canadian government. These First Nations understood treaties as alliances of peace, friendship and mutual support. Treaties, they believed, would ensure their survival and security in an uncertain future.
The Canadian government understood treaties differently. In the government’s view, treaties were a means of acquiring land for a transcontinental railway, settlement and agriculture. In the case of Treaty 7, these different understandings resulted in inconsistency between the oral and written versions of the treaty.
Change in the Niisitapiikwan Homeland
During the 1860s and 1870s, the Niisitapiikwan (Blackfoot Confederacy) saw wrenching change in their homeland (today’s southern Alberta and Montana). Commercial hunters entered the region and destroyed the bison herds on which the Niisitapiikwan depended. Scarlet fever and smallpox swept the region. South of the border, the United States Army killed nearly 200 Niisitapiikwan in a single episode of its Indian Wars. North of the border, American traders began dispensing whisky, which led to widespread suffering among the Niisitapiikwan.
The Path of Peace
Chief Crowfoot of the Siksiká — a Niisitapiikwan (Blackfoot Confederacy) nation — was committed to finding peaceful solutions to the plight of his people. Although renowned as a warrior, Crowfoot made peace with the Niisitapiikwan’s traditional enemies and welcomed the North-West Mounted Police to his territory to stop the whisky trade. With Crowfoot’s encouragement, the Niisitapiikwan chiefs petitioned the Canadian government in 1875 to meet at Blackfoot Crossing — a traditional gathering place of the Niisitapiikwan — to negotiate a treaty.
Negotiating Treaty 7
In September 1877, chiefs of the Siksiká, Kainai, Piikani, Tsuu T’ina and Nakoda negotiated Treaty 7 with representatives of the Canadian government at Blackfoot Crossing. Misunderstandings complicated the negotiations. Canadian delegates were ignorant of Niisitapiikwan diplomacy and peacemaking traditions. Niisitapiikwan delegates had no understanding of “land surrender,” “square miles” or “reserves.” The translators were not fluent in all of the delegates’ languages. Yet on September 22, the delegates declared that they had reached a treaty agreement and swore solemn oaths to honour that agreement forever.
Treaty 7 Medal
A Canadian official presented this medal to one of the Niisitapiikwan delegates at Blackfoot Crossing in September 1877.
Treaty 7, Piikani oral history
Listen to Piikani elder, Wilfred Yellow Wings, relate the oral history account of the negotiation of Treaty 7.
Photo at top of page:
Treaty 7 medal, silver
Inscription: Indian Treaty No 7 1877
London, United Kingdom