The traveller eastbound out of Pincher Creek has two choices besides the direct route on the No. 6 to Pincher Station on the Crowsnest Highway. Two blocks south on Waterton Avenue/No. 6 from its intersection with Main Street, Secondary 785 leaves town as Macleod Road. Following the Creek for five or six kilometres past N-WMP Colonel James Farquharson Macleods former ranch, Kyleakin, it finally swings northward to cross the Creek on a 1989 bridge. Just downstream, to the right, Indian Farm Creek adds its waters to Pincher and slakes the thirst of the ghost of the Starlight Ranch. Past the Bridge, 785 continues on for a couple of miles to cross the Crowsnest Highway and wander onward to see the Oldman Dam. Its a nice exit.
Away from Pincher Station and its intersection with Albertas No. 6, the Crowsnest Highway drifts only slightly north on its way east. Some six kilometres from the Station, Secondary 785 comes out from Pincher Creek to greet it and offer the traveller an alternative, though largely gravelled, route to the amazing Head-Smashed-In buffalo jump site and the south-eastern slopes of the Porcupine Hills. North 1.2 kilometres roosted a covey of eight Vertical Axis egg-beater wind generatorsfour long, narrow vanes bowed out from the top to the bottom of a central vertical shaft perhaps 100 feet high rising from a half-buried concrete bunker housing the generator. Experimental, these proved not the most efficient of designs to spin electricity from the wind, the Prairies one reliable resource,1 and were forever for sale. Sometime around the turn of the Millennium they slipped away, leaving only a few blocks of concrete on the site superintended by a standard three-bladed generator on a tubular pylon. Beyond the egg beater site some three Kay is the 785 crosses the 3000 metre length of the controversial Oldman Dam. Proposed in 1982 by the province as an irrigation/flood control project, its construction met with stout opposition from conservationists of all stripes. To no avail. Dedicated in 1992, the 76 metre-high earth and rock-fill dam soon impounded some 500 million cubic metres of water in a reservoir measuring more than 24 square kilometres, drowning hay meadows and archæological sites in very picturesque reaches of the Oldman, Crowsnest and Castle rivers. Five kilometres on 785 beyond the dam and its campground, Secondary 510 heads off westward towards Cowley, some 25 kilometres away past the Three Rivers Rock and Fossil museum at about the half-way mark. Eastward along 785 on the north slopes of the Oldman is the Heritage Acres Museum where old timers occasionally demonstrate antique machinery and keep an eye on the visitors poking around Crystal Village that old Boss Zoeteman built out of glass telephone pole insulators. Brockets former United Grain Growers elevator standing starkly white landmarks the location for travellers on the No. 3. Beyond, the gravelled 785 wanders some 30 kilometres along the toes of the Porcupine Hills before finally bring travellers to Head-Smashed-In and, 15 Kay farther, Highway 2 just north of Fort Macleod.
Away from its junction with 785, the No. 3 is leaving the Black soils behind, entering the realm of the Dark Brown. Although much of the land is under cultivation along through here, wherever topography discourages tillage, pasture remains and cattle in their hundreds nose the swards. Standing hip-deep in the brush choked ravines, placidly ruminating and listening to the meadowlarks trill, they are unconcerned with the number of hamburgers that will be served by McDonalds next year. On a clear day travellers riding in or on roofless vehicles appreciate the enormity of the sky. Without trees or mountains to hedge the horizon, the sky dominates the Prairies. It is with absolute justification that neighbouring Montanans, whose territorial topography resembles that of southern Albertas, call their state the Big Sky Country.
Crossing beneath the orange girders of the 1984 Railway overpass hanging 5.3 metres above its pavement, the Highway bends due east and begins to slide down into the Pincher Creeks valley closing in at an acute angle from the south-west. To the north, are the mud and manure corrals of the feed lot farthest west on the Crowsnest Highway. Here, on property originally owned by Summerview Feeders Limited, range cattle are fattened on high-protein feeds before being packed into cattle-liners and dispatched to the slaughterhouses. When its stocked, if the wind was moving slightly out of the north, the bouquet wafting across the Highway is an olfactory experience that no passer-by, especially a cyclist, is likely ever to forget.
The cottonwood-shaded bottoms of the Pincher Creeks valley are some 120 feet below the level of the surrounding terrain, and to the north of the Highway widens as it becomes part of the Oldmans system. Back in the buffalo days this spot was a favoured camping grounds for regional Indian tribes, a fact appreciated by U.S.-based traders who established Fort Slideout nearby in the early 1870s. Swapping bison hides and the occasional beaver pelt for guns, ammunition and booze, the post did a roaring business until the arrival of the North-West Mounted Police in the neighbourhood in 1874. The Hudsons Bay Company was also interested in trading with the Natives, and in 1870 hired William Samuel Lee to erect a post here. The rambling ranchstead which presently shelters under the cottonwoods here is the successor to the homestead established by Lee in the 1870s. He apparently sold out in 1882 to Moise and Julia LaGrandeur from French Flats near Cowley (though documentation obtained by Kay LeGrandeur proves that her grandparents did not buy the house from Lee until March 10th, 1884), and the ford which splashed the Pincher CreekFort Macleod waggon trail across the Oldman here became known as LaGrandeurs Crossing. Taking full advantage of their situation, the LaGrandeurs built a stopping house which they operated until the Railway stole most of the trails travellers after 1897. In the bottom of the No. 3s north ditch just west of the 1961 concrete decked bridge that carries the Highway across the Creek is a small cairn commemorating the Victoria Jubilee Home, the Peigan Indian Residential School, which stood near here from 1897 to 1926.
To the south of the Highway the Pinchers valley narrows dramatically, and some 3 or 400 metres away, hanging 137 feet above the Valleys floor, is the Railways blackened steel bridge. One can appreciate why this defile, redoubt of wild mountain evergreens, gave the CPR engineers pause; it is steep, deep, and gave Michael Haney, the Crows Nest Lines superintendent of construction, and his chief engineer, Hugh Lumsden, a major headache. At CPs main CNL construction yard at Haneyville near Fort Macleod, carpenters shaped and numbered the timbers necessary to build the Lines trestles. The one here at Brocket needed to be 1200 feet long to maintain level approaches to the valley itself, and cradle a steel span that soared nearly 140 feet above the Pinchers waters. Begun in November of 1897, reports Barry Potyondi in Where the Rivers Meet: A History of the Upper Oldman River Basin to 1939 (Lethbridge, 1992), what should have been a rather straight-forward procedure of re-assembling the timbers and steel trusses was turned into a nightmare by weeks on end of shrieking west winds and finger-numbing cold. It was contracted to be finished by the end of January, but it wasnt until February 2nd, 1898, that the frost-bitten workers were able to get enough of the structure bolted together to permit the rail-laying gangs to progress westward. The 900 foot-long steel bridging which the traveller sees now is, of course, a successor to the original span.
The Pincher Creeks eastern scarp presents your average touring cyclist with a kilometre or two of aerobic exercise to regain the Prairie level. At the top of the grade, marked by a bevy of signs prominent among which is a hand-lettered effort both welcoming visitors and warning them against trespassing, the Highway moves out of the Municipal District of Pincher Creek #9 and onto Indian Reserve No. 147A, the land of one of the most storied peoples of the western Plains, the Piikani (Peigan or, in the U.S., Piegan) Band of the formidable NiitsitapiBlackfootPeople.
They call themselves Ni-tsi-ta-pi-ksiReal PeopleSaw-ki-tapiPrairie Peopleor just NiitsitapiThe Peopleand scientists tell them that they originated in the woods around the Great Lakes. They are identified with the Besant culture which spread onto the Plains from what is now the Minnesota-Iowa region between 2,000 and 4,000 years Before Present, but because they speak an Algonquin dialect related to, among others, the Gros Ventre, the distant Arapahoe and the Cheyenne, and share the creation myths and the distinct hæmatology of those tribes, savants surmise that the Blackfoot were pressed from the north-western fringes of the Eastern Woodlands ended not long after Sieur de Champlain conducted his fleet up the Saint Laurence to found Québec in 1608. Blackfoot people of a traditional bent, however, beg to disagree with the ethnologists and anthropologists, maintaining that the Niitsitapi have lived on these Prairies since Creation.
The Blackfoot believe, relates Mike Mountain Horse in the chapter Legends in his My People, the Bloods (Glenbow-Alberta Institute, and Blood Tribal Council, Calgary and Standoff, 1979), that [a] long time ago there was a great flood. Water was everywhere and no living thing was there except one being called Napi, and a solitary muskrat. Napi said to the muskrat: You must dive to the bottom of this water and bring up some earth. The muskrat accordingly dived but the distance to the bottom was so great that when he returned it was as a floating dead body. Upon examination, Napi discovered that he had reached the earth, for in his claws there was soil. Napi took this soil in his hands and began rolling it, and as he rolled the soil it multiplied and fell and blew and scattered from him until the present earths surface was formed.
Having made the earth, Napi picked up some of the soil he had generated and formed animals and birds which, after giving them the breath of life, he freed to habitate [sic] the land and the air.
Then, after long solitude, Napi realized his need of a human mate. Picking up more soil, he constructed the form of a woman, into which he breathed life. The [Old Woman] became his constant companion and together they had much enjoyment in the ruling of the world.
One day, Napi and his woman were sitting by the river bank in deep meditation upon ways in which to improve the earth. Napi rose, picked up a buffalo chip from the ground, and said to his companion: I will cast this buffalo chip into the water. If it floats I will cause the coming generations to rise again following their death.
But the woman retrained him, saying, Not so, for by this means the earth would soon become over-populated. Rather let me take this stone and cast it into the water. If it sinks, people will die forever, but if it floats, life will be eternal. And so, through the womans logic and influence, death came into the world.
After a time, owing to the stress of governing and arranging for the future of the world, Napi and the woman separated, and for many moons were not together. Napi, in order to carry on his projects, had created many men to help him. One day when he and his band were hunting for buffalo, Napi became separated from the rest and went alone as far as the Highwood River. Standing on the edge of the east bank, he observed below him in the valley a number of tepees, all of magnificent workmanship. Their chalky whiteness could be seen from afar, and the neatness and orderly fashion of the settlement greatly impressed him. He began to shout and wave to attract the attention of the owners. To his surprise he discovered that the inhabitants were the woman whom [sic] he had created and several women companions created by her. She came to meet him and explain her activities. Napi, deeply impressed by the resplendent encampment and the obvious advantage of having an amalgamation with the women who had made it, said: I have created many men who are without women companions. Let us align my men on the bank of the river, and from them your women can select husbands. This the woman agreed to, and the men were accordingly aligned on the bank of the river, Napi standing with them.
Then the chief woman retired secretly and removed her fine clothes. She unbraided and disarrayed her hair, donned dirty rags, and was the first of the women to go forth to chose a husband. Thus disguised she walked up to Napi and seizing his wrist announced her choice of him as a husband. Napi, however, seeing but an unkempt hag and having in mind his own woman as mate, would not be led away. So the woman returned to her tepee alone. Gathering the others around her, she instructed them to go up to the bank and choose their husbands, but on no account was any of them to select Napi. The women did as directed; all chose husbands, and Napi was left standing on the bank alone. The chief woman again arrayed herself in her finery, combed and rearranged her hair, painted her face, and came forward to Napi. Shaking her fist at him she said, You have made me ashamed in the eyes of all the other women by not coming with me when I chose you for a husband. Now you will remain standing on that spot, but not as Napi, for I will prepare a charm which will turn you into a pine tree. And this huge pine tree is still to be seen standing in solitude somewhere along the banks of the Highwood River.
So runs the tribal legend of the formation of our earth, and the subsequent development of its life, concludes Mountain Horse.
There are, of course, variations in the legend. Sometimes Naapi breathed on the mud which the Muskrat had brought him and it swelled into the Earth which the Old Mannot strictly defined, but generally The Sunpopulated with everything from mountains to mites. Together, he and the Old Woman made Humans and placed the Blackfoot on the High Plains where bison were plentiful and the winters mild.
Convinced by recent archæological finds and the fact that the Blackfoots dialect is so modified by their neighbours languages2 that it suggests a long period of isolation from the mother Algonquian, some students of the aboriginal diaspora align themselves with tribal tradition and declare that the Blackfoot have been on the far western Plains for at least a thousand years, and perhaps as long as the biblical calculation of the time of the Great Flood.
Like all peoples living on the knife-edge of existence, the Blackfoots outlook was highly spiritual. At the core of their religion was reverence for the bison, the staff of life. Ceremony and sacrifice sought to ensure that the herds would annually wander within reach of the Tribe. Among the Tribes venerables, the primary figure, Naapi, at once foolish and wise, was a friend to his People and their helper, but also deceived them as the Trickster. Belief in a great Essence of All Life, Ihtsi-pai-tapi-yopa, the Creator, advised that when a human spirit departed to eventually take up residence in the Great Sand Hills of what is now south-western Saskatchewan, the persons corpse be placed high in a tree or on a scaffold, and when the bones fell to earth, they be interred with other skeletons in circular Villages of the Dead.3
In Niitsitapi beliefs, people were not given dominion over the fowls and the beasts: all creatures, writes Mike Mountain Horse in My People, the Bloods (Glenbow-Alberta Institute, Calgary, 1979), … could feel, perceive and reason as might a man … . Even the rocks are alive and equal to any other being on Earth; just different.4 Write the Blackfoot Gallery Committee in their Nitsitapiisinni: The Story of the Blackfoot People (Key Porter Books, Toronto, 2002), the Niitsitapi share existence with Earth Beings, ksahkomi-tapiksi: animals, plants, what the Whites call inanimate objects like rocks and Earth. Overhead is the realm of the Above Beings, spomi-tapiksi, which appear as celestial objects, specific birds, and thunder. Water is populated by soyii-tapiksi, Water Beings which include most of the swimming animals and birds, and from whom came the Tribes most sacred object, the Beaver bundle. The Blackfoot believe(d) that the super-natural powers that these Beings possess can be transferred to pious humans, those yearning for guidance, and so to the Blackfoot came animals and plants in human form to reveal secrets and bestow gifts and talents. Wolves, for instance, taught the People to hunt. Spirit Beings, Naa-to-yi-ta-piiksi, appeared in human form to supervise the creation of the most sacred medicine bundles and teach ceremonies and songs through which the Niitsitapi can communicate with the Beyond. Especially sacred, before the coming of the Whiteman and his regulations, was the yearly Medicine Lodge ceremonywhat the Whites called the Sun Dance. Sponsored by a woman seeking spiritual favour, it was held in a nice place at the height of summer when the berries were ripening, every Blackfoot strove to attend, and the congregations were sometimes enormous.
To ethnologists the Niitsitapi represent the arch-typical First Nations plains culture. Agriculture, if practiced in their past, was largely given up as the Tribe dedicated its energies to the pursuit of the Bison, real meat. Suggestions that theirs was rootless lifestyle are mistaken, for geography and surrounding tribes restricted movement, defining a tribes territory. Favourite campsites were often revisited, on a schedule dictated by the wanderings of the Bison herds.
Tribal survival depended on the adoption and refinement of reliable equipment: the conical bison hide tipi which is stable in the steppes endless winds and easily erected and transported; a short, powerful bow of sinew-reinforced ash or chokecherry wood, and flint-tipped serviceberry wood arrows; the travois, three poles lashed together in an A frame, the apex of which was tied onto a dogslater, a horsesback and used by the women to drag the Tribes possessions to the next campsite. Pemmican, a pounded mélange of dried meat and fat and seasonal berries, sewn into skin bags for portability and preservation, tided the Tribe over those times when the buffalo had moved out of range. Initially afoot and rarely able to physically attack the fast moving buffalo, the Niitsitapi perfected the ancient method of stampeding herds along cairn-bounded run-ways which either ended in brush and hide impounds, or at precipices. So utterly dependant did the Tribe become on the beasts that in the years when prairie fires or storms drove the bison out of reach, a People without adequate supplies of pemmican found themselves dire straights. Other animalsdeer, antelope, rabbitswere much harder to hunt and relatively few in numbers. Fish was a distained desperation dinner, and what few vegetables5 and berries that could be found were but disesteemed side-dishes, kistapi waksinnothing foodto buffalo meat, natapi waksinreal food. Bison, einiua was the focus and sustainer of their lives.
At some juncture the Niitsitapi separated into three or four distinct tribes: the Siksikah, literally Blackfeet (the Northern Blackfoot); the Kainai, Many Chiefs, (the Blood); the Piikani, Scabby Robes (Peigan); and the extinct tribe remembered as the Inuksik, the Small Robes. According to the Blackfoot, this was a strategy designed to better protect their frontiers. Though each followed its own inclination and occasionally skirmished with another over who got to stay at a favourite camping site or to whom a certain horse actually belonged, the Tribes met regularly to conduct ceremonies, to hunt, and to exchange goods and genes.
Blackfoot politics was, as author Jared Diamond writes of the native nature of organization in general, fairly egalitarian. Grand councils would convene at large Medicine Lodge ceremonies, and inter-tribal agreements would be struck and understandings reached while the old stories were told and news exchanged. At the big dances, members of the Tribes mingled freely. The Tribes, however, considered themselves autonomous.
The Tribes themselves consisted of self-reliant Clans made up of one or two extended families and their associates. The foundation of Blackfoot society, these independent-minded units formed the foundation of Blackfoot society, and usually pitched their tents in proximity close enough that they could conveniently borrow fire from each other and face down enemies. In response to changing fortune, they renamed themselves occasionally, and were not always known to the other clans by the name which they had chosen.
The other level of Blackfoot organization were the Societies, which were interconnected Tribe to Tribe and maintained ritual and knowledge. Some were benevolent, such as the most secret and revered Horn Society, which had tasked itself with bringing prosperity to the Tribe and caring for the sick. The Crow Carriers, (Crazy) Dogs, Parted Hair Society, et al, were warrior societies, while the inaki such as the Black Soldiers Society policed behaviour. The Motokix, the Womens Society, supported individuals who agreed to sponsor the yearly Medicine Lodge Ceremony and attendant sun dance.
Within the Tribe, the Clan, and the Society, decisions were reached by consensus. Chieftainships, though possibly residing in prominent clans for succeeding generations, were not necessarily hereditary, but were entrusted to a man only out of respect for the wisdom of his advice, the persuasiveness of his oratory, his achievements in warring and hunting, and his abilities as a mediator. To accomplish specific hunting, raiding and trading tasks, ad hoc leaders were chosen based on qualifications. In any given situation, individuals or groups were free to ignore the Chiefs counsel and act upon their own judgement.
Interestingly, at the beginning of Time, People lived in a state of sexual segregation until Naapi the Troublemaker saw how much better the women were doing and, pitying the men, introduced them to each other. Though Naapi had united the sexes, the Blackfoot evolved a society that was defined by gender and prescribed the work expected from each. Men hunted, made tools, defended the Tribe and engaged in trade and theft. Men were allowed to be polygamous and they went through several names in their lifetime, either bestowed upon them for some memorable deed, or self-chosen upon instructions from Spirit Beings.6 A woman likely abandoned her childhood name at puberty, and possibly renamed herself from time to time throughout life. For the privilege of being born Woman, she did the drudge work. When it came time to change campsites because a few months refuse was drawing attention, or because the bison had changed pastures, it was the woman who struck her tipi and was responsible for delivering her familys possessions to the new camp. Women prepared the foodmostly stews, soups and roastshaving first butchered and preserved the meat, collected the roots and berries, drawn the water and built the fire. She did not enjoy the sexual freedom allowed her men-folk. Indeed, the unrepentant adventuress might have her nose trimmed, or worse, by her husband.
Though fond of their independence, the Blackfoot realized that small groups were vulnerable, as their enemies frequently proved. For self-preservation, the Blackfoot tribes, along with the TSuu Tina (Sarcee) and sometimes the Atsiina, Gros Ventre, (until a dispute over horses around 1860 estranged the tribes), maintained a loose alliance which would be dubbed by American envoys the Blackfoot Confederacy.7 An assault on one Tribe was an attack on the whole People and bloody revenge was a threat all raiders had to consider.
And raiders there were aplenty. Encroaching onto the plains from the wooded valleys and the forest of the north and north-east were the powerful and numerous Cree who called themselves Ne:hiyawak, or Iyiniwak. To the east and south-east of the Niitsitapi lived the Assiniboine, a plains people like themselves, but Siouan-speaking and sometimes in cahoots with the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota Nation who the Whites called Sioux. Ever ready to steal horses from each other, or kill or count coups, the Assiniboine and the Blackfoot lived in unease. The mighty Absaroke (Crow) tribe kept the Blackfoot from wandering very far below the main stream of the Missouri River, and the ooné, the Nimi'ipuu (Nez Percé), the Seelish (Flathead) and the Ktunaxa (Kootenay) were constantly coming over the mountains from the west to chase for bison on the plains, scattering the herds, making them hard to hunt.
No one in North America had seen a horse until Hernán Cortéz walked 15 of them ashore from his expeditions ships near what is today Vera Cruz, Mexico, in 1519. The old story goes that the local Aztecs were terrified by the horse/man combination, making the conquest of their kingdom easy for the Spanish. When Francisco Vásquez de Coronado set out from Mexico in 1540 to meander two years across the southern Plains of North America looking for El Dorado, he used horses, as did Hernando de Soto, who penetrated to the south-eastern edge of the Plains at the same time. That this big animal would allow itself to be ruled by mere men impressed the Natives who doubtless could see countless ways in which their lives could be eased by the beast. The supposition that Coronado and de Soto lost enough horses to populate the Plains is discounted by John C. Ewers, who in The Horse in Blackfoot Indian Culture, With Comparative Material from Other Western Tribes (Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington, 1955), suggests that the Indians had to wait for the Horse until the Spanish established a permanent presence in what is now Texas and New Mexico beginning with the expedition of Don Juan de Oñate in 1598. The settlers around what is now Santa Fé likely taught horsemanship to their allies, the local Pueblo Indians, and gifted individuals with horses. When the Spanish were forced to flee from the region 1680 they left many of their possessions behind, including herds of horses. These the Pueblos took over and traded to the Kiowa and Comanche, passing along horse-handling skills at the same time.
The Horse and Native Americans seem to have been made for each other. The Kiowa and Comanche very quickly mastered the care of the animals and were bold, expert equestrians. From them, other tribes obtained the Horse and the species rather quickly made its way up the central cordillera to the edge of Ruperts Land. East of the Rockies the Shoshone passed Equus northward to the Crows; west of the Mountains the Nez Percé, the Yakima, the Flathead, and the Ktunaxa were all soon mounted. These Peoples had long been accustomed to infiltrating eastward over the Great Divide a couple of times a year to hunt bison. In former times this was fraught with danger, for the Blackfoot and Crow resented these incursions into their homelands, and would punish invaders if they could. Now parties of riders could easily avoid the Blackfoot and quickly run down and butcher as many buffalo as they desired. Almost with impunity could they raid Blackfoot camps.
The Niitsitapi had likely heard of horses before they saw their first, which at the moment of discovery were probably carrying raiding Crows or a Shoshone hunting party swiftly across the Plains on the Blackfoots southern frontier. They may in the beginning have regarded the Horse with some trepidation, but when they observed how magically the animal extended the range of those that had them, their fear turned to desire. Mounted, a man could find and race into a herd of buffalo and choose a fat cow for his familys fare for the next few days. No longer were elaborate plans necessary to manuvre the bison to their deaths; now they could simply be ridden down wherever they were found, almost at will, butchered, and the meat transported rapidly and easily back to camp. When it came time to move camp, a goods-laden travois much bigger than the ones that the Blackfoot had long attached to dogs could be pulled by a horse. Hunting successfully, decamping quickly, patrolling the frontiers all became much easier. Culturally, the Horse exerted a cohesive effect on tribal society, for the animal facilitated the gathering of people in larger numbers than previously possible. Because it was so useful, the Ni Tsi Tapi likened the new animal to a dog, imitaa, but as it was as big as an elk, so they called it ponokaomitaa, elk-dog.
In The Amazing Death of Calf Shirt, and other Blackfoot Stories: Three Hundred Years of Blackfoot History (Fifth House, Saskatoon, 1994), Hugh Aylmer Dempsey records the Kainai recollection that it was Shaved Head who brought the first horse to the Niitsitapi. When this happened cannot now be determined, but the best guess seems to be around 1725. When the HBCs man, Anthony Henday, came out onto the Prairies and met Niitsitapi in 1754, he found that they had horses and were accomplished riders. In fact, the Horse had apparently changed the balance of power within the structure of the Tribes, for the military societies had risen in status to dominate Tribal affairs, and a young mans advancement through the ranks depended on his daring and success at war and horsemanship.
Over the decades, the persistence of western tribes such as the Ktunaxa, Nez Percé, and Shoshone in regularly infiltrating onto the Prairies to hunt buffalo provided the Blackfoot with a reliable source of horses. Fair was fair, reasoned the Blackfoot; the westerners were stealing their buffalo, so the Blackfoot stole their horses. It was a sport, and it worked both ways, for fast racers and Buffalo runnershorses that had the nerve to charge alongside a great, shaggy bison and not shy as its rider struggled to bring the beast down with stone-age toolswere precious. Indeed, to all Indians, horses were wealth.
The Horse greatly expanded the territory to which the Blackfoot laid claim. At the time of Hendays visit, the fierce Siksika were lords of the Plains as far eastward from the Great Divide as they cared to go, from the fringes of the Northern forestapproximately the North Saskatchewan Riversouth to the Bow River. South of them to the Missouri ranged the Kainai, while the Piikani roamed the fur-rich Foothills from the Red Deer River to the Yellowstone River. The Plains Crees and Assiniboines tried to maintain a respectful buffer to the east, the Ktunaxa ventured at their peril over the Great Divide, the Absaroke (Crow), Atsiina (Gros Ventre), Lakota/Dakota/Nakota (Sioux) and Nimi (Shoshone) seldom risked a confrontation. At the peak of their power in the mid-18th Century, the 13,000-strong Blackfoot jealously regarded some 80,000 square miles as their exclusive reserve. The band of Ktunaxa which Peter Fidler met in the Livingstone Gap in 1792 were there only at the pleasure of the Niitsitapi, suffering the loss of a few horses as the price for being allowed to hunt buffalo for a few weeks.
The Horse was already on its way to the Blackfoot when, in the last days of June, 1608, Samuel de Champlain sailed his ship up what he called the Rivière St. Laurentthe St. Lawrence. Champlain had been there beforefive years earlier he had sailed up the grand fleuve until the rapids La Chine blocked his way. This time, however, his ambition was different. Not for a passage to China was he seeking, but rather a defensible location to plant a permanent settlement. On July 3rd he stepped ashore at a natural little harbour sheltered under an imposing promontory on the north shore, and had the site blessed. Québec was founded. In that moment the long-established balance of power in the St. Lawrence basin changed. As suggested by John C. Ewers in his The Blackfeet : Raiders of the Northwestern Plains (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1958), the impact of that event sent ripples throughout that quarter of North America: the introduction of Iron Age technology and exotic goods fundamentally altered the relationships among Native nations. Friends of the French waxed quickly powerful and caused adjacent tribes to draw away, they in turn unsettling their neighbours. Eventually, this phenomenon affected the Blackfoot. Around the middle of the Seventeenth Century, accepted wisdom has it, the Blackfoot, having been pressed to the edge of the forest by the Crees, escaped enslavement by abandoning the woodlands for the no-mans land of the Great Plains.
A second wave of tribal disruption began when The Company of Adventurers Trading into Hudsons Bay established factories on the coast of said Bay from 1670.
The discovery that beavers fur was the ideal material for making felt to satisfy the European fashion rage for brimmed hats caused the extinction of the animal in Europe and the enrichment of Russian traders lucky enough to have connections in Siberia. The news was not long in getting to New France that beaver pelts translated directly into profit, and two adventurers, Pierre Esprit Radisson and Médard Chouartbetter known as Sieur Des Groseillierspaddled out of the valley of the St. Laurent in 1659 and made their way to Hudson Bay. The region was infested with beaver, they joyfully reported to the authorities in Québec upon their return, and were promptly fined for travelling without a permit. Incensed, they left for Boston to raise money for an expedition, and failing there, went on to London where the right ears finally heard their story. In 1668 a company of investors chartered the Nonsuch and sent Chouart back to the Bay to collect fur. The gambit proved profitable, and when Radisson aboard the Wivenhoe matched Chouarts success the following year, some of the moneyd men of London began to form a company and enlisted Prince Rupert of the Rhine to act as governor to petition his cousin, King Charles II, for a permit to trade in the basin of Hudsons Bay. The king was convinced that the benefit to his fisc would well compensate him for his signature, and on May 2nd, 1670, he granted the Governor and Company of Adventurers Tradeing [sic] into Hudsons Bay a charter which conferred exclusive rights to all trade in the 1.5 million square mile drainage basin of Hudsons Bay, the territory that the Coy ever after referred to as Ruperts Land.
Though preferring that their officers and servants remain within the secure walls of their posts, the Hudsons Bay Coy was curious about the extent of Ruperts Land and in 1690 sent Henry Kelsey out into the hinterlands. He, according to David Cruise and Alison Griffiths in The Great Adventure (Viking, Toronto, 1996), became the first White that the Blackfoot ever met. Treating him hospitably, the Tribe, after absorbing Kelseys sales pitch, rejected his invitation to bundle up their furs and canoe to York Factory and trade. The Factory lay, they pointed out, in the hostile heart of Newiyawak/Cree territory: and besides, they had no facility with canoes and had no need of the Whitemans trinkets.8
By the end of the Seventeenth Century the CreeNe:hiyawakliving in the neighbourhood of the HBCs factories had become middlemen between the HBC and distant tribes, trading fine pelts for steel arrowheads and traps, cookware, guns, shot and powder, tobacco and cloth. Cementing this relationship were the Newiyawak women who Traders had taken as country wiveslittle ribsto comfort them through the long winters and facilitate trade with the tribe of which she was a member. Well armed and able to call on the fire-power of their White relatives in the event of a misunderstanding, the Newiyawak waxed in strength, expanding their territory. Pursuing trade, the Newiyawak pushed westward along the southern limit of the Boreal Forest and extended their activities out onto the Plains in search of bison with which to make pemmican to trade to the hungry Whites. There, on the Plains, they fought and traded with the Niitsitapi/Blackfoot.
To the inmates of the Coys factories on Hudsons Bay, the Blackfoot and their neighbours for years existed only as Archithinueoutlanders, basicallyin the description of the Cree. As Trade became better established, occasionally one or two Archithinue would overcome their aversion to water-borne travel and come down-river with the Crees to inspect the Whitemans home and the complete selection of available goods. These visitors were, however, rare, for the Crees, determined to preserve their advantage in trade, generally discouraged such adventures. It was not until 1754, when Anthony Henday struck far out into the hinterland, that the HBC began to realize that the Archithinue were not a homogenous group, and among the swirl of humanity on the far western plains were three autonomous tribes that spoke similar dialects and lived in a somewhat fractious relation ship which permitted intermarriage and the easy exchange of ideas and goods, and sometimes saw warriors and hunters coöperate on the tribal level to defend or feed their dependents. His Newiyawak/Cree interpreters called one of the Tribes something that Henday translated into English as Blackfoot, and so they all became known. Henday confirmed that the Tribe preferred that Trade come to them, bringing what few foreign items that they found useful.
Though he was likely the first Bayman to meet the Niitsi-tapi, Anthony Henday was not the first Whiteman to penetrate their territory. In January of 1743 Louis-Joseph Gaultier, son of Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de La Vérandrye, led an expedition along the very southern frontier of the Blackfoot hunting grounds to within sight of the Big Horn mountains in what is now Wyoming, USA. Whether or not he actually met any Blackfoot is unknown, but he did open the way for other French traders and explorers to make their way into the heart of North America, into Ruperts Land, offering tribes there an alternative to HBC goods. The Niitsitapi called the Canadiens niitsaapiikoa, original Whiteman, either because they were the first to bring Trade to the nation, or because the Blackfoot knew very well that it was the French who first colonized northern North America.
According to H.A. Dempsey in Indian Tribes of Alberta (Glenbow Museum, Calgary, 1986), Henday had found in 1754 that the Blackfoot thought themselves adequately supplied with trade goods, and felt that they neednt subject themselves to the treachery of water-travel and the Crees by venturing down-river to the HBC posts. Firearms and steel knives, cauldrons, cloth, and steel arrowheads they got from the Crees by swapping precious furs which they had acquired from other tribes either by theft or by bartering their worn metal goods. With the profits they bought the horses that they couldnt steal. They believed they needed nothing more. Bison were plentiful, and now on horseback, hunters had little problem supplying their families with a surplus of meat.9
To the fur traders based in New France, the HBCs royally chartered privileges of exclusivity meant nothing. It was an arrangement amongst the English. If an homme wanted to gather furs in Ruperts Land, and could come to an accommodation with the Intendent to do so, good luck to him et mal chance à les maudits Anglais. This foreign infiltration into their preserve impelled the HBC to abandon its policy of passively waiting at the Bay-side for furs to arrive. It began sending young servants out to winter with the tribes, hopefully winning their trust and respect by usefully surviving the ordeal and perhaps convincing their new-found friends that dealing with the HBC was to their advantage.10 Matthew Cocking, sent to over-winter with the Niitsitapi in 1772-73, found that, as in Hendays day, the Tribe could not be induced to travel to the distant trading posts to partake more directly in commerce. Further, the Blackfoot were able to make it clear that any interlopers they caught in their hunting grounds would suffer before they died.
Coupled with its over-wintering campaign, the HBC began building inland posts, the first being Cumberland House, raised on the Saskatchewan River in 1774. By 1800 the HBC traders, who the Niitsitapi called niitapiaakiikoan, real Whiteman, had established posts around the northern and eastern frontiers of Blackfoot territory: South Branch House on the lower South Saskatchewan River (1785), Buckingham House (1792), where the Vermilion River joins the North Saskatchewan River; Fort Edmonton (1795), farther up the North Saskatchewan; Acton House (1798), where the North Saskatchewan flows out of the foothills; and Chesterfield House (1800) at the confluence of the Red Deer and South Saskatchewan. By then the Canadien trade had been taken over by mostly Scottish refugees fleeing persecution in the new United States of America, and their North West Company challenged the HBCs exclusive patent to Ruperts Land by building posts in the immediate neighbourhood of the HBC establishments, and eventually crossing the Great Divide to open direct trade links with the beaver-rich tribes Columbia River basin.
In 1787, an HBC expedition led by Phillip Turnor and his apprentice, the young David Thompson, walked the Rocky Mountains Eastern Slopes from the North Saskatchewan to the Bow River, meeting the Piikani and probably the TSuu Tina, and assessing the potential of the region. Five years later, Peter Fidler struck south along the Eastern Slopes into the haunt of the Blackfoot as far as the Oldman River. These travellers confirmed that the Great Plains was not fine fur country.
Of the Blackfoot tribes, only the Piikani, who Coy employees called the Muddy River people, and perhaps the now extinct Small Robes to the south, had beaver pelts to trade. They either trapped the ksisstukki and prepared the skins themselves, or they acquired pelts by trade or theft from the Peoples in the Columbia and Missouri basins. On the bald prairies where the Kainai and the Siksikah preferred to live, there were few beaver. The hides of wolves, however, had some value to Europeans, and the animals could be run down on horseback. These hides, along with the pemmican that sustained the Fur Traders in their inland posts, gave the Siksika and the Kainai something to trade at the forts. And it was at the forts, probably at Edmonton House, that the Tribes got the first taste of the alcohol that would eventually cost them their sovereignty.
Both the North West Company and the HBC were eager to extend their commerce beyond the Great Divide into the Pacific drainage basin where they expected to find a mother-lode of furs. The Niitsitapi, particularly the Piikûni, were not at all happy with the Companies intentions. It was already an effort for them to regulate the buffalo hunting forays of the Ktunaxa, Nez Percé, Flathead and Shoshone. Should these tribes obtain good firearms the problem would be compounded. Besides, the Ktunaxa especially were a reliable source of beaver pelts and excellent horses. The status quo suited the Piikani just fine: they had bison and controlled the flow of European trade goods crossing the Ruperts Land and the Rockies: they lacked only a convenient trading post. In the autumn of 1798 that lack was filled when, some 200 kilometres upstream from Edmonton House, John McDonald of Garth built Rocky Mountain House for the NWC. Instantly, the HBC ordered James Curtis Bird to built a post nearby which it called Acton House. Although Rocky Mountain House was ostensibly opened to tap the Piikûni trade, the NWC had a second purpose in mind for it; a staging post for expeditions across the mountains into the land of the Ktunaxa. No fools, the Piikani fathomed the scheme and did their best to discourage the Whites from crossing the Divide.
Closer to them than Fort Edmonton or Fort Augustus, the Piikani, TSuu Tina, and occasionally, the Kainai, began patronizing Acton and Rocky Mountain House. Here they learned to appreciate naapiaohkii, Whitemans water, the fiery, dream inducing liquid with which the Traders were accustomed to greasing the wheels of commerce. Introduced as perhaps a civil gesture by the HBC in the Coys earliest days, a tot of well-watered rum quickly became the expected prerequisite to bargaining. But traders had long ago learned the dangers of treating their customers to alcohol: it could unleash savagery.11 Secure in their fortified Factories on the Bay, the Coy men could afford to be careless of the consequences, but when compelled to trek into the hinterland to compete with the NorWesters, the Baymen tried to use booze sparingly. The dæmon, though, was out of the bottle, and if the Indians couldnt satisfy their thirst at one post, they simply took their trade to another. Indeed, observes John Herd Thompson in his Forging the Prairie West (Oxford University Press, Don Mills, 1998), competition between the Nor Westers and the HBC soaked Ruperts Land in booze.
Because of their reticence come to trade posts, or permit many to be built in their territory, the Niitsitapi were initially spared exposure to alcohol. According to E.Y. Arima in his detailed examination of the Piikani, Blackfeet and Palefaces (The Golden Dog Press, Ottawa, Ontario, 1995), those, however, who frequented the posts could not accept the Whites argument that water, no matter what kind, must be paid for; all waters were free. Did not the Tribe allow the Whites to use Niitsitapi waters? So demanding did some Natives become, and so violent in their actions when they were denied, that the Traders were forced to fortify Rocky Mountain House to survive. Nonetheless, thanks to their distrust of alien products and their contempt for the Traders Newiyawak and Algonquin engagés, the Niitsitapi Nation as a whole maintained the sturdy fabric of its society long after that of other Peoples had rotted in rum.
Notwithstanding that Hernando De Soto had discovered the mouth of the Mississippi in 1542, in 1682, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, claimed the watershed of the great river for his lord, Louis XIV, the Sun King of France. He called it Louisiana. Louis XV transferred the territory to Carlos III of Spain in 1769, but First Counsel Napoléon Bonaparte negotiated its return via the Secret Treaty of Ildefonso in 1800. In desperate need of cash with which to prosecute his grievances against his legion of European enemies, Citizen Bonaparte soon offered to sell Louisiana to the United States of America. On April 30th, 1803, the agreement was signed and upon receipt of $15 million, the transfer was finalized in New Orleans on December 20th. At the stroke of a pen, the entire western portion of the Mississippi basin changed hands, some 828,000 square miles in the heart of North America.
Even before his nation had acquired Louisiana, Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, commissioned army captain Meriwether Lewis to strike out westward and find a commercially exploitable water route across the North American continent. In 1804, with captain William Clark as co-commander and Sacajawea (Bird Woman) and her husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, as guides, Lewis led his Corps of Discovery into the West. In the late spring of 1805 the expedition succeeded in cresting the Great Divide and pressed onward to winter at the mouth of the Columbia River. The Corps returned in 1806 with tales of the riches in the West awaiting those bold enough to venture thither.
One of those who was bold enough was Manuel Lisa. Inspired by Clarkes and Lewiss description of the peltry which was littering the landscape of the West, in 1807 he outfitted himself with trade goods in St. Louis and with former Corps-member George Drouillard set out up the Missouri River and the Yellowstone. At the mouth of the Bighorn in what is now the state of Montana the pair built Fort Remon and commenced trading with the Crow nation. The venture was a success, resulting in the formation of the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company. From Ft. Remon in 1808 the company sent out another ex-Corps member, John Colter, to contact the Snake, Salish and Nez Percé peoples and initiate trade with them. Unfortunately, Colter ran into a party of Piikani. The Tribe bore a grudge against Whites coming up the Missouri River system because, in the last days of June of 1806, a member of the Corps of Discovery, Reuben Field, had killed a young Piikûni who was attempting to steal one of the Corps horses. The fabled outcome of Colters encounter was that he managed to escape with his life, running naked through the countryside hundreds of miles back to Fort Remon. This event cemented the reputation of the Blackfoot as a nation implacably hostile to Whites, and when W.P. Hunt led the land-bound contingent of J.J. Astors Pacific Fur Company across the continent to the Columbias mouth in 1810, he avoided Blackfoot country. It was well he did, for that July, two of David Thompsons Nor-Westers, Finan McDonald and Baptiste Buché, compounded the ill-will between the races by materially aiding a band of Flathead Seelish to defeat a patrol of Piikûni, killing 16 of the latter. Thereafter, mere contact with the Blackfoot became extremely risky for the Whites.
According to John C. Jackson in his The Blackfeet: A Culture Under Siege (Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, 2000), the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States caused the Missouri Fur Company to suspend its business on the upper Missouri, surrendering the field to Astors American Fur Company which, from its offices in St. Louis, continued to send out expeditions to harvest furs and buy the takings of the independent mountain men of romantically Disneyfied legend. Regarding Natives as treacherous nuisances rather than potential suppliers and trading partners, these entrepreneurs preferred to scour the forests in well armed bands and trap animals themselves. This the Blackfoot regarded as theft. Such a band was the loosely constituted Rocky Mountain Fur Company in which the Sublette brothers William, Andrew and Milton, and Jim Bridger and Joe Meek had interests. Any posts that these bands set up were merely fortified caches for their supplies rather than warehouses for trade goods. When accosted by Natives resentful of their intrusion, the trappers typical recourse was to allow their firearms to negotiate territorial privileges. Arrow countered ball, bad blood stained the soil, and thus was established the tenor of American relations with the Western Indians. For their part, such excruciating means of death did the Blackfoot devise for any trapper they caught in their territory that the Mountain Men called them Bugs Boys.12
To acquire the trade goods upon which they were increasingly reliant, the Blackfoot continued to deal with the HBC and the Nor Westers, playing one company against the other in order to get the best deals. Especially adept at this commerce were the Piikani who by 1815 were regularly bringing in the much treasured beaver, as well as muskrat, marten, and fox pelts, and wolf and bison hides. The establishment in 1812 of the HBC-friendly Selkirk Colony athwart the NWCs lines of communication through the Red Rivers valley drastically curtailed the NorWesters ability to carry on their activities in Ruperts Land, a contributing factor to the coalition of the HBC and the NWC in 1821. This arrangement stole the bargaining advantage the Niitsitapi enjoyed in their small dealings with the Whites, but as one alternative source of goods dried up, another presented itself. In that same year of 1821 the Missouri Fur Company (MFC) re-organized itself and sent out a party to rebuild its posts, most of which had been burned to the ground by natives not only demonstrating their control of the countryside, but searching the Whitemans structures for bits of precious iron. Recognizing the advantages of a source of goods besides the HBC, in 1823 the Piikani allowed an MFC party led by Michael J. Immell to build a post at the mouth of Marias River in what is now upper Montana. Though the Kainai soon reduced the post and took all the collected furs to Fort Edmonton, the opening card had been played, and when Astors American Fur Company sent the ex-HBC man, Kenneth McKenzie, to break into the Blackfoot bastion in 1827,13 the Tribe tolerated him long enough to allow him to purchase a high ranking Piikani woman as a wife. This bought him some consideration from the Tribe and, setting up Fort Floyd at the mouth of the Yellowstoneand after it was burned, Fort Union at the same placeMcKenzie began twelve years of mutually profitable trade with the Blackfoot. His trade treaty of 1831, achieved with much pomp and gifting, allowed him to send James Kipp to the mouth of Marias River that October to build Fort Piegan for the convenience of the Piikani who until then had either to travel to the HBCs Rocky Mountain House or Fort Edmonton, or await the trading expeditions dispatched over continental divide by the reviled Finan McDonald based at Flathead Post. The Assiniboines burned Fort Piegan at the end of the trading season, but the take from the post had been so profitable that the next year, 1832, the AFC sent David D. Mitchell to established Fort McKenzie at the farthest point that a keelboat could be prodded up the Missouri, a few miles upstream from old Piegan. The Niitsitapi had opened wide their door to the New World.
The AFCs incursion into Blackfoot territory alarmed the HBC, especially after it learned that the Piikani alone had sold some 3,000 beaver hides to the Americans during the season ending in the spring of 1832. Reports Elizabeth Browne Losey in her Let them Be Remembered: The Story of the Fur Trade Forts (Vantage Press, New York, 1999), the Coys Northern Council resolved on July 9th, 1832, to establish a post in the heart of Piikani territory to regain the Tribes trade. The task fell to John Rowand, the chief factor at Fort Edmonton. He had a pretty good idea where the Peigan Post should be situated, and with a party including Henry Fisher, found the ideal location that autumn on the north bank of the Bow River near the mouth of Fort Creek, some 12 miles up-stream from what is now Morley, Alberta, on the Stoney Indian Reserve west of the present metropolis of Calgary. Fisher and his crew had the five-sided fort well underway by October 10th when chief trader John Edward Harriott arrived14 with Patrick Small and ten men to run the operation. Harriott, a gifted linguist, had in 1822 led what was called the Bow River Expedition deep into the Piikani heartland in an effort to cement a commercial relationship with the Tribe. He had failed then, and failed again at Peigan Post, prohibited as he was by Coy policy from trading with anyone but the Piikani. The Piikani, however, preferred the less expensive goods offered by the AFC. With little to show for his efforts, Harriott closed the post the following spring, but was directed to re-open it again in August as the Coy had engaged Jemmy Jock Bird15 to steer the Piikani trade to Harriotts post. Birds efforts were questionable at best, and after another unprofitable season the Coy instructed Harriott to abandon the post, the last traces of which have come to be known as Old Bow Fort.
On June 1st of 1834, 71 year-old John Jacob Astor sold the American Fur Company and all its assets to Pratte, Chouteau and Company of St. Louis. Pierre Chouteau, erstwhile employee of the AFC, took over the firm in 1838 and re-organized it under his own name. In 1844 he ordered the abandonment of Fort McKenzie and had Fort Chardon established further east, at the mouth of the Judith River, on the very edge of Blackfoot territory. Chardon lasted only a year (becoming known as Fort Brulé, likely after the Natives burned it) and was replaced by Fort Lewis on the Missouri farther west.
In the wake of Robert Fultons successful application of steam power to water craft in 1807, paddle-wheelers on the Mississippi and its larger tributaries went far in conquering the Mid-west for America. By the 1830s belching, hooting steamboats were battling their way each season farther and farther up the Missouri. When Alexander Culbertson, having prudently taken to wife a daughter of a chief of the Kainai Fish-Eater clan, was choosing a location for Chouteaus Fort Lewis in 1846, he planted it on the Missouri just above the mouth of the Marias River, as far up the River as he thought a steamboat could get. In the spring of 1847 Fort Lewis was dismantled and moved three miles downstream and to the opposite where it was re-built in adobe as Fort Clay which, at the Christmas Day party in 1850, was renamed Fort Benton I honour of Missouri senator Thos. Hart Benton. It proved to be at the Head of practical navigation on the Missouri when the stern-wheeler Chippewa, under contract to the American Fur Company, clawed its way thither in 1860, 2400 miles from St. Louis. With its connection to the East well established, Fort Benton was destined to become the premiere emporium for the south-west corner of the North-West Territories until the CPR drove its Mainline across the Prairies in 1883.
That the government of the United States had passed the Indian Intercourse Act of 1834 prohibiting the sale of liquor to Indians in its territories west of the Mississippi did little to deter fur trading companies from smuggling booze to their clients. There was no authority to enforce the Law. In the early 1840s, however, throngs of pioneering White people began departing from what is now Independence, Missouri, in long trains of hooded Prairie Schooner or Conestoga waggons, bound for Oregon Territory. Though largely unmolested by the Natives across whose hunting grounds they traversed, altercations did occur and in 1846 the U.S. government directed its army to build Fort Kearny, the first of a string of posts that would eventually stud what was by then known as the Oregon Trail. This was the beginning of law enforcement in the American West.
After months of inducement a pair of commissioners for the United States, Governor Isaac Ingalls Stevens of Washington Territory, and A. Cumming, succeeded in convening a grand council on the banks of the Judith River in what is now central Montana. Present were leading chiefs of the Nimi'ipuu (Nez Percé), Seelish (Flat Head and Pend dOreille) and what the Americans called the tribes of the Blackfoot Nationthe Piikani, the Siksikah, the Kainai, and the A'aninin (Gros Ventre). On October 17th, 1855, after days of discussion during which the tribes discovered that they had been assigned an agent by the U.S. government, most of the chiefs, Mr. Cummings, Governor Stevens (Short Man to the Niitsi-tapi) and a handful of White witnesses, signed or marked what is known as the Lame Bullor Judith RiverTreaty. This agreement reserved generous territories to the tribes which sent delegations to the Judith, the largest going to the Blackfeet. For their promise not to import or drink alcohol, not attack their neighbours (except in self-defence), to allow the U.S. government to build roads and military posts and use local materials to do so, and permit the unmolested passage of U.S. citizens, the Blackfeet were to get money and a large chunk of what was then still Nebraska Territory. Bounded by the Continental Divide to the west, the Muscle Shell River to the south, the Missouri River to the east, and the Milk River and the 49th degree of parallel to the north, this reservation of land was guaranteed inviolate by the government, a sanctuary where the Blackfeet could hunt in peace and live unmolested
All guarantees, however, were cancelled in 1862 when gold was discovered in Grasshopper Creek on the southern fringes of the Blackfoot reservation. Into the region came thousands of gold rushers, their regard for humanity crippled by their Civil War experiences and a national attitude which held that the only good Indian was a dead Indian. With the War distracting the government, the invaders spread out from the Creek, searching for the End of the Rainbow, ignorant and insouciant of the bounds of hunting grounds, prone to shoot any Native in sight. The Blackfoot were not reticent to retaliate, and soon the region was red with blood. Despite, or perhaps because of the instability, the U.S. Congress created the Territory of Montana on May 26th, 1864.
Alder Gulch and Virginia City, farther into reservation lands, were already established and thriving by the time the U.S. government was finally free to address the situation after the countrys civil war. The simplest solution seemed to be to withdraw the White-occupied part of the reservation from Indian control. Consequently, according to Oscar Lewis in The Effects of White Contact Upon the Blackfoot Culture, with Special Reference to the Rôle of the Fur Trade (University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1942), in 1865 an un-named minor Blackfoot chief was convinced to cede that portion of his Peoples territory below the Missouri. The Blackfoot Nation, as a whole, naturally resented the reduction of their hunting grounds, and with their estranged allies, the Atsiina (Gros Ventre), began a campaign to defend the old bounds. With the region spiralling into what the Americans call the Blackfoot War, the U.S. government sent its army to support special commissioner W.J. Cullen in his 1868 attempt to legitimize the 1865 agreement. Cullen was unable to do so, and the Piikûni, particularly Mountain Chiefs band, intensified their resistance to the White invasion, actions which the Americans gleefully dubbed the Piegan War. The destruction of the Blackfoot as a military force that could threaten White intentions occurred at dawn on the 23rd of January, 1870, when a troop of the U.S. Armys Second Cavalry led by Brevet Colonel E.M. Baker attacked what they believed was Mountain Chiefs camp. It was not. It was the camp of a fairly pacific clan led by Heavy Runner from which the young men were absent, hunting. Old Heavy Runner, desperate to avert the unfolding tragedy, ran toward the troops waiving his safe-conduct papers. His effort cost him his life, and the ensuing massacre of 173 women, youngsters and elders convinced Blackfoot far and wide that they were engaged in a war with a merciless and implacable foe. Suffering a small-pox epidemic that arrived on the heals of the massacre, most of the Nation fled northward into Ruperts Land.
The Destruction of the Race: Bison, Booze and Bugs
The Blackfoot believed that Naapi created bison from mud and that there was a hole in the ground somewhere whence the species poured forth in never-ending abundance. It was a given in the World of the Plains Indians: there had ever been and always would be bison uncountable. The beast was the engine of Plains economy. One prime cow typically yielded 200 kilograms of excellent meat. Mounted on a brave horse, a buffalo runner that was not afraid to push its way into a herd of stampeding bison, a steel-nerved hunter could work his way to the front of the mob where the young cows ran, and with spear or arrow or, if he was so fortunate, a reliable gun, provide his kin with enough to eat for days. For the Plains Indians, the good times were those years between the coming of the horse and the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in America.
By the 1820s in the United States the stationary steam engine had largely superseded water wheels and windmills as the main source of power for factories. By means of belts, the engines flywheel drove a mainshaft which in turn drove any number of secondary shafts in every corner of the factory. Belts connected the secondary shafts to machinessewing machines, drills and lathes, looms and spinning wheels, trip-hammers, bellows and blowers: every year more machines were being adapted to, or invented for, mass-producing goods in the factories. But without drive belts the factory was idle, and, after years of trying every available material, it was discovered that buffalo hide made the best belting.
Co-incidentally, uses were found for other bison products. The carriage and sleigh manufacturers had long appreciated the comfort which buffalo robes16 afforded travellers, and demand was increasing as American society became more affluent. The chemical industries had found that bison bone could be used in making fertilizers and explosives, and as a clarifying agent in the process of sugar refining. Glue could be made from the animals hooves.
Come the 1820s, silk began to replace felt as the material of choice for a fashionable hat. Consequently, the demand for beaver fur, from which the best felt is made, declined. Abandoning the bulk of the fine fur trade to their competitors in British North America, American traders set their sights on the bison. For them, the situation was ideal. There were lots of bison, demand for hides and robes was increasing, and several reliably navigable rivers ran from the Mississippi into the heart of buffalo country, making it economic to remove the bulky, heavy hides to market.
Come 1824, American industry had recovered from the Panic of 1819 and was beginning to look to the West to supply some of its needs. In response, J.J. Astors American Fur Company began establishing permanent posts along the Missouri, beginning, notes Barry Potyondi in his work In Pallisers TriangleLiving in the Grasslands, 18501930 (Purich Publishing, Saskatoon, 1995), with the distillery-equipped Fort Union in 1828. In 1831, according to Jackson in The Blackfeet: A Culture Under Siege, the AFCs Upper Missouri Outfit sent 3,000 finished robes down river. The total rapidly increased: 9,000 by 1835, 10,000 in 1838, 20,000 come 1841.
Though these numbers were insignificant when compared to the actual number of buffalo roaming the Plains, Natives resented the trade. It was carried on in their traditional hunting grounds without their permission. Under constant attack, the animals were spooked, making them difficult to hunt. Beyond this, Native ethics, in appreciation of Naapis generosity, expected that all the animal be used, not merely the hide. The wasted, rotting carcasses fouling the air and water shocked Native sensibilities and inspired fear that Naapi would withdraw his bounty. As a result, the life of the buffalo hunter was forfeit if he was surprised by the Blackfoot or their neighbours.
However, at the same time the Blackfoot appreciated that goods they got in trade from the Whites made life so much easier. Steel projectile points, clubs, knives and axes were vastly superior to ones chipped from stone. Textiles made attractive, serviceable clothing and guns were extremely useful in many situations. Pretty beads, cooking pots, exotic tobaccos all found a market among the Tribes, and if the Whites wanted bison hides and robes in exchange, many Native hunters were willing to supply that want. To quote Jackson (op cit), The robe trade converted the foundation of tribal life into an obscene commodity. The real tragedy began to unfold, however, when the Traders cast around for an item which would inspire Indians to supply more hides.
The lifestyle of migratory hunter/gatherers limits their baggage: there is only so much stuff that an individual or family can conveniently pack up and move to a new locale when the need arises. Of the trade goods desired by Blackfoot families, metal items eventually wore out or got lost, cloth subjected to harsh usage didnt last long. All had to be replaced, but not at a rate that ensured that Indians would deliver hides to the trading posts in the numbers required by Eastern industry. What was needed was a good that was consumable, cheap, and wanted in quantity.
Booze fit the bill.
Though blame for the introduction of liquor into Niitsitapi society is flung back and forth across the Boundary by interested academicians, according to excerpts from its own meticulous records, the Hudsons Bay Coy was the conduit through which many Canadian Indians got their first taste of alcohol. Never before had these people experienced its strange and powerful effects. It burned in a spoonfire-waterand in the mouth and all the way down, propelling the spirit to hazardous heights and frightening extremes. Though undeniably guilty of exposing Indians to booze, the quantities that the HBC was able and initially willing to supply were modest. Imported in casks from the Caribbean, rum was repackaged in small kegs at York Factory and laboriously transported to the posts in the interior where it was used sparingly as an unguent to ease exchange. When the NorWesters began contesting the Ruperts Land fur trade in the 1790s, they, too, of course, offered alcohol. Traders realized that the practice was dangerous, for the mind-skewing effects of alcohol could quickly escalate a minor misunderstanding into a serious confrontation, and no-one wanted that, especially the lonely, lightly armed Traders isolated in a continent of proud Aboriginals. Besides, the little casks full weighted about 90 pounds each and took up much canoe space and were difficult to pack on a horse.17 However, by then a tot of Jamaican rum had become the expectednay, the demandedprecursor to the business of bargaining, and Native traders were refused at one post, or felt that it was a stingy hand that filled their cups, they simply packed up their pelts and pemmican and went to another post. The sight of his profits and sustenance marching off to his competitor was not what a fur trader wanted to see; greed quickly subdued caution. Indeed, to seal a deal particularly rich, a trader sometimes had to dispense refreshments liberally, the excess being carried away into the Native community. The Coalition of 1821 united the British fur trade under the banner of the HBC, and the new Coy sought to curtail the use of spirits in Trade. To quote J.H. Thompson from his Forging the Prairie West, [d]iscontinuing treats of alcohol saved the [Coy] the thousands of pounds [sterling] it had spent each year on buying and shipping kegs of rum. Abolition of alcohol also gave the Hudsons Bay Company the moral high ground when critics in Britain challenged its monopoly: a return to competition, [governor Geo.] Simpson warned, would debauch the Indians of Ruperts land with liquor.
On the other hand, American entrepreneurs faced no transportation difficulties: river boats could easily carry booze in quantity to landings on the Missouri from which it could be waggoned across the Plains, the Indian Intercourse Act of 1834 be damned. No moral difficulties did they face, either. American fur traders were infected with a cultural contempt for both native American peoples and the laws that protected them, and though the U.S. had designs upon it, the lands west of the Mississippi were for many years beyond the rule of Law. Alcohols low wholesale price and the strength of its retail demand made it the most valuable of the Traders stock of goods, and it was a foolish entrepreneur who went out to do business without a supply of that commodity which was most desired. Feeling free to pursue profit by any means expedient, American-based traders drenched their clientele with alcohol, using it a primary item of trade with which to tie Indians into the market economy.18
All too well, the strategy worked. Within a few short years many Natives of the northern plains had acquired an over-powering thirst for naapiaokii and were actively contributing to the destruction of the resource that had sustained their peoples for centuries. The traders at Fort McKenzie on the Missouri at the mouth of the Marias received 10,000 robes in 1839, and more than double that plus a thousand two years later. By 1846 Niitsi-tapi hunters were contributing to the take, and the herds were shrinking noticeably. Come the end of the 1840s some 20,000 hides and robes were collected on the Missouri headwaters by several outfits and the Blackfoot themselves, and sent down to the Eastern markets each year. In 1852, the Harvey, Primeau and Company alone shipped 16,309 robes and hides down the Missouri. Three years later, the Pierre Chouteau, Jr., and Company, successors to the Pratt, Chouteau & Co., sent down 34,789 bison skins, and topped that with some 36,000 in 1857. In 1865, according to author Joel Overholsers graph in Fort Benton : Worlds Innermost Port (as reproduced in Barry Potyondis Where the Rivers Meet: A History of the Upper Oldman River Basin to 1939), some 30,000 were sent out from Fort Benton alone. The first repeating rifles made their appearance among the Plains Indians in 1867, increasing the bison kill-rate significantly. With the establishment of whisky forts right on the First Nations wintering grounds, the yearly total hit 75,000 in 1875 and 76, then fell to 10,000 and 5,000 in 1883 and 1884, respectively, as the last of the bison were exterminated.
Not counted in this tally was, of course, the thousands of bison killed by the United States Army in its bid to subdue the Western tribes through starvation, and the tens of thousands slaughtered by hunters hired by railroad companies to supply meat for their gangs of construction navvies. In 1859, ten years before the completion of the United States first transcontinental railroad opened up the West to sportsmen who shot thousands of bison for fun and trophies, the Earl of Southesk, travelling through western Ruperts Land, noted the surprising dearth of buffalo and imagined an uncertain future for the Niitsitapi. By the 1870s the slaughter had nearly wiped out the species; only a miniscule fraction of the great herds survived on the north-western plains. There, hungry and degraded, the Plains tribes congregated around the surviving herds, fighting among themselves for a resource that was rapidly depleting. Come the 1880s, resistance to the tidal wave of Whites washing over their lands had crumbled.
Though in combat the Niitsitapi were indomitable, the Tribe was defenceless against the Europeans invisible ally: microbes. Combined with the twin disasters of alcohol and malnutrition, exotic diseases brought the Blackfoot and their Plains-roving contemporaries to their knees.
On June 24th of 1837 the American Fur Company steamer St. Peters tied up at the wharf at Fort Union on the Missouri at the mouth of the Yellowstone. Ashore came Smallpox, the enemy that would within a year kill somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of the Blackfoot peoples, leaving them unable to defend their hunting grounds against the Ne:hiyawak/Cree who, thanks perhaps to efforts at vaccination by the HBC, were largely immune to the disease. It was not the Blackfoots first encounter with the scourge. In 1781 the disease had left the lucky half of the Nation disfigured with its scars; the other half died. The pox revisited in 1845 and, in combination with Absaroka, Crow, attacks, reduced the Inuksik, the Small Robe tribe, to but 12 families who fled north to melt forever into the other Niitsitapi tribes. Again in 1869/70 smallpox returned, reducing the Niitsitapi to a shade of their former strength by killing some 1080 Piikani, 630 Kainai and 676 Siksika, encouraging the Crees and the Assiniboines to once more invade Blackfoot territory.
Assisting smallpox in its terrible work, other diseases ravaged the Blackfoot and their neighbours. Whooping coughor, perhaps, measlesslew about a third of the Nation in 1819, reducing the total population to an estimated 10,000. Scarlet Fever attacked and killed some 1100 Blackfoot in 1864/65, preparing the way for the onslaught of smallpox six years later.
Come 1870, the Blackfoot, lords of the Plains, had been dragged to the edge of oblivion by the most pernicious of the Whitemans weapons, alcohol and disease.
The Early Missionaries
Combating these pernicious weapons were the bold souls who forsook the comfort of civilized living in order to bring The Word to the Tribes of the Prairies. With the best of intentions, wishing only to help the Redman extricate himself from the bloody bog of savage superstition and ignorance in which the Almighty had seen fit to place him, European religious institutions reached out to the Niitsitapi. One of the earliest contacts had occurred on Monday, the 22nd of February, 1841, at the HBCs Rocky Mountain House. There the Coys chaplain, Robert Terrill Rundle introduced a handful of Siksikah and Kainai to Christianity. Two days later he received a visit from some Piikûni. Their meetings meant little to either party, and Rundle spent the next few years on the Eastern Slopes with Jemmy Jock Bird (note #13, above), concentrating mostly on saving the souls of the Stoney tribe while teaching them to grow potatoes and turnips. Only occasionally meeting Blackfoots, he little influenced them, they being perfectly satisfied with their own interpretations of the cosmic order. When Rundle badly broke his arm in 1847, forcing him to return to England a year later, the Niitsi-tapi hardly noticed.
Within months of Rundle introducing the Niitsitapi to one or two of the customs and icons of Methodism, a group of Jesuits had begun building St. Marys Mission in the Bitterroot valley in what is now Montana, west of the Great Divide. Though the Mission was established mainly to minister to the local Salish tribes and the Ktunaxa and the Kinbaskets, the fathers there were nevertheless pleased to baptise Wolfs Son and Sata on December 25th, 1841. Given Christian names Nicholas and Gervais, respectively, these men, a father and son of the Inuksik tribe, were probably the first Blackfoot thus anointed. Around March the 10th, 1844, the donor of Wolf Sons Christian name, Fr. Nicholas Point, on a perambulation east across the Mountains, converted a Niitsitapi to Catholicism as Peter, the first Native to be baptised on Blackfoot soil. In the autumn of 1845, after a summer spent among the Ktunaxa, father Pierre-Jean de Smet made his way eastward over the Rockies to winter at Rocky Mountain House and bring Christ to the Plains Indians. Writes Barry Potyondi in his aforementioned Where the Rivers Meet: , not warmly welcomed by the Niitsitapi, de Smet concluded that their nomadic lifeway and strong attachment to their own beliefs made them unlikely candidates for early conversion. Nevertheless, over the decade of the 1840s, the Jesuits reckoned to have brought the god of Europe to over 600 Niitsitapi. It wasnt, however, until destitution in the wake of the extermination of the bison that European religion began to make serious inroads on the Niitsi-tapi psyche. Suggest Alex Johnston and A.A. den Otter in their Lethbridge: A Centennial History (Historical Society of Alberta, Lethbridge, 1985), forced to sample the alien doctrine while gathered at food distribution points, some Natives eventually began to doubt the veracity of all the old tales.
Father Albert Lacombe, Order of Mary Immaculate, first visited the Niitsitapi in 1864 and for the next eight years traversed what is now southern Alberta, mediating between the Iyiniwak (Cree) and the Blackfoot and the Police and the Indians. In 1884 he assumed the principals position at St. Josephs (Dunbow) Indian Industrial School which he had caused to be built at the mouth of the Highwood River north and east of what is now the Town of Okotoks, Alberta. As well, he had a hospital and a residential school built on the Kainai Reserve in 1893 and 1898, respectively.19 Called Kind-hearted Person by the Blackfoot for his demeanour and service, he struggled to inculcate the Nitsitapi students with a European reverence for scholastic achievement and discipline. Though the students were eager enough to learn the skills that they hoped would win them at least survival in the new world which had swamped their culture, they proved reluctant to surrender their ancient beliefs. Perhaps to rest after a decade of sometimes frustrating work, Kind-hearted Person settled himself in Pincher Creek in 1904 and spent the next five years completing his Blackfoot/English dictionary before retiring to the Midnapore Old Folks Home in the Calgary area where he died in December of 1916.
Aiding Lacombe in the early years was Constantine Scollen, OMI, who, according to the authors of The True Spirit and Original Intent of Treaty 7, had met his first Niitsitapi in 1863. After a few years working with Lacombe among the Crees, Scollen was ordained in 1873 and with Father Léon Doucet forthwith built a crude chapel, Our Lady of Peace Mission, at a Niitsitapi winter camp in the foothills west of what is now Calgary, Alberta, where he baptised some 70 souls into the Catholic faith. Though he found the Niitsitapi suspicious of Whites and bellicose, Scollen continued his mission to them, mainly to the Kainai, until he fell ill with cholera in 1884.
In 1862 the Methodists George Millward McDougall and wife Elizabeth established Victoria Mission on the North Saskatchewan River downstream from Fort Edmonton some 75 miles. Their son, John C., there married a half-Newiyawak woman named Abigail and when she died in the 1871 smallpox epidemic, he soon travelled East to wed Elizabeth Boyd and return with her in 1873 to found the Morley Mission to the Stoneys on the banks of the Bow west of what is now the City of Calgary. Though they mainly ministered to the Stoneys, the McDougalls did meet many Niitsitapi and supported the efforts of other Protestant missionaries among the Tribes.
Canada buys the North-West
Though the Hudsons Bay Coy had nominal legal authority in its patented trading preserve of Ruperts Land, that authority was essentially a formality which merely allowed the Coy to quell disputes among its servants. The Coy never intended to, nor was it ever capable of, bringing the rule of English Common Law to the denizens of its Preserve. Holed up in its bayside Factoriessave for Cumberland House which Samuel Hearne had established on the lower Saskatchewan River in 1774it was not even capable of enforcing its enchartered privilege. In 1778 the Connecticut trader, Peter Pond, ignoring the HBCs prerogatives, led his party of exploration across Ruperts Land, eventually discovering the Methye Portage between the basins of the Hudsons Bay and the great Arctic-bound Athabaska system. Realizing that he had found a fur bonanza upon which the HBC, though trading into the region, had no legal claim, he hurried back East to arrange the exploitation of his discovery. Montréal was filling up with Loyalist refugees fleeing reprisals in the former Thirteen Colonies, and among these Pond found his backers. Though loyal to the British Crown, these refugees had drunk deeply of the draught of free enterprise upon which floated the Colonies rebellion; a hoary, royally chartered monopoly would not deny them profit. Within a few years they had organized the North West Company and were sending out wintering partners to set up posts and collect furs from the edges of Ruperts Land and the Athabaska region beyond.
The challenge to its hegemony impelled the Coy to roust itself from its warehouses on the shores of Hudson Bay, explore its domain and pursue trade from a network of remote posts. Acrimonious confrontations between Baymen and NorWesters often dissolved into violence. When complaints reached London, the British government sought to impose some order with the Canada Jurisdiction Act of 1803 which permitted courts in Lowerand, in a revision of the Act eighteen years later, UpperCanada to try criminal cases originating in the fur districts. The problem was, of course, to arrange the delivery of cases to the courts; malefactors usually proved unwilling to present themselves for trial, even energetically discouraging plaintiffs efforts to assist with the travel arrangements.
Though the 1821 coalition of the two rival fur companies eliminated the cause of most complaints, in 1835 the governor of the unified Coy, Geo. Simpson, divided his realm into four judicial districts and appointed a magistrate in each to deal with minor matters legal. Appeals and serious cases were heard by a General Quarterly Court chaired by the governor himself. In 1839, however, faced with disputes involving American citizens and other independent Traders, Simpson created a post called the Recorder of Ruperts Land to which the Coy appointed a succession of fully trained, full time judges to hear cases and render advise on international jurisprudence.
Though maintained until the sale of Ruperts Land to Canada in 1869, the post of Recorder was largely ornamental. The vast majority of inhabitants in the Coys domains never heard of the Recorder of Ruperts Land, much less brought him any business, and no practical police force was ever formed to impose the Recorders edicts or carry complaints to him. The defining case for the Recorders office occurred in May of 1849 when suit was brought by the Coy against a Métis of the Red River district, P.G. Sayer. Appearing before the first Recorder, Adam Thom, Sayer was accused and convicted of violating the HBCs monopoly. Sayer and his many supporters naturally rejected the verdict and threatened bodily harm to Thom and every other Coy employee in the vicinity should any of them be so foolish as to attempt to punish the convict. No-one was, and with that, all semblance of HBC legal authority over affairs in Ruperts Land evaporated. Might, as it had always done, made right, and people continued to trust in traditional authority to mete out native justice.
It remains unclear why, in 1861, the HBC finally prohibited its staff from trading liquor to Native peoples. Possibly, like the revulsion which built gradually in British society and caused Westminster to outlaw the use of and trade in slaves some five decades earlier, altruism dictated the change in policy, especially as the Coy was, for the first time in its existence, preparing to offer shares to the public. Perhaps the practice just became too dangerous for its servants safety, or, more likely, the governors in London feared that the ruination of Indian Nations would cripple the collection of furs and reduce the amount of black ink used in the Coys ledgers. Substantial leakage, too, down the throats of servants bored and lonely in isolated posts may have concerned the Coys directors. Whatever the reasoning, that prohibition led to the invasion of Ruperts Land.
The fact that the United States government had repeatedly outlawed the supply of alcohol to Indians did not much deter fur and hide traders for, though the U.S. had designs on the entire continent, the lands west of the Mississippi were without its legal bounds: American law had no jurisdiction there. Convenient riverboat access attracted many unscrupulous characters to the Plains to profit from the developing market, pushing the commercial frontier ever northward and westward into the home range of the Niitsitapi. Increasingly the Tribes were exposed to the effects of Whitemans water. Law finally began to come into the region when the Territory of Montana was declared by the U.S. government on May 26, 1864. When the Civil War collapsed in mourning the next year, well trained soldiers became available for frontier patrol and law enforcement. Army camps and forts sprung up, and it soon became less easy for an Indian to get a drink. This put a dint in the Traders bottom lines. True, a clandestine emolument or two occasionally convinced the army to look the other way while business was done, but there were enough teetotallers in the officer corps to make bribery risky. As well, U.S. Marshals like Wm. F. Wheeler, deputy Chas. Hard, and detective Andrew Dusold coördinated their efforts with U.S Attorney Merritt Page and ethical Indian Agents like Jasper Viall and Alfred Sully to prosecute Washingtons campaign against the frontier booze business. This very lucrative trade, if it was to survive, needed a new outlet. That new outlet was Ruperts Land.
With the acquisition of Oregon by the U.S.A. in 1846, many Americans believed that Ruperts Land and New Caledonia would, and should, be next. FeniansIrish expatriates driven from their occupied Homeland by the hard-handed tactics of Britains Royal Irish Constabularywere particularly vocal in demanding Americas old dream of Manifest Destiny be realized. Seeking to strike a blow for beleaguered Eire and aid fellow Roman Catholic Louis David Riel in his struggle against British-Canadian domination, representative Ignatius Donnelly of Minnesota, in his 1869 address to the United States Congress, urged the immediate annexation of Manitoba. As the HBCs will to administer its territory was fast evaporating, something had to be done to preserve Ruperts Land for the Crown and the newly constituted Dominion of Canada.
On May 22nd, 1859, the HBCs royally chartered licence to trade into North America expired, and for the next decade Ruperts Land existed in a legal limbo, loosely administered by the Coy for the Crown. However, with the end of their Civil War and with a large, battle-hardened army standing ready, American eyes had again strayed northward. Fenians based in the United States made ready to invade. To scuttle any illusion of an easy occupation, the British government authorized a change of control in Ruperts Land in 1868 and agreed to underwrite Canadas purchase of the rights to the region. On June 22nd of 1869, Canada, by An Act for the Temporary Government of Ruperts Land, and the North-Western Territories when united with Canada, assumed interim custody of what was subsequently referred to as the North-West Territories. That November 19th the HBC formally tendered the surrender of its rights to its ancient trading grounds, an act confirmed by a Westminster Order-in-Council on June 23rd, 1870. On July 15th, 1870, in proclaiming the Manitoba Act20 into law, Canada formally agreed to compensate the Hudsons Bay Coy to the tune of £300,000 cash money for the rights of access21 to Ruperts Land, plus 3,000 acres of property around each of the Coys posts in the Territories, and one twentiethsome seven million acresof all arable land in the fertile belt of the Prairies.
The International Boundary had been established along the 49th degree of parallel from the Lake o the Woods to the Great Divide by the Rush-Bagot Convention of 1817, and though it was no more than a line on a rarely seen map before surveyors finished marking it on the ground in 1874, it was a recognized fact by Whites and its approximate location had been determined and was noted. To the Blackfoot, of course, a political frontier was unfathomable. It was the Medicine Line, a powerful phantom which stopped dead-in-their-tracks patrols of the American Army, OtsskoinnakkiiksBlue Coatsin hot pursuit of marauding horse stealers. To gold rushers exploring northward from the territories of Montana and Idaho, the Boundary was nothing, for visions of the yellow metal blurred fine legal lines. But to whiskey traders, it represented the northern limit of law, for though Canada had assumed possession of the old HBC domains, it had done little to introduce orderly rule. The N-WT was wide open.
Although the U.S. army was tasked with interdicting all liquor trade with all Indians, it had an enormous area to patrol and was, naturally, more interested in arresting the trade on American soil than on Canadian. Whiskey waggons heading across the Medicine Line were of low priority, especially those of the traders who had the foresight and political pull to equip themselves with U.S. Department of the Interior permits to carry medicinal alcohol. By 1871, the Niitsitapi lands north of the Boundary were awash in booze. Traders with financial depth and better sense established forts and dealt with their clients through stoutly barred wickets. Those less careful of their health filled heavy, bull-teamed waggons from a convenient cache below the Line and plodded the prairies as far north as Fort Edmonton, dealing from their tail gates, relying on fast horses and their Henry and Yellow Boy Winchester repeating rifles to extricate them from sticky situations. For the survivors, the profits were breath-taking.
The trade nearly destroyed the Niitsitapi. Literally. The whiskey that the traders pedalled was nothing like the mild elixir to which todays drinkers are accustomed. From G.L. Berrys 1953 The Whoop-Up Trail (Lethbridge Historical Society, 1995) comes the recipe for the concoction which the AFC trader James Kipp offered at his house-warming party at Fort Piegan in 1832. Into a cauldron of boiling water throw plenty of red peppers for bite, some blackstrap chewing tobacco for flavour, a quart or more of red ink for colour, and Hostetters Bitters to ease absorption. Mellow with Perrys Painkiller, dilute with Missouri River water to serve 1,000, cool and gently admix one barrel of raw alcohol. Voilà: Injun Juice, a libation with all the requisite palate stinging, throat burning, tooth staining, brain numbing attributes, and which eagerly flamed in a spoon as proof of potency.22
Understandably, these potions drove drinkers mad, and occasionally the traders would have to shoot a few in self defence. Or for target practice. Emboldened by Profit, the more aggressive of the traders set up trading posts right on the Natives favourite wintering grounds. Exchanging hides for hooch, Natives rarely carried away anything except the fire in their guts. Some fell off their horses and were left by their insensate compatriots to their fate. Back in camp, minor arguments among friends and family frequently ended in bloodshed. When celebrations began, the sensible in the clan rushed to hide weapons before the demon tore away the drinkers sanity. Often they were not quick enough. With its main providers too damaged to hunt and willing to trade their means of productionguns, horsesfor a mouthful of booze, the meagre surpluses of a clan rapidly vanished and privation took up residence in its tents. So tense did the situation between clans become that they feared to meet to discuss their problems or hunt coöperatively. Taking advantage of the Tribes weakness, Newiyawak and Métis buffalo hunters encroached upon the Blackfoots hunting grounds, competing for fewer and fewer bison. Deer, antelope and rabbit did not exist in numbers capable of sustaining the Tribes and were soon hunted out.
The despoliation of the Niitsitapi did not go un-noticed. The HBC, though from 1869 no longer the masters of Ruperts Land, still had a vested interest in affairs in the Territories and complained to Ottawa that hundreds of renegade whiskey peddlers were at work there. The McDougall family, Wesleyan Methodist missionaries resident in Blackfoot lands since 1862, documented the destruction in their widely circulated reports, and Jesuit father Albert Lacombe and the Oblate priest, Constantin Scollen, decried the situation in their frequent letters.23 Captain William Francis Butler of the British Army, who came out with Colonel Wolseleys Red River Expeditionary Force and stayed on to tour the West in the winter of 1870-71, noted in The Great Lone Land that [t]he institutions of Law and Order ... are wholly unknown in the region of the Saskatchewan, and [Ottawa is] destitute of any means to enforce the authority of the law. Butlers findings were confirmed in 1872 by the Canadian Militia Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Robertson-Ross who advocated a string of seven military posts manned by 500 mounted troops be stretched between the Red River and the Rockies. The horror of the whiskey trade and the Cypress Hills Massacre, as well as the Manifest Destiny grumblings still emanating from the United States, finally convinced the federal government that it had to introduce the rule of law into the North-West or lose the Territories. To accomplish this a force of military policemen was raised in 1873 and dispatched into the N-WT. With little fanfare and no nonsense, the red-coated North-West Mounted Police, the precursors of todays Mounties, quickly expelled the whiskey pushers and brought Law and Order to a wild land.
A handful of Mounties could not, of course, be expected to hold the north-west for Canada: the land had to be populated with loyal citizens. A cornerstone of that strategy was the 1871 union of British Columbia with Canada, to bookend the nation, so to speak, and one of the main demands of the British Columbians was that within ten years their colony be connected to Canada by a rail road into Ontario. This dovetailed neatly with the National Policy that the Conservatives were formulating: a secure West thickly settled with productive farmers exporting grain eastward into Central Canada, importing goods from Ontarios factories, all protected by steep trade barriers. Inspired by the completion of the Union Pacific/Central Pacifics transcontinental railroad in May of 1869, Ottawa agreed to BCs demands.
Even though the Manitoba Act, 1870, had legally settled all sovereign power and lands in the British West in Ottawas hands24, the government was, writes Hugh Dempsey in his Treaty Research Report,, Treaty Seven (Ministry of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Ottawa, 1987), bound by the terms of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which recognized Indians as rightful occupiers of their hunting grounds until such time as these were ceded to a government authority. This meant that the railroad could not be legally built until the rights of the Indians along its route had been extinguished.25 To that end, in August of 1871, the Crown began negotiating and signing a series of numbered treaties with the First Nations of the West which, by 1876, made Canada the legal proprietor of most of the Prairies.26 The exception was the territory occupied by the Niitsitapi.
The North-West Territories Act, 1875, removed the Territories from the purview of the lieutenant-governor of Manitoba. David Laird, scion of an old Prince Edward Island farming family and Minister of the Interior in Alexander Mackenzies Liberal cabinet from 1873 to 76, was appointed lieutenant-governor and Indian Superintendent of the N-WT on October 7th of 1876, the day N-WT Act, 1875, was proclaimed into Law. With a council of five appointees, he established a temporary seat of government that autumn at the N-WM Polices Livingstone Barracks on the banks of the Swan River near what is now Norquay, Saskatchewan. From there he made arrangements to treat with the Blackfoot and their confederates in the following year.
With the signing of Treaty 6 at Forts Carlton and Pitt in the late summer of 1876, of the Plains Indians only the Niitsitapi, the TSuu Tina (Sarcee), and the Nakota Stoneys had not signed treaties with Canada. This was of some import, as two of the three routes being considered for Canadas trans-continental railroad cut directly through the Blackfoot hunting grounds, with the third running along the northern edge of them. Though the immediate construction of the road had been derailed by the succession of Alexander Mackenzies Liberals to government on November 5th, 1873,27 Macdonalds Conservatives were again waxing and it seemed likely that the project would go ahead sooner rather than later.
Anxious also to reach an agreement were the Niitsitapi themselves. Most of the Tribe had welcomed the demise of the whiskey trade and were relieved that peace and security had been restored to their lands. However, the wise recognized that times had changed. Since May 10th, 1869, when the rails of the Union Pacific Railroad had met those of the Central Pacific in Promontory, Utah Territory, the Great Buffalo Herd had been effectively cut in two, its migration pattern disrupted. Efforts by the U.S. Army28 further reduced the bison population, and by the mid-70s, where once innumerable animals darkened the Prairies to the horizon, the few bison remained. Hunger became a constant guest at the cooking fires of the Plains peoples. A way of life was ending, and the wise among the Niitsitapi realised that sooner rather than later the Tribe would have to learn to employ their resources differently, or perish. Perhaps the Whites held the key to survival as well as extinction. To get that key, the Wise contended, Nation would have to come to an accommodation with the Whites who would surely pour into the N-WT as they had into the American West.
The Canadians, of course, had every intention of occupying their West, but had learned from the American experience that it was cheaper29 both in money and in lives to convince First Nations people to voluntarily surrender their lands.
One agent, according to the authors of The True Spirit and Original Intent of Treaty 7, that the government employed to prepare Prairie Natives for colonization was the Methodist missionary, John Chantler McDougall, the son of Geo. and Elizabeth. In 1874 he was commissioned by the Minister of Justice, A.A. Dorion, to visit tribes and advise them of the impending arrival of the N-WMP and explain that the force would expel the whiskey traders from the Territory and impose English law impartially. McDougall took particular care to explain this to the Siksika chief, Isapo-Muxika (Crowfoot), give him a bit of money and warn him that Whites would soon pour into the West. In 1875 McDougall was again commissioned to make the rounds to assure the tribes that the Law would be justly applied, inform them that White settlers should be expected soon and explain the meaning of the treaty process and the ramifications.
Of the People of the Plains, the Blackfoot had earned the most fearsome reputation30 for being intolerant of interlopers on their territory. Then came whiskey and starvation and the North-West Mounted Police. Gutsy and, at least for that day and age, fair and understanding, the Maohksisoka'simiiksiRed Coatsinitially won the Indians respect, a distinct advantage in bringing order to the Prairies. That reputation was not yet tarnished when the commissioner of the Force, Lieutenant-Colonel James Farquharson Macleod, conveyed to the powerful Isapo-Muxika (Crowfoot) of the Siksikah an invitation from Lieutenant-Governor Laird to meet and treat.31 Well aware of the treaties signed already by the Newiyawak and Assiniboines,32 and not wanting his People to be left out of the coming New Order, Isapo-Muxika accepted and relayed the invitation to the chiefs of the other Niitsitapi tribes and the Tsuu T'inaSar-ceeNation. After some discussion, 33 most of the principals agreed to meet at soyooh pawahko34Blackfoot Crossingon the Bow River, near present day Gleichen, Alberta. For the Kainai and the Piikani, this was a long way to travel, and many of them were off hunting. From the Piikani only the clans led by Sitting on an Eagle Tail and one or two others arrived in time to partake in some of the socializing and discussions which preceded the official negotiations; from the Kainai, none. Despite their reserved relationship with the Niitsitapi, the Nakota Stoneys, an Assiniboine band living on the Bow River above the N-WMPs new Fort Calgary, also sent a delegation.
A successful camp chief35 for some ten years before the treaty meeting, Isapo-Muxika was respected by most Niitsitapi and, as he was well regarded by the missionaries, was accorded the pre-eminent rôle in the negotiations by the Commissioners. To the Natives gathered, however, his authority was not universally recognized.
On September 17th, 1877, the Commissioners judged that the Indians were ready to treat. LairdSspitaa, the Tall Onespoke. After emphasising that the Great Mother, Queen Victoria, now owned all the land north of the Medicine Line, Laird instilled the fear of privation into his listeners when he reminded them that the bison would soon disappear from their hunting grounds. Times were changing. It was necessary, he declared, that the Blackfoot and the Whites live in peace, supporting each other and sharing. He then proposed that for an immediate award of $12 cash per person, and five dollars each per year$25 for the main chiefs, $15 for the lesserfor eternity, two thousand dollars worth of ammunition per year, instruction in the farming and ranching trades and the supply of associated tools, seed and breeding stock, a medicine chest, Winchester rifles and some clothing, the Niitsitapi would cede, release, surrender and yield up to the Government of Canada for her Majesty the Queen and her successors forever, all their rights, titles and privileges whatsoever to their 35,000 square-mile-hunting grounds, keeping only reserves of land the size of which would be determined on the basis of five Indians per square mile in a place of their choosing that would belong to the Blackfoot as long as the rivers flowed and the sun shone. Having delivered his proposition, the lieutenant-governor bade his listeners sleep on it.
In their councils that evening, Isapo-Muxika and the chiefs weighed the import of Lairds words. They were realists: the World was changing. They could well see that the buffalo, year by year, were vanishing. They suspected that, as had happened south of the Boundary, increasing numbers of Whites would spread through out the West. Resistance was likely futile, as demonstrated by the great Sioux chief StamiksoopiSitting Bulland his feared Sioux warriors who, though they had destroyed Custers Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of Greasy Grass on the Little Big Horn River on June 25th of the year previous, had lost their war with the Whites and had been forced to flee across the Medicine Line and pitch their tipis on Wood Mountain in what is now the Province of Saskatchewan. On the other hand, the Niitsitapi appreciated that the red-coated Mounties had ejected the poison-pandering whiskey traders from the North-West, and trusted that the Force would remain. Also, the prospect of cash awards with which to buy the goods on display in the dozens of trade tents surrounding the camp was a definite enticement.36
From their camp the Whites watched the Natives at their consultations with some unease. The large squadron of Policeman who accompanied the commissioners occasionally fired their brace of cannon for effect. When not in use, the cannons were casually left pointing in the direction of the Native camps. On the 19th the influential Kainai chief, Mi'kai'stowa (Red Crow) and a few of his councillors including Sotainah (Rainy Chief) arrived, and though Mi'kai'stowa was known to favour Commissioner Macleod, the Whites had no way of knowing what importance the chief attached to the accommodation he had reached with Stamiksoopi in the Sand Hills the previous year. The Whites likely knew that Isapo-Muxika and Stamiksoopi had exchanged tobacco at a friendship dance in August of 1876, but might not have believed that the two chiefs had agreed to live in peace and not disturb the Canadians. The prospect of a Sioux-Blackfoot-Nimi'ipuu37 alliance chilled the Whites.
During the next few days of discussion and bargaining, several of the chiefs expressed their hopes and reservations. Medicine Calf of the Kainai, who had witnessed the Lame Bull Treaty with the perfidious Americans in 1855, informed the commissioners that it was Iitsipa' itapiiyo'pa, the Great Spirit, who allowed the Niitsitapi to live where they did, not the Great Mother. The Tribe belonged to the land, a right of occupancy they had won from Naapi in a ring-toss game at the Beginning. That the Red Coats had come and chased away the whiskey peddlers was all very well, but when would they compensate the Niitsitapi for the wood that the New-comers used to build their forts and houses and fires? When Laird laughed and suggested that it was the Niitsitapi who should compensate the Mounties for bringing security to the land, the assembled Indians laughed, too. Laird thought that they were sharing in his derision of Medicine Calfs stupidity, but in reality they were laughing in shock at the commissioners rudeness to one of their most respected elders.
And so it went; Laird anxious to have the papers signed, promising that the government would pass laws to protect the buffalo and would exclude Cree, and Assiniboine, and Sioux, and Métis hunters from Blackfoot territory. At the chiefs insistence Laird conceded that the Blackfoot would be allowed to wander and hunt wherever they pleased on Crown lands as long as they didnt interfere with other folks business. For their part, the Niitsitapi struggled to fathom the meaning of the Commissioners words, suspecting their intent. Would agreeing to a treaty secure the survival of the People in these hungry times and others? Once they had their treaty, would the Queens men respect the Niitsitapi as equals, or cheat them and abuse them as was happening south of the Medicine Line? Isapo-Muxika, so the story goes, turned to Commissioner Macleod for advice: should he agree to the treaty? The policeman, he who the Blackfoot called Stamix-oto-kan(buffalo) Bulls Head likely for the emblem on his jacketadvised him to do so. One morning soon after, record the previously noted authors of The True Spirit and Original Intent of Treaty 7 (McGill-Queens University Press, Montréal & Kingston, 1996), Isapo-Muxika mounted his sorrel horse and rode around the Niitsitapi camp, discussing the negotiations with tribal leaders. He related his dream in which he foresaw hard times for the Niitsitapi whether they made the treaty of not. Despite their reservations, the leaders thought that courtesy dictated that they not disappoint the commissioners. They entrusted their fate to Isapo-Muxika who, in turn, put his faith in Macleod. The Natives agreed to conclude a treaty.
On the 22nd of September the commissioners presented at council the parchment upon which was inscribed TREATY No. 7 BETWEEN THE QUEEN AND THE BLACKFEET AND OTHER INDAIN TRIBES. Laird signed first, Macleod second. The scribe next penned an x beside which he wrote Chapo-Mexico, or Crowfoot, followed beneath by a column of exes listing 49 chiefs and councillors. Along the left-hand border of the document, a column of witnesses including the missionaries Constantin Scollen, John and A McDougall, and Jean LHeureux, eight Mounties and three of their wives including Mary Macleod, and a couple other interested parties. When the writing was finished the plume pen was presented to each chief in turn to touch to acknowledge his acceptance of the treaty.38 Then the Indians produced their pipes, and in a ceremony which held the same significance for them as swearing on a bible did for the Whites, everyone smoked.
The gifting then began. Sundry medals were distributed, clothes and the money paid out. Afterwards, as the traders were busy pocketing the money, the business of choosing reserves was commenced. Isapo-Muxika and his Siksika chose to reside upon what would be a 470 square-mile-reserve centred on the Crossing (since reduced by some 200 square miles), the Stoneys agreed to the McDougalls choice of a reserve surrounding Morley-ville, the Methodist mission west of Fort Calgary, and Sitting on an Eagle Tail said that the Piikûni would take up residence in their favourite wintering grounds around the confluence of the Oldman River and Pincher Creek. The Kainai and the TSuu Tina, perhaps not grasping the import of the procedure, thinking that the reserves were merely to be a core area in their domains,39 agreed to Isapo-Muxikas suggestion that they settle downstream and upstream, respectively, from the Siksikah. With the last of the business completed, Laird hurried away to inspect the nearby coal seams before he headed back to Battleford, the new Territorial capital; the Mounties went back to work, leaving the Indians to carry on with their lives.
For their part, notes Dempsey in his Treaty Research Report, Treaty Seven, the Tribe took little note of the occasion of the signing of Treaty 7, remembering the year in their Winter Counts as When we had the bad spring. Life seemed to be progressing as it always had. Though scarce, buffalo were still around to be hunted and provisions in the Treaty guaranteed that the Tribe could hunt anywhere in its old territory, which included, of course, northern Montana Territory. All, however, was about to change.
The winter following the Signing was snowless and in the spring wildfires drove the remaining bison south. That summer, 1878, the American Army threw a flaming cordon across the Plains south of Lakota territory to prevent the northward migration of the buffalo and thereby starve the Sioux into submission. The tactic, of course, impacted all Nations of the northern Plains, causing intense competition amongst tribes for the dwindling resource. For many Niitsitapi, life was desperate and many of the People blamed the marks their chiefs had made on the Whitemans paper for the disappearance of their staff of life. The Buffalo were angry, and had hidden themselves Searching for game with the encouragement of Commissioner Dewdney, Blackfoot clans rode south across the Medicine Line. In 1882, a herd of bison found on the Piegan reservation on southern slopes of the Sweet Grass Hills in northern Montana Territory provided the Blackfoot with one last communal hunt. Four animals taken in the same locale two years later proved to be the last wild buffalo killed by the Tribe. A way of life was ended. American authorities refused to supply rations to Canadian Indians, and so, facing starvation, the hunters returned to the N-WT to rejoin their kin who had by this time taken up residence on their reserves. Having no reason to doubt the honesty of the Canadians, they expected that the government would honour its Treaty promises to help their Indian allies in their time of need. They were surprised, therefore, and angry and disappointed to discover that there were fundamental misunderstandings as to what was agreed to at Blackfoot Crossing.
According to Adolf and Beverly Hungry Wolf in their Indian Tribes of the Northern Rockies (Good Medicine Books, Skookumchuck, B.C., 1989), what the Niitsitapi understood from the words spoken at Blackfoot Crossing was that they would remain free to continue their old ways and receive education and material assistance should they decide to forge a new lifestyle, and that the Whites would provide for the Tribe should hard times overtake them. The Whites, it turns out, didnt understand that. The problem is basically one of language, its use and translation. Jemmy Jock Bird was at the time old and blind, and had led such a life of mixed loyalties that no-one trusted his word. Yet, because he was one of the few who could speak both English and Niitsitapi, he was pressed into service to aid Jerry Potts who himself, the Natives claim, had no great grasp of their language and was but an uneducated child of the frontier, incapable of translating the intentions of the Whites into ideas comprehensible to the Natives. Besides, he was likely drunk. Scollen never claimed to be a translator, and LHeureux, a proselytizing pretend-priest, was able to converse in Blackfoot, but may not have transmitted what he thought it unnecessary that his flock hear. John McDougall spoke only Cree, of which there was only a small band present at the Crossing to sign Treaty 6.
Complicating the translation procedure further still, believe modern Blackfoots, is the fact that Niitsitapi-speak and English are based on completely different concepts of expression. The language of the Niitsitapi is verb-based, fluid and infinitely flexible: English is noun-based and static. This difference meant that several of the basic ideas enshrined in the Treaty cannot be rendered into words that the Niitsitapi could understand: to cede and surrender the ownership of land was simply impossible to comprehend. Writes Hugh A. Dempsey in One Hundred Years of Treaty Seven (One Century Later, eds. I.A.L. Getty and D.B. Smith, UBC Press, Vancouver, 1978), for the Niitsitapi it was no more possible to own part of the Earth than it was to own the wind or the clouds. The Natives concept, rather, was one of occupancy: those who occupied the land, controlled its resources.
The basic purpose of the treaty was also misunderstood. To the Canadians it was all about extinguishing Aboriginal land title and confining the Indians on reserves preparatory to opening the West to loyal settlers. To the Natives the Treaty was about agreeing to live in peace with other peoples, preserving their way of life as much as possible while adapting to the reality of a changed World, and sharing the bounty of the land. No intention had they of removing themselves from the land to which they belonged.40
Then there is the matter of the Whites selective memory, of promises made and agreements reached during the negotiations that werent written on the Treaty parchment. The Niitsitapi accuse the commissioners of negotiating in bad faith,41 obfuscating their true intent. Whether the Whites intentionally mislead them or not, it soon became apparent to the Natives that the Treaty to which they had thought that were agreeing was not reflected in the actual words that the White scribe wrote on the parchment. Contrary to the understanding that the Niitsitapi thought they had reached with the Commissioners, the Police did not prevent the Newiyawak/Cree and Métis buffalo hunters from encroaching on their territory. When the bison failed mere months after the Signing, the Whites appeared loathe to provide the aid that they had promised, and then it was insufficient and given grudgingly, and certainly not forever, as was agreed. Within a decade of the Signing, again despite Lairds pledge that they would be allowed to travel and hunt freely, the Niitsitapi found their age-old wandering ways curtailed: in fact, after 1885, it became practically impossible to escape the confines of their reserves, an area they had understood were to merely be inviolable core areas in their territory. Even though Laird had laughed at Medicine Calfs suggestions that the N-WMP pay for the wood they used, the Niitsitapi still expected to be compensated for the trees, pasturage et cetera, used by the Whites. It soon became evident that the Whites had no such intentions.42 Misled, too, the Tribe feels, it was in the matter of the Whites intentions for Niitsitapi hunting grounds. At the time of the Signing, the Natives were under the impression that their country was already filled up with humans. They were soon disabused of that notion, and would be shocked at the numbers of Whites who soon overwhelmed their range and the drastic alterations those New-comers would effect.
Disappointed, too, were the Niitsitapi with the White attitude after the Treaty was solemnized with the tobacco smoke of peace. Before and during the negotiations, the commissioners treated the Natives as equals. It wasnt until later years that the Indians discovered that the Whites had been hiding their contempt for them, misleading Indians with promises of what they stood to gain while minimizing what they were about to lose. With the Treaty signed, it quickly became apparent to the Indians that neither they nor their culture was respected by the Queens men who evidently felt no compunction about betraying sacred treaty rights.
The Indian Acts and the D.I.A.
Not long after their chiefs had touched the pen to indicate their acceptance of Treaty 7, the Niitsitapi were disconcerted to learn that their relationship with the Whites would not be ruled by that document. The year before, parliament had passed 39 Victoria, chapter 18, An Act to amend and consolidate the laws respecting IndiansThe Indian Act, 1876. Built upon the colonial Enfranchisement Act of 185743 and incorporating the paragraphs dealing with Indians in the Secretary of State Act of 1868, An Act for the Gradual Civilization and Enfranchisement of Indians of 1869, and An Act to amend certain Laws respecting Indians, and to extend certain Laws relating to matters connected with Indians to the Provinces of Manitoba and British Columbia of 1864, the Indian Act codified the Dominions relationship with the First Nations, and is the foundation upon which were laid the dozens of re-enactments, revisions and amendments addressing Native issues which Parliament adopted over the years.
The Act of 1876 legally defined the term Indian and unintentionally, some would argue, formalized the segregation of Native from non-Natives by constructing a barrier of rules regulating the contact between the two peoples. It differentiated between groups of Indians which had signed treaties with the Crown, and those which had not, the former termed bands, the latter irregular bands, and specified eligibility for Band membership. Bands (whose members are now referred to as status Indians) were assigned reserves of land for their exclusive enjoyment. The Act made Indians wards of the Crown and continued the colonial tradition of identifying them as minors, stipulating that the only way in which they could mature to become fully enfranchised citizens of Canada was to gain a university degree, be ordained by a recognized (read Euro-centric) religious institution, join a recognized religious order, or receive from the Crown letters patent granting [the applicant] in fee simple any portion of the reservean allotmentnot exceeding 160 acres which, once transferred to the individual, became de facto private property within the Reserve and could, with the permission of the Superintendent-general of Indian Affairs (through his Agent), be transferred to another member of the Band.44 Indians were forbidden to pre-empt off-Reserve land, just as non-Band members were prohibited from occupying any part of a Reserve (or even remain there-on after sundown without the Crowns permission, according to a later Amendment).
Though the Reserve remained the property of the Crown, its lands could not in whole or in part be alienated from the Band without the express permission of the Superintendent-general of Indian Affairs, who could, in fact, with the supposed consent of the residents, reconfigure the reserve to his liking and compensate the Band for any loss of territory, if appropriate.45 A maximum of 10% of the realized monies would be paid directly to the Band, the rest being turned over to the Receiver General for investment in the Indian fund. The Superintendent-general could also licence the exploitation of the Reserves resources by non-Band members with any proceeds treated as above. This was, writes E. Brian Titley in A Narrow Vision: Duncan Campbell Scott and the Administration of Indian Affairs in Canada (University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver, 1986), the thin edge of the wedge of confiscation. Amendments of a more substantial nature followed as settlers, municipalities, and railway and resource companies demanded access to what they regarded as surplus or idle Indian lands. Official disillusionment with the reserve system, which came to be seen as a hindrance to assimilation, accelerated this trend.
From the Reserve, reads the Act, Indians could export produce and natural resources only with the written permission of their government-appointed Agent, who had legal control of the Reserve and the Bands expenditures and could direct the exploitation of resources. Any monies thus earned were exempt from taxes, as were earnings Indians gained from off-Reserve work.46
On their Reserve, Indians were permitted limited control over their own affairs, but within a framework dictated by the New-comers. Traditional chieftainship selection methods were abolished in favour of a democratic system in which males 21 years and older elected chiefs and councillors for three-year terms. This council, subject to the continuing approval of the reserves Agent, posted regulations governing the care of public health, the conduct of the residents, the disposition of stray cattle, the construction and maintenance of school houses, public buildings, bridges, roads, fences, ditches, and pounds, and the location of allotments. If the Band did not satisfy the Crowns expectations in the matter of construction and maintenance, the latter could instruct its Agent on hand to conscript Reserve labour and effect such infrastructural changes as were deemed necessary, even if the projects were off-Reserve. Should residents fail to comply with the Agents requests, or violate any of the many rules which threw bounds around their accustomed freedoms, they could be gaoled, be denied their treaty payment monies, have their rations withheld.
Reflecting the paternalistic relationship with Indians in which Whites saw themselves, the Act of 1876 specifies protections accorded to Natives. Possession, sale, and manufacture of intoxicants were prohibited on Reserve lands. Creditors could not recover loans to Indians by attaching liens to, or accepting mortgages on, their on-Reserve possessions.47 As well, any article pawned by an Indian could not be held should the money be proved to have been used to buy intoxicants. No gift given to an Indian could be seized to satisfy a debt, nor could an Indian sell such a gift or surrender it as collateral for a loan without the written permission of the Superintendent-general or his agent.
Again in the matter of protection, the Superintendent-general could withhold treaty payment to any Indian man guilty of deserting his family, and expend Band monies to care for the Bands infirm. Persons convicted of supplying alcohol to Natives faced aggressive prosecution and considerable penalties, as did those found guilty of employing Indian women as prostitutes. Any Indian found anywhere intoxicated could be summarily arrested under the Vagrancy Act, held until sober and then presented at court. If convicted of that offence or any other crime, the Indian or his Band was liable for the costs of his trial and incarceration.
To the sensibilities of the early 21st Century, the language used to frame the Indian Act of 1876 squirms with presumptions of racial superiority and bigotry.48 It is, however, the relic of an era by-gone. The late Nineteenth Century was the Whitemans time to shine. Europeans, for reasons so eloquently expressed by Jared Diamond in The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal (Harper-Collins Publishers, New York, 1992), and Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (W.W. Norton and Company, New York & London, 1997), were in command of the World and knew it. Trevor Herriot, in his River in a Dry Land - A Prairie Passage (Stoddart Publishing Co., Toronto, 2000), specifically blames Henry Youle Hind for embedding that supercilious attitude in the psyche of Canadian officialdom. Dispatched in 1858 to evaluate the lands embraced by the Saskatchewan and Assiniboine rivers in what is now the Province of Saskatchewan, he met Chief Mistikoos of a Cree band at the headwaters of the Qu Appelle River at the end of July and was conducted to a pound when the band was slaughtering bison and, in effect, celebrating with feasting and dancing a successful harvest and the prospect of passing a comfortable winter. Though a liberal of sympathetic sentiments who rued the ruination of the Indians by the fur trade and its twin horsemen, booze and diseases, Hind was deeply shocked by what he witnessed, castigating the Natives as reckless and wasteful little superior to the noble beasts he so wantonly and cruelly destroys. In the final analysis he was, opines Herriot, as opaque as any European [an saw] only a vagrant people living a degraded life in a harsh land. Influential, Hind imbued his official reports, North-West Territory: Reports of Progress together with a preliminary and general report on the Assiniboine & Saskatchewan exploring expedition made under the instructions from the Provincial Secretary, Canada (Toronto, 1859), and Narrative of the Canadian Red River Exploring Expedition of 1857 and of the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan Expedition of 1858, with these judgements which doubtless re-enforced and were supported by the observations of the various clerics and functionaries who served in the early West. These opinions were readily accepted as truths by the bureaucrats who were subsequently charged with formulating policy to deal with the First Nations peoples.
Charged with administering the Indian Act was the Indian Affairs Branch and its successor, the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA)49, created by Parliament and placed within the Department of the Interior, with the Minister of that department acting as the Superintendent-general of Indian Affairs, a minor portfolio.50 Perhaps because it was for so long a mere office within the Department of the Interior, the DIA never seemed to climb high of Ottawas list of priorities. It was parsimoniously funded, with the result that it did not attract the most creative of employees.51
According to Brian Titley in A Narrow Vision , the Indian Branch/DIA was organized into an inside and outside service. The power in the DIA lay inside, in the Ottawa office of the Deputy Superintendent-general. With the Deputy there was an accountant, a chief clerk and his small staff of copyists (or, from the mid-80s, typists), and several general-purpose dogsbodies who altogether rarely numbered more than 40. Most of those in the inside service had no experience with Natives; no contact, no understanding, no sympathy. Natives were numbers in a ledger, human only when they sent letters or delegations to Ottawa demanding that the Department honour, if not the details, at least the broad outline of the treaties the government had co-signed with the Tribes. Inside, Indians came to be regarded, in Sarah Carters phraseology, as chronic complainers with grievances and demands [that] were without substance or credence.
Instrumental in both framing the Indian Act and moulding the DIA was the organizations first deputy, Lawrence Vankoughnet,52 who held the position from 1874 to 1893.53 His was a stressful job, crushed, according to Douglas Leighton in A Victorian Civil Servant and Work: Lawrence Vankoughnet and the Canadian Indian Department, 18741893 in As Long as the Sun and Water Flows, between his employers demands that he pinch every penny, and his employees pleas for more of everything: funding, personnel, equipment. He was ideally suited to the task, a miser when it came to running his office, a martinet demanding unquestioning obedience to his dictates while striving constantly to concentrate power in his own office. A victim of the turmoil which seized the federal government with the death of his lifelong friend, prime minister Macdonald, in 1891, Vankoughnet was replaced in July of 1893 by Hayter Reed54 who had served the DIA for many years in the West.
Frequently impatient with the concerns and priorities of the inside service were the outsiders of the Department who lived in the West and were directly responsible for pacifying the Natives whose anxiety verged on rage at they witnessed the destruction in a generation of their age-old way of life. In the West, the head of the DIA was the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. He was, writes E. Brian Titley in A Narrow Vision, responsible for implementing the provisions of the treaties, setting out reserves and administering the DIAs western bureaucracy. The first Commissioner55 was the B.C. trail-builder, Edgar Dewdney, who was appointed56 on May 30th, 1879. Dewdney was, reports Brian Titley in The Frontier World of Edgar Dewdney (UBC Press, Vancouver, 1999), an English supremacist who saw his job as Commissioner not so much as a mandate to aid the Indians, but as a responsibility to the Government to keep the Natives quiescent. To do that he needed resources and men to expend them. Laird had had only two Indian Agents to assist him: Allan MacDonald for the Treaty 4 tribes, and M.G. Dickieson for the Treaty 6 area. Though the DIA was kept on a short financial leash by a frugal government, Dewdney was authorized to expand his organization with additional Agents, and agricultural instructors57 and labourers enough to establish two supply farms and 15 agency farms.
Dewdney was made Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Manitoba in February of 1880 and in 1881 established the DIAs western headquarters in Winnipeg. There he came into close contact with the man who would bedevil his policies for the next many years. Appointed in July of 1879, Thomas Page Wadsworth was the inspector of agencies, Vankoughnets minion who was charged with trimming every penny possible from the budget of the DIA in the West.
From the moment of its inception, the Indian Branch/DIA was philosophically conflicted. The creation of a settled, civilized society, on one hand the DIA was charged with ensuring that Peoples formerly wild and free and who passionately resented the loss of their lifestyle as new comers encroached into their territories, remained subservient. The best way to achieve that was to make the First Nations dependent on the usurpers of their erstwhile domains. The removal of the bison, whether intentional or accidental, did just that, throwing Natives on the generosity of the Dominion, a grudging generosity which quickly evaporated should the recipients display anything but obsequious gratitude. On the other hand, the DIAs political masters demanded that the Department ensure that the Indians would not long remain dependent on hand-outs. Within the bounds of Canadian society, they were to become again self-sufficient as soon as possible; farmers and day labourers able to take care of themselves. To make them so required the patient investment of time and money, commodities both of which were Then, and remain so Now, in short supply. These twin demands of economy and progress were a constant source of friction among the employees of the DIA, with Outside servants dealing with the Indians sometimes desperate plights, and the Inside servants snug in their Ottawa bureaux closely counting the out-flow of precious money.
Only in retrospect does it appear that the DIA had any sort of a policy it was following: spending as little as it could to make life merely bearable for First Nations people in the West. Rough guidelines, writes Sarah Carter in Lost HarvestsPrairie Indian Reserve Farmers and Government Policy (McGill-Queens University Press, Montreal & Kingston, 1990), were formulated by the first Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Lawrence Vankoughnet in the autumn of 1878, and instituted in the following spring. It was he who committed to paper the general belief that Natives had to be stripped of their culture and made to fend for themselves within the confines of Euro-Canadian society. To do that Vankoughnet proposed that farming instructors be appointed and made responsible for several Reserves each, that schools be established on Reserves where the population warranted and teachers qualified to assist the instructors be hired, that the post of Indian Superintendent be retired and the post of Commissioner of Indian Affairs be created in its stead, and that Inspectors be appointed to monitor affairs on the reserves and serve as a supply agent, distributing seed, implements, tools, livestock, et cetera. The goal of Vankoughnets system were to enfranchise the Natives as quickly as possible, fragmenting the Reserves into allotments as prescribed in the Indian Act, breaking the tribal bonds which, civilized Canadian society believed, kept Indians mired in the Stone Age. To ensure the cooperation of the Natives in this process, rations would be supplied only to those who embraced Vankoughnets vision.
Carter maintains, however, that the Department was for decades never able to implement Vankoughnets guidelines, stumbling from one problem to another, reacting to circumstance on an ad hoc basis.
To expect that a People make the leap from migratory stone-age hunter-gatherers to ground-bound iron-age agriculturists within a generation is absurd, and yet that was what was required of western Indians. With a few years training they were expected to appreciate and obey the various and complex constraints of Time, learn to handle machinery, absorb the arts of sedentary life, change their entire concept of Reality. It was a monumental and, ultimately, for both learner and teacher, a frustrating experience. Some Natives grasped the urgency and importance of adapting to irrevocably changed circumstances, others could not, and while the inflexible Vankoughnet ruled in Ottawa, the Departments motto was his: let the Natives suffer their way to self-sufficiency.
Like the other subjected peoples in every corner of the Globe where Britannia planted her Union Flag, the Natives of western Canada found that the bureaucrats who ruled them were men who accepted without doubt that their culture was the acme of human development, and that they were divinely placed in their positions of authority over the lesser peoples of the empire of Victoria Regina. These bureaucrats fell roughly into two groups. One group disapproved of the reserve system, feeling that it isolated Natives from the civilizing influences of British society. They saw their occupation sort of like that of a social assassin tasked with extinguishing Native culture by integrating58 the more malleable Indians into the greater society while easing those less adaptable down the path to oblivion. To them, writes John L. Tobias in Protection, Civilization, Assimilation: An Outline History of Canadas Indian Policy (As Long as the Sun and Water Flows A.L. Getty and A.S. Lussier [eds.], UBC Press, Vancouver, 1983), the Reserve was just a temporary place where Indians could be concentrated in order to protect them from exploitation and prepare them for assimilation; where they could be kept occupied in useless pursuits like dryland farming until the old folks died off and the younger ones forgot what it was to be Indian. Their crowning achievement would come, these bureaucrats believed, on the day when the last Indian would receive his private allotment and the last Reserve would disappear.59 Harbouring the Humanitarian sentiments of the age, the other group of Indian Branch employees felt that Natives should be forever segregated because, while they might be incapable of acquiring the technical skills needed to survive the rising flood of European expansion, their persons and culture were still worthy of preservation, like wild animals in a game park.
Whatever the differences in the underlying philosophies of its employees, the Indian Branch/DIA bureaucracy seemed to take it as a given that Natives possessed the mentality of children and could not be trusted to manage their own affairs.
Indians, of course, werent privy to the creation of the Act of 1876, and were rarely consulted on the subsequent legislation concerning them. At the time of the initial writing they could not, as could not most Whites, even read the Act, much less understand the legalistic jargon in which it was framed.60 When, however, their warders condescended to explain the Act to them, Indians resented much of what they heard. Especially objectionable was the suffocation of their traditional political processes by the imposition of elected councils61 and the expectation that they would eagerly amalgamate with the obviously superior European culture and eventually disappear into the Canadian mélange.
Natives resistance to the governments agenda, writes Tobias in his above-mentioned Protection, Civilization, Assimilation: An Outline History of Canadas Indian Policy, frustrated the bureaucrats charged with solving the Indian problem, compelling the government to re-write, revise and amend the Act some four dozen times since 1876.62 Early on the Indian Branch of the Department of the Interior identified tribalism as the root of the problem, the urge, the need to live life with kin, and concluded that superstition in the guise of religion prevented Natives from embracing change. To remove that impediment, the Indian Advancement Act of 1884 prohibited Natives on pain of a minimum of two months in gaol from gathering to celebrate ceremonies like Sun Dances and dispersing wealth through pot-latches.
Then came the events of 1885 when, as the more passionate of reporters would have it, the North-West erupted in blood and flames. The East was horrified, and battalions of companies of mostly Protestant soldiers were sent out to suppress Louis Riel and his Métis followers, and any Indians who even looked as they might sympathize with the Métis point of view. Until then the DIA had thought of itself as sort of a guide to help Indians ascend from the darkness of savagery. Surely, the Department believed, once the heathens had seen the World in civilizations light they would eagerly forsake their heritage to grasp the new riches. All they needed was a few tools, some training and a couple of years rations to tide them over until they completed the switch from a roaming hunter-gatherer society to sedentary individual farmers ruled by time and frost. It was an unreal expectation; crops failed, hunting was poor and desperately hungry Indians all over the West raged over their plight. The North-West Rebellion,Riels Rebelliondisabused the DIA of the notion of significant Native progress toward civil self-sufficiency, and, with the Eastern newspapers busily bruiting that the Revolt confirmed that all Indians were unreliable savages in need of subjugation, the Department began to redefine its mission and method. A more active, authoritative approach was needed.
Reports Sarah Carter in her Lost Harvests , though it never was accorded the legitimacy of Law, a casual pass system was applied to Indians in the West in the aftermath of the Rebellion of 85. In August of that year, to inhibit the movement of his charges and thereby shatter the cohesiveness of Newiyawak society, Hayter Reed, the Indian Agent responsible for some reserves in the Battleford area (and future Commissioner of, and Deputy Superintendent-general of, Indian Affairs), imposed the requirement in his bailiwick that Indians wishing to travel off-reserve apply for his written permission. In two monographs collectively called Memorandum Relative to Future Management of Indians, that summer Reed explained and justified his policy,63 and advised other agents and the Department to adopt it. Because the practice was counter to articles included in both Treaty 6 and Treaty 7, it was not strictly legal, though provisions of the Vagrancy Act could be interpreted to lend some support. The N-WMP were not keen to interfere with peoples travel plans on the strength of the DIAs regulation, worrying that an arrest made there under would not only be indefensible in court, but would mock the Mounties claim that they enforced Equal Law equally. Reeds superior, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Edgar Dewdney, and Prime Minister Macdonald did not condone the innovation either, but neither did they prohibit it, and soon came to appreciate the control it afforded over the Native populace, swayed by Reeds argument that the moral responsibilities of the Indian Department [to protect Natives from degradation and exploitation] transcend treaty obligation. By 1886 books of passes were being supplied to western reserves. Any Native who for any reason wanted to absent him or herself had to apply to the reserves farming instructor for a letter of recommendation which, if granted, was then submitted to the Agent who would then issue the Pass. Or not. The system promoted coercion and favouritism and led to all manner of abuse. The Mounties appreciated the advantage of the Regulations, and were convinced to bend the Law by patrolling reserve boundaries, stopping travellers to inspect passes and, relying on the Vagrancy Act, escort deserters to their homes.64 Those that resisted65 were threatened with a suspension of their rations. The pass system was never official government policy, so Ottawa could and did always deny it existed. But it did, and though the RN-WMP informed the DIA in 1904 that the Police would no longer support the Pass system, the practice of pestering Native people for their passes persisted into the 30s in the Treaty 7 area.
With the Indians finally confined, the DIA, desperate to overcome the First Nations reticence to abandon their heritage, began to shred the very fabric of Native society. Most devastating among the provisions of the re-written Indian Act in 1894 was the power awarded to the DIA to apprehend and commit Indian children to residential schools where they were isolated from their culture until age 16 (or, if circumstances warranted, 18). Over a century later Canadian society is finally coming to terms with the fact that, with the authority of Law behind them, many school staff bridled at no excess in their efforts to strip the children of their cultural identity.
Coupled with forced education, post-1885 the DIA began to insist that Indians contribute to the improvement and upkeep of their Reserves, and get out in their fields and gardens and work, each family for itself. The threat to suspend rations put teeth into the new expectations, forcing a grudging compliance.
Many Western Indians, the DIA eventually divined, preferred herding to ploughing, and to build up Bands herds, in the late 80s the Department adopted the Birtle system in which a bred or receptive cow was loaned to an individual Indian who in time surrendered either the calf or the cow, keeping one for his own use. The system was well received in the West, however the patronizing stipulation that the individual Indian could not kill, trade or sell his animal without DIA permission was resented. To make sure that regulation was obeyed, the calf was branded ID for Indian Department, clear notice to cattle buyers that sale of the animal required DIA approval.
Reed and most of the DIA bureaucracy believed by the late 1880s that it had been a mistake to create reserves: they had become refuges in which the Natives hid, and it would speed integration, the DIA concluded, were they to be broken up into allotments upon which individual families would settle and farm uncoöperatively. Besides, once the reserve had been allotted, the DIA could sell off the surplus lands and use the money finance its operations. To that end the Department had the western reserves divided into 40-acre lots, four of which, according to an 1890 amendment to the Indian Act, being the maximum that any family could acquire.66
Along with the DIAs drive to break up reserves came a revised vision of the Indian farmers future. In a memorandum to his Agents dated November 1st of 1889, the new Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Hayter Reed, announced that Native families were to be encouraged to cultivate their plots by hand. Because the plots were so small, just the tools familiar to a European peasant would be necessary: a spade, a rake, a hoe, a sickle.67 No co-operatively owned machinery would be necessary. This subsistence-style farming would keep the Indians busy with no time for pagan ceremony, and remove them from urban temptations as they would not be involved in the local economy. Until he was dismissed from the DIA in 1897, Reed stoutly maintained his policy despite the protests of many of his underlings in the Department, and the outright defiance by many Bands.68
Their culture under relentless attack, the horizons of First Nations people were narrowed by regulation after regulation which seemed specifically designed to blunt initiative, stifle creativity, and keep Natives moiling in poverty out of the sight and mind of the new-comers who had displaced them.69
The only thing they controlled was their own labour, and when they refused to work in protest of some DIA control, they were castigated as lazy or obstinate and had their rations cut back. To the Indians it seemed as if the government was intent on exterminating them, and by the mid-90s Native frustration had bloomed to such an extent that the DIA, in contravention of its own Acts, stopped issuing ammunition for modern repeating rifles for fear that Indian warriors, like the Newiyawak hero Almighty Voice, might start using it on Whites.70
Life in the Dominion
Negotiating the details of Treaty 7 with the Tribes at Blackfoot Crossing in the autumn of 1877, Lieutenant-governor Laird had guessed that the Bison would serve the Blackfoot for another 10 years. He was out by eight years. As it was for most western Tribes, the winter of 1878/79 was terrible for the Niitsitapi, driving those that remained in Canadian territory to the verge of insurrection as they fed their children, wrote Constantin Scollen at the time to Major Acheson Gosford Irvine of the N-WMP, on what they could steal from settlers, soup made from dried bones scavenged at old kill sites, and the carcasses of poisoned wolves. Frantic implorations that the government abide by the promises that Laird had made at Blackfoot Crossing to aid the Tribe in its time of need seemed to fall on deaf ears. Frustrated that his letter to Laird in 1878 requesting seed potatoes and gardening tools for Treaty 7 natives had been ignored,71 Scollen wrote to the Assistant Commissioner of Indian Affairs, We shall either have to provide for the Indians or fight them. Finally the government arranged for the delivery of flour to the Bands and contracted the I.G. Baker Company of Fort Benton, Montana Territory, to drive a herd of some 1,000 head of culled cattle into the Porcupine Hills area for the Blackfoot to hunt. Despite the aid, Edgar Dewdney was moved to comment on the emaciated condition of western natives in the spring of 1880; I have no doubt [that] the sudden change from unlimited meat to the scanty fare they received from the government has to some extent brought this about. Soon, rather than allowing hunters to kill cattle according to their families needs, the government began to supply rations, requiring Indians to register and present themselves for portions which by 1881, writes H. A. Dempsey in Charcoals World (Western Producer Prairie Books, Saskatoon, 1978), had been reduced by a penurious administration to but one pound of stringy, tough beef or spoiled salt pork and one-half pound of contaminated flour per person per day. This, for a people whose diet consisted mainly of meat and plenty of it, was a recipe for disaster.
The man to whom Indians applied for rations was their Agent, the DIAs point man in the field, usually responsible for several reserves and Bands. Primarily he was the Bands custodian, there to monitor activities and protect his charges from exploitation. He directed farming endeavours and construction projects, scrutinized school curricula, and doled out rations. He scheduled and supervised the election of chiefs and councillors, chaired their meetings and could remove persons he judged unworthy of their positions. If necessary, he had the power to designate councillors. In absolute control of his wards finances, politics, natural and labour resources, the Agent determined which merchants could do business on the Reserve, and the Band required his written permission to sell its produce on or off the Reserve. From 1881, reports Titley in A Narrow Vision, the Agent was a justice of the peace charged with enforcing the provisions of the Indian Act.72 He could jail people, could dispose of estates, could allocate Band monies for the support of the infirm, and could lease Reserve land to non-Indians and permit exploitation of its resources. He even determined who was a member of the Band and could evict from the Reserve those who did not meet his criteria.
Aiding the Agents were the farm instructors and their labourers, the first few of which had come west with Commissioner Dewdney in May of 79. The instructors sometimes acted in the Agents stead, but were often not well equipped to do the job, most being but poorly educated. Frequently they were not of the highest moral standards, either: indeed, one of Vankoughnets recommendations resulting from his 1883 tour of the West was that on-reserve instructors should be married.
Accepted wisdom has long held that for the gardening and farming were totally foreign occupations to the Niitsitapi. Sarah Carter, however, in her noted Lost HarvestsPrairie Indian Reserve Farmers and Government Policy, disputes this, referring to Gail Helgasons The First Albertans in which the latter mentions a fortified earthlodge village at Blackfoot Crossing known as the Cluny site [which] has been dated to sometime between 1730 and 1750. The occupants, who stayed only briefly, planted corn along the river. Despite it being in the very heart of the present-day Siksikah homeland, said villagers were likely not Niitsitapi, though surely they were aware of them and may have been responsible for the brevity of their occupancy. Even if they did not actually see the Villagers maize growing by the Bow, or tried to grow it themselves, the Niitsitapi doubtless had heard of the crop, a staple of their Sioux neighbours to the east. The Niitsitapi did plant tobacco, but in a haphazard way, tossing the seeds in a likely spot and leaving Fate to produce plants. By and large, however, they were absolute neophytes when DIA employees arrived to instruct them in agriculture.
Carter also disagrees with the treasured contention that Niitsitapi men somehow saw agriculture as beneath them, as womens work, or an offence to Mother Earth, as G.F.G. Stanley declared. Just the opposite, Carter maintains, pointing out that during treaty negotiations western Natives ensured that the Whites promised to help them switch from a hunter/gatherer to an agricultural economy by supplying implements, seed, and teaching the Bands the necessary skills. Half-heartedly, the DIA tried to fulfill these obligations, seeking always the cheapest means to keep the Tribes quiescent. Unfortunately, the instructors engaged by the DIA were not much better equipped to farm on the Prairies than the Niitsitapi. Arriving in the desperate months following the starvation winter of 1878/79, they quickly organized their charges to break the sod and sow seed and plant gardens. Poor crop choices combined with the instructors ignorance of dryland farming techniques ensured that most efforts failed.
Roughly coinciding with the beginning of Dewdneys term as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the DIA established two categories of farms in the West: the supply farms, of which there were only twoat Pincher Creek and at Calgary73and the on-reserve agency, or home farms. The supply farms were just that; operations set up to supply the DIA with seed and produce for the use of Department personnel and for distribution to Natives. Agency farms were also intended to grow crops and seed for Departmental use, but additionally were to act as training centres to which Native farmers could come to get information and instruction in the art of husbandry, techniques of implement maintenance, et cetera. The supply farms quickly disappointed expectations and closed in a cost-cutting measure in 1882, and their equipment, livestock and select personnel transferred to agency farms. The agency farms persisted, despite the instructors unfamiliarity with the vagaries of western weather and impatience with Native culture. They never enjoyed much success, however, and rather than blame climate or failures within the DIA, influential Eastern media and elected officials, while understanding nothing of conditions in the West, found it politically palatable to fault the Indians. Victorian society believed that Natives had no concept of working to build a margin of surplus, contenting themselves with basic shelter and food enough for but immediate needs. Ruled by the superstitions of their primitive natures, they lacked the initiative and diligence needed to adapt to a changed reality, clinging stubbornly to their communal lifestyle in which status was gained not by acquisition, but rather by gifting.
Coinciding with the arrival of the DIA functionaries in their territories, life for the Niitsitapi degenerated into a miserable monotony of deprivation and resentment. Women lined up for rations and struggled to learn how to make something edible from the lime-laced flour.74 Men herded and raced horses, gambled and, to the chagrin of their Agents, sought comfort and an understanding of their plight by immersing themselves in mystic religious practices. The only break in the repetition of their routines came when gangs of the young men risked the ire of the Police by raiding neighbouring cattle herds. So incensed had the Tribes become with White perfidy that it was only with much timely gifting and an immediate increase in rations by the DIA that Isapo-Muxika (Chief Crowfoot) was able to prevent his young braves from taking to the warpath in support of the Métis and the Newiyawak in the spring of 1885.75 Come the 90s, reports Dempsey, only a minority of Blackfoot harboured hopes that the Indian could a adapt to the New Order. Most saw their Tribe following the buffalo into oblivion, driven thither by boredom, disease, alcohol and malnutrition. Choking on rage, frustration and shame, the Tribe adopted a thin veneer of White ways whilst grimly holding on to what they could of their culture.
As its farming instructors struggled to solve the mysteries of farming in a dry land, the DIA welcomed church mission groups efforts to educate the Niitsitapi while setting their feet upon the true path to salvation. This arrangement, points out Titley in A Narrow Vision:, served the immediate needs of both the churches and the government. By allowing the churches to educate the Natives, the government spared itself the necessity of managing a schooling infrastructure, initially paying the churches only a flat fee per student.76 For their part, the churches would gain captive audiences for their proselytizing endeavours and acquire a subsidization for their activities, enabling them to better root their organization in the West. In the persons of Samuel Trivett, John W. Tims, and Geo. McKay, the Anglicans were the first to arrive, setting up day schools in shacks on the Piikani and Kainai reserves in 1879/80 and 1882, respectively, with plans to establish proper schools and missions. Along with some of the children of the leading families who were sent to check out what the Whiteman had to offer, to these hovels were attracted the orphans and destitute by the promise of a meal after classes.
The Day Schools were poor institutions, grudgingly funded by evangelical organizations that would much rather spend their money, claims Hana Samek in The Blackfoot ConfederacyA Comparative Study of Canadian and U.S. Indian Policy (University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1987), converting exotic peoples like the Chinese, Hindustanis and Africans. There was romance. Trying to shine the Light of Truth into the hunger-dulled eyes of destitute Indians on the barren steppe of North America was not nearly as exciting. Consequently, only the least-talented of missionaries were assigned to the dreary chores in the West. Maintained on embittering stipends and disappointed by their charges slow progress, some teachers resorted to corporal punishments to enforce school discipline. Their attitude rapidly transferred to their students. Trust was not established, frustration grew and resistance rose amongst parents fearful for their childrens safety. Consequently, attendance was always poor, leading to reduced monies allocated for the schools operation and the wages of the teachers, ensuring a diminishing quality of instruction.
As pointed out by Samek, these Protestant missionaries, typical of their race at the time, harboured no expectations that Natives could achieve much, convinced that Indians were intellectually, morally and philosophically inferior, and that it was a waste of energy to try and educate them above the humble station in life that they were likely to achieve. They could be, the missionaries believed, made into agricultural and domestic labourers reliable enough to be of use77 to the White settlers who, it was assumed, would soon flood onto the Prairies in the wake of the progress of the CPR. The Catholics concurred when they arrived on the Reserves a few years later.
Write Hana Samek and E. Brian Titley in their respective works, The Blackfoot Confederacy and A Narrow Vision, in January of 1879 the then prime minister of Canada, Jno. Alexander Macdonald, had exercised his authority as Superintendent-general of Indian Affairs and had appointed Nicholas Flood Davin, the politically active editor of the Regina Leader, to determine what kind of higher educational facilities might be suitable for western Natives. After investigating the 10-year old education programme of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the U.S. and conferring with government and church officials in Winnipeg, Davin had recommended in his April, 1879, report to Vankoughnet that off-Reserve industrial boarding schools on the American model be raised and, to spare the government the costs, be managed by religious foundations. Not only would these schools teach children useful trades, but would, observed Frank Pedley, a later Deputy Superintendent-general of Indian Affairs, remove the pupils from the retrogressive influence of home life and ensure regular attendance.78 While digesting Commissioner Dewdneys independent recommendations for increased spending for on-reserve schools,79 the government finally earmarked $44,000 for the construction of three schools, and between 1883 and 1885 one was raised at Lebret in the QuAppelle valley near the new North-West territorial capital at Regina, one at the old territorial capital at Battleford, and the previously-mention St. Josephs (Dunbow) school was set up by Fr. Lacombe near the confluence of the Highwood and Bow rivers in southern Alberta.80 Located sufficiently far from the nearest reserves so as to make travel back and forth inconvenient, the schools were built by Department of the Interior on fenced properties supplied by same. The Department provided student transportation to and from the school, supplied supplies, helped compensate teachers, saw to the students medical needs, and kept a supervisory eye on operations.
In addition to the day schools, the Anglican and Catholic churches established boarding schools on reserves. Originally intended for students eight to fourteen years old, it was quickly found that to ensure an adequate annual grant, wrote Titley in A Narrow Vision, the schools needed to revise their standards to accept even the youngest children, so difficult was it to keep the desks filled.81 The intent of these institutions was to isolate the students, break their cultural bonds and prepare the most malleable of them for enrolment in the regional industrial school.
The regional industrial school in Niitsitapi territory was St. Josephs, and to this the Blackfoot were expected to eagerly send their children. They did not, resisting the idea of committing their children to a school many days journey away, from which, thanks to its obsession over saving money, the DIA rarely returned students to their families for holidays or vacations. Adding to the parents unease were rumours of abuse, re-enforced by the educational experience that Natives in general were gaining at the Day Schools and on-Reserve boarding schools. As attendance at school was not mandatory until 1894, families had a choice: send their child(ren) away to school, or face a reduction in their rations by a DIA bureaucracy determined to have its way.
In the spring of 1886, reports Titley in The Frontier World of Edgar Dewdney, one J.A. Macrae was appointed Inspector of Schools for Manitoba and the N-WT and tasked with fixing the system for educating Indians. That December, after visiting the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania and the Mt. Elgin and Mohawk Institutes in Ontario, Macrae submitted his recommendations. The smallest children only, he advised, should be sent to the day schools. Older children should be confined to on-reserve boarding schools and then moved on to the industrial schools which should, themselves, be (re)located in larger, White urban centres for the dual purpose of isolating the students from, as Dewdney put it, the retarding influences of their own culture, and inspiring them with examples of the New-comers accomplishments.82 Believing that the children of wild stone-age people could most quickly gain self-sufficiency in an industrial world by being buttoned into breeches and smocks and trained in the basics of mechanics, husbandry and domestic service like any European peasant, the DIA cut back rations to the reserves in an effort to force the Indians coöperation.
After a few short years of effort, the educators concluded that the Niitsitapi werent progressing satisfactorily. Some of them were more accepting than others; sending their children to school, dressing White,83 trying to till the poor soils of their reserves, working the odd herding job on neighbouring ranches. But there appeared a general hesitation to leave the old ways behind. Seeing no advantage to becoming enfranchised citizens of Canada, few Natives were applying for allotments on their reserves, suspecting that the program was a plot to reduce their Bands holdings and fracture their communal society. They Indians also showed little interest in formally electing chiefs and councillors, preferring their traditional style of organization. Their spokesmen at every opportunity demanded more and better rations, insisting that the supply of provisions was an unwritten, yet agreed upon, clause in their Treaty. So persistent were they in pressing their claim that exasperation replaced sympathy as the dominant sentiment in the DIA and the government in general. When the DIA cut rations in an effort to motivate the Indians to farm, resentment rose and bands of youth snuck off to hunt cattle on local ranches.84 The main stumbling block to Indian advancement, concluded the missionaries, was Native religious rites, particularly the Sun Dance.
Lasting up to eight days, the Sun Dancethe Medicine Lodge ceremonywas the most important social occasion in the Blackfoot calendar. Around the time of the summer solstice, the clans gathered to thank the Great Spirit for his generosity, exchange news and gifts, woo sweethearts and generally discourse. One event associated with the Medicine Lodge ceremony was a painful and bloody ritual whereby a youngster proved his manhood and by piercing the skin above his pectoral muscles with ropes attached to the top of a tall pole. He danced to exhaustion and hung on the ropes until they pulled free from his chest. At that point, whether or not he survived, no one doubted that he was a man. Not only were the missionaries repelled by the brutality of this ritual85 and the celebration of superstition central to the whole gathering, but the timing of the ceremony couldnt have been worse from an agricultural point of view. Right at the end of June, when garden plants were emerging, the gardeners, depending on how far they had to travel to the Dance, abandoned their plots to the weeds for two or three weeks. It had to stop. Missionaries and educators of every hue attacked Native religion, ridiculing, writes H.A. Dempsey in The Amazing Death of Calf Shirt, aforementioned, and vilifying the medicine men, mocking the ceremonies, pointing out that, despite the best efforts of the shamans, the bison had deserted the Indian. It was time for change and change there would be. With the aid of the Indian Advancement Act of 1884 and An Act further to amend the Indian Act of 1895 which outlawed many Native ceremonies, missionaries hacked away the remaining underpinnings of Niitsitapi culture.
Due in a considerable part to competition among the denominations for converts, and the suitability of the Native religion to the Peoples lifeways, the missionaries met with little success. Though the Medicine Lodge ceremony was on some years not held, the Blackfoot refused to turn completely away from the old ways,86 stubbornly resisting the impositions of both Church and State. By the early 19-aughts the churches had lost their proselytizing zeal, and in 1905, after a few years of abstinence, the Piikani revived the ancient event, though without the flesh-ripping events associated with the dances of old. The Kainai followed suit in 1914, and the tradition of great summer gatherings continues still.
The industrial schools were, however, proving expensive to run. In parliament the opposition Liberals frequently attacked the program for its cost and lack of success, and some policy makers in the DIA were even musing that that church-run on-reserve boarding schools were probably the most effective method of delivering education and civilization to the Indians.
By the 1890s the government was becoming desperate to see progress in the area of Indian education, integration and self-sufficiency. On June 6th of 1891 Sir John A. Macdonald died, and in the confusion of succession, Thos. Mayne Daly was appointed Minister of the Interior and Superintendent-general of Indian Affairs. Informed by the educators that they could not teach children who frequently absented themselves, his administration included a provision in the re-written Indian Act in 1894 which permitted Agents to apprehend Indian children and incarcerate them either in on-reserve boarding schools or the Industrial schools until at least the age of 16. Regimented, punished for speaking their mother tongue and isolated from their families, the life of an Indian student became a misery of toil and rote-learning. Class photos from the period show ranks of unhappy dusky faces punctuated by the pale, inflexibly self-righteous visages of the teachers. To further remove the children from the detrimental influence87 of their culture, parents were forbidden to visit the schools and the children were seldom permitted passes. The philosophy of the times is summed up nicely in passage from the Department of Indian Affairs Sessional Paper, 1890, No. 12, quoted by Ian Allison Ludlow Getty in his masters thesis, The Church Missionary Society Among the Blackfoot Indians of Southern Alberta18801895, included in As Long as the Sun Shines and the Water Flows: The boarding School disassociates the Indian child from the deleterious home influences to which he would otherwise be subjected. It reclaims him from the uncivilized state in which he has been brought up. To the lasting shame of the society which promoted it, and the detriment of the Peoples who endured it, this policy met with a fair amount of success.
Within the walls of a boarding school the students received only the most rudimentary of educations, write Jane Richardson Hanks and her husband, Lucien Mason Hanks, jr., in Tribe under Trust: A Study of the Blackfoot Reserve in Canada (University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1950), mixed with a large dose of Christian ritual and morality.88 Their own labour in the kitchens, laundries, gardens and fields helped defray the costs of the institution which held them. Worse, the schools sickened the children. With windows sealed to minimize heating costs and inmates jammed into barrack-like dormitories and mess-rooms, the building became effective incubators of virulent diseases such as tuberculosis which then made their way out onto the reserves in the bodies of returning students. At some schools one quarter of the students died.89
Chronic illness and a low standard of education wasnt, however, the real tragedy of the schools: the real tragedy was the abuse the children suffered from the attentions of some of the staff. For some reason, residential schools especially seemed to attract and employ men who felt that their positions gave them licence to loose their perversions.90 Captive within the walls and unable to defend themselves or appeal to their families for aid, each new crop of students emerged from their years of schooling damaged psychologically and physically. Poorly prepared for life a changed World, few gained meaningful employment, while many returned home hurt, seeking solace in alcohol and violence, fighting feelings of worthlessness, their life course set on the path to self-destruction. It is a testament to the strength of their society and the depth of their character that the Nations have survived at all.
On June 23rd of 1896 the shattered Conservative Party was ushered out of office by Wilfrid Laurier and his Liberals. That November 17th Clifford Sifton of Brandon, Manitoba, was appointed Minister of the Interior. He was determined to re-organize the DIA which was still dogged by scathing accusations that its incompetence had provoked some tribes participation in Riels second Métis rebellion in the spring of 1885.91 Adopting modern business techniques to reduce expenditures, Sifton began by centralizing the Departments power, paring back the autonomy of agents on the reserve, requiring them to adhere closely to the new regulations that the Liberals soon implemented, the chief one being that nothing was to be done without first consulting headquarters. This allowed Sifton to cut back staff, stripping reserves of farming instructors, even eliminating the post of Deputy Superintendent-general of Indian Affairs. Those that were spared found their pay packets considerably lighter. He removed the Departmental headquarters from Regina back to Winnipeg, some 360 miles closer to Ottawa. David Laird, writes Hana Samek in The Blackfoot ConfederacyA Comparative Study of Canadian and U.S. Indian Policy, the newly-appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs, was soon complaining that he had been cut out of the loop as the Agents were receiving their instructions and directly from Ottawa. Having wrought change in the DIA, Sifton divested himself of the day-to-day responsibility of running the Department, shifting it to his Deputy Minister, Jas. A. Smart. During [Siftons] tenure, writes D.J. Hall in Clifford Sifton and Canadian Indian Administration, his contribution to As Long as the Sun Shines and the Water Flows, the Department of the Interiors budget nearly quintupled, but that of Indian Affairs increased by less than 30 percent.
In the matter of Indian education, writes Hall, Sifton believed that of the three types of schools available to the Niitsitapi, the day school from which the students returned to their parents abode every day after classes was the least effective instrument for converting Indian children into useful members of a society greater than their own. Most effective at isolating children from the degrading influence of their culture , he thought, was the on-reserve boarding school, run by a religious order with the labour of the children. The Industrial boarding schools, thought Sifton, were a waste of time and money, for Indians, even when educated, were not physically, mentally or morally equipped to compete with Whites. These schools were gradually starved of funds, but while some closed and no new ones were built, a few, such as St. Josephs, survived into the 20s and beyond.
In the old days, the Piikani were the largest of the Niitsitapi nations. They ranged, writes John C. Jackson in his The Blackfeet: A Culture Under Siege the Eastern Slopes and foothills of the shining mountainsthe Rockiesfrom the Red Deer and North Saskatchewan rivers in the north to the Missouri River and Yellowstone in the south.
Like all hunter/gatherers, the Piikûni relied on their home territory to survive, and energetically resisted incursions into it. The fierceness of this defence gained for the Piikani and their Niitsitapi cousins a bloody reputation which, when the fur trade began reaching westward across the continent towards the end of the 18th Century, discouraged traders from venturing into the Tribes hunting grounds. One of the few who dared was the HBCs Peter Fidler. In the autumn of 1792 he travelled southward from the North Saskatchewan down the foothills into Piikani heartland. Fidler noticed that, contrary to contemporary opinion, the Tribe did indeed possess beaver pelts, and in the 1790s the Coy and its competitor, the North West Company, erected a string of trading posts along the North Saskatchewan River92 largely for the convenience of the Piikani. The Piikani did not disappoint, bringing bales of beaver pelts to exchange for durables such as cooking pots and needles, guns, cloth and beads. Where they got the beaver they were reticent to say. Perhaps, mused the traders, the Tribes mountain streams teamed with the critters, perhaps they acquired the pelts from neighbouring tribes.
One source from which Traders suspected that the Piikani might be obtaining beaver pelts was the Ktunaxa (Kootenay), a People living mainly in the Rocky Mountain and Purcell Trenches of what is now British Columbia, Montana and Idaho. It was an ambivalent relationship which the Piikani enjoyed with the Ktunaxa. The Ktunaxa wanted trade goods and access to buffalo east of the Mountains and, when the Piikûni prevented them from sneaking through the passes, were willing to exchange some of their excellent horses and beaver pelts for the privilege. The Niitsitapi regarded the buffalo as their own, but when their were plenty of animals, they could afford to tolerate Ktunaxa hunting parties. A more amicable arrangement between Piikani and Ktunaxa was impossible due in part to the Kainai and Siksika penchant for raiding Ktunaxa horse herds. Reprisals mounted by the Ktunaxa often fell upon the Piikani as the nearest Niitsitapi tribe. This rather tense relationship between Ktunaxa and Niitsitapi was, much to the chagrin of the latter, upset in the late 18-aughts and -teens when first David Thompson of the North West Company pushed over the Mountains north of Niitsitapi territory to open up direct links with the Ktunaxa, and later, when trade goods began moving up the Columbia River system, carried by John Jacob Astors New York-based Pacific Fur Company. The loss of their profitable position as intermediaries in the Trade intensified Niitsitapi hostility towards Whites in general.
The Piikani were also thought to have looked south for peltry. The Crow (Absaroka), who the Blackfoot called Issapo, vigorously disputed the territory south of the Missouri with the Niitsitapi tribes. Raids back and forth were frequent, a source of horses and beaver for the Piikani. The Aaninin (Gros Ventre), inhabiting the Niitisitapis south-eastern frontiers, were off again-on again allies and trading partners until a dispute over horses around 1860 permanently estranged the tribes.
The Newiyawak, or Iyiniwakthe Creewere of particular concern for the Piikani. Living to the east and therefore enjoying a longer exposure to Hudsons Bay traders, the Newiyawak had well armed themselves with the crude trade gunsfukesand pressed in upon Blackfoot territory. Insulated by Niitsitapi hostility from the booze of the American traders, and, thanks to the efforts at inoculation by the Bay men, surviving better the smallpox epidemic which ravaged the Blackfoot in the early 1860s, the Newiyawak were a powerful enemy who, allied with the Métis, gradually forced the Niitsitapi frontier southward to the Red Deer. By the time of the Tribes first contacts with Canadians moving to occupy Ruperts Land in the late 1860s, the Blackfoot had allowed an Athapaskan-speaking band from the north, the TSuu Tina (Sarcee), and the Lakota-speaking Assiniboine Stoney people to settle in the high Bow River valley, well within traditional Piikani territory.
In 1817, one of the last echoes of the War of 1812, the Rush-Bagot Convention, had established the 49th degree of parallel as the boundary between American and British territory from Lake o the Woods to the Rockies. To the Niitsitapi it was the Medicine Line, invisible until squadrons of US and Canadian surveyors began designating it with a line of cairns across the Prairies in the spring of 1873. Long before the last cairn was erected late in the summer of 1874, the Piikani realized that the Line possessed significance properties, for with the implementation of the provisions of the Lame Bull Treaty of 1855, they found their Nation divided, with the great majority of them assigned to live on a vast reservation cornered by the mountains and the Boundary in what is now northern Montana, centred on their favourite wintering grounds in the valley of Cut Bank Creek. Because of this, at the signing of Treaty 7 with the Canadian government in the autumn of 1877, the Piikani were the smallest of the Blackfoot tribes represented.
Though Many Swans, Morning Plume, Crow Eagle and Sitting on an Eagle Tail had signed Treaty 7 on behalf of the Piikani, there was dissention among the Band members over the wisdom of ceding their hunting ground to the Whites. Almost immediately the bison withdrew from their northern ranges, driven south by towering prairie fires in the spring of 1878, and kept away by the U.S. army which lit a line of fires south of Sioux territory in an attempt to starve that stubborn tribe into submission. While some of the some of the Piikani settled in the valley of the Old Man River on their chosen reserve, others chased after the bison into Montana Territory. Even there they found few of those beasts so essential to the Niitsitapi way of life. Many Piikûni believed that the bison had hidden themselves in a hole in the earth, resentful that the Tribe had surrendered its ancient hunting grounds to the Whites. Wherever the Bison were, they were not where the Piikani could find them. The old ways were ended and the farsighted among the Band accepted that their people had better adapt to the Whitemans way of life.
Writes Barry Potyondi in Where the Rivers Meet: A History of the Upper Oldman River Basin to 1939, in the summer of 1879 government surveyors laid out a reported 193 square miles (123,560 acres)93 in the wooded valley of the Old Man as the Piikani reserve, the location specified by Chief Sitting on an Eagle Tail at the Treaty 7 negotiations. The chiefs who had not gone hunting for buffalo convinced some 900 of their followers to settle in the valley and await their fate. Game was soon hunted out of the neighbouring Porcupine Hills and real privation assailed the People. Increasingly frustrated by what they viewed as Ottawas betrayal of the Treaty promises, more and more Niitsitapi concluded that they had been deceived by honeyd words. Much to the distress of Whites who were trying to establish a cattle industry on the lush grasslands vacated by the bison, the Piikani looked to the newly arrived herds of Montana longhorns to relieve their hunger. Concluding that it was cheaper to feed Indians than fight them, in the late summer of 1879 the Indian Branch contracted the I.G. Baker Company of Fort Benton, Montana Territory, to run a herd of about a thousand head of cattle into the Porcupines for the Niitsitapi to hunt.
In 1880 the government began to extend services to the Niitsitapi. Norman Thomas Macleod, the brother of the famous NWMP colonel, James F., was appointed as the Tribes first Agent. He was stationed at Fort Macleod, along with two storemen and a clerk, P.G.H. Robinson. On Macleods instructions, an agency headquarters for the Piikani reserve was raised on wooded bottom lands on the north bank of the Oldman near the mouth of Olsen Creek. With the buffalo hide coverings of their tipis rapidly wearing out and with replacements unavailable, the Piikani embarked on a program of cabin-building using fir and pine logs which they dragged down out of the Porcupines. They built three settlements in the valley, known as the Upper, Lower and Middle camps.
Since his arrival in the spring of 1880, Macleod had been driven to the end of his tether by the parsimony of the Department. Come the end of the winter of 1881, notes Hana Samek in The Blackfoot Confederacy , Macleod was trying to feed 7,000 desperate Indians on the scant, low quality rations grudgingly paid for by Ottawa and supplied by Montana-based provisioners. He had seen over 1,000 of his charges die of starvation and malnutrition. Exposure, too, took its toll, for without bison skins with which to make clothing and replace tipi covers, Indians were living nearly naked and virtually in the open, their clothing and tipis in tatters. In February of 1882, after 20 months of hearing his complaints and warnings of imminent uprisings, and having received no official report from him for the preceding year, the DIA condemned Macleod as sick and old, demoted him to a clerk in the Winnipeg office, and at Dewdneys recommendation, replaced him with Cecil Edward Denny, formerly of the N-WMP. With the aid of an assistant, William B. Pocklington, stationed at Fort Macleod to attend to the Kainai and the Piikani, Denny struggled to make his superiors understand the desperate plight of the Blackfoot. The last straw for him came in September of 1883 when Deputy Superintendent-general Vankoughnet ventured from Ottawa to see for himself the situation in the West and institute appropriate economies. Possibly fearing a repeat performance by the same chiefs who had embarrassed the Department when Commissioner Dewdney and governor-general the Marquis of Lorne had processed through the West in August of 1881 and been importuned at every turn by Indians desperate for food, agricultural implements, draught animals, tools, seed and training,94 Vankoughnet refused to either visit the reserves or meet with any chiefs. The Deputys attitude incensed Denny95 and when the former ordered the western Agents to spend less time on the reserves and more time on filing reports, to dismiss most of their staff, and strictly enforce the Departments pet work-for-rations-or-starve rule, Denny quit in disgust, succeeded by the less passionate Pocklington in 1884.
Preceding N.T. Macleods arrival by about a year, two professional farmers had been assigned to the Treaty 7 region with the dual mandate of supplying the Tribes with comestibles and teaching the Natives the rudiments of agriculture.96 One, Thos. Wright, proceeded to the Calgary area and established an operation on some 4,000 acres at Fish Creek in the valley of the Bow to serve the Siksikah and the TSuu Tina. The other, H.J. Taylor, staked out a number of acres just west of the Piikani reserve on what is now called Indian Farm Creek, a tributary of the Oldman. This the DIA designated Farm No. 23, though locally it was commonly referred to as the Government Supply Farm. While helping the Band fell enough timber to build 60 cabins on the Reserve, Taylor and a few willing Piikûni were able to break some 50 acres in 1880. Firmly bound by the roots of the rough fescues, blue grama, and spear, oat and June grasses which had carpeted it for thousands of years, the virgin prairie sod was difficult to break, especially with shovels and hoes, the only tools provided by the Department. The crews, however, persevered, erected some fencing and the next spring Taylors replacement,97 Samuel Bruce, was able to supervise the sowing of barley, oats and peas on some 150 acres. What crop wasnt hailed out succumbed to that years early frosts. According to the Annual Report of the Department of Indian Affairs for the Year Ended 31st December, 1881 (Ottawa, 1882), that year the Department imported some reaping hooks and some horse-drawn equipmentharrows, cross-ploughsfor the Kainai and the Piikani from the I.G. Baker and the T.C. Power and Brother companies in Fort Benton, Montana Territory. Though better than hand tools, these implements were sadly unsuited for the task of preparing prairie sod for agriculture. The plows, especially, were of flimsy construction, without turf-cutting coulters, more suited to tilling Eastern gardens.98 Adding to the Piikanis disappointment was the performance of their horses in harness: the little war ponies and buffalo runners were simply too light to drag agricultural equipment. To bring more land into production that year, Bruce resorted to hiring one J. Collins who charged the DIA $151 to break 30 more acres, bringing the total acreage available to 315, most of it fenced.
The Piikani, like the rest of the Niitsitapi, likely had no tradition of agriculture. They had probably seen the HBCs garden plots at Fort Edmonton, and so understood the practice, but had not engaged in the process beyond scattering tobacco seeds in places conducive to growth and returning at the end of the season to harvest any plants that Nature had allowed to survive. They were, however, eager students, knowing that their back was to the wall at least until the bison should return. Taylor and Bruce, it seems, had no shortage of Indian labour. Unfortunately, a late spring and an early frost in 1881s growing season reduced drastically the anticipated yield. Rewarded with but little return on their labour, many Piikani questioned the wisdom of investing their time in alien, unproductive endeavours when deer and cattle remained to be hunted and horse-raids mounted. Demonstrating the schizophrenia of its policy and its cold insouciance of the Natives plight, the DIA, in an ignorant effort to get the Natives to mind their farming instructors, chose that moment to cut back rations to one pound of nasty beef and one-half pound of contaminated flour per person per day, forcing Indians to forsake their reservation in the quest for meat.
Come the end of 1881, notes the above-mentioned DIA report, Bruce was assisted by 21 paid labourers (including H. Bruce, presumably his brother) and a cook. The operation cost the Department more than $4900, too much for an organization which had been instructed to spare government coffers already overtaxed by the costs of the construction of the trans-continental railroad. These expenditures, and those incurred by other DIA farming ventures, attracted the attention of the Departments Assistant Superintendent-general, Lawrence Vankoughnet, who sent his western minion, Thomas Page Wadsworth, out on a tour of investigation in the spring of 1882. That May he arrived at Farm No. 23. He found it well equipped with machinery and draught animals, but poorly administered and lackadaisically worked. Wadsworth sacked the entire staff and assumed direct control of the operation. He completed the seeding and the Farm enjoyed a good growing season. That summer, however, the last of the Piikani buffalo hunters straggled back from Montana when authorities there had refused to feed Canadian Indians. Their horses, turned loose to graze, ravaged the Farms crops. What was left, though, was of excellent quality. Unfortunately, there was no market in the district for the grain, and the Piikani themselves had little use for wheat for it.99 Though a successful crop looked good in the reports that the agricultural instructors sent to their bosses in Ottawa, to the Piikani it looked like a waste of effort and they began to refuse to work the land,100 especially when the DIA used the excuse of a bountiful harvest to further cut rations, forcing them to raid neighbouring cattle herds to feed their families.
The unsatisfactory performance that the supply farms displayed in 1882 was the beginning of the end of the program. Judged not worth their costs, they were shut down by 1884, the lands sold and the machinery dispersed to neighbouring home farms on the Treaty 7 reserves. The former N-WM Policeman, John Herron, arranged the purchase of Farm No. 23 by his boss, Captain John Stewart, who had a few years earlier acquired the Mounties Remount Station horse ranch at Pincher Creek.
The home farm on the Piikani reserve was Farm No. 21, set up likely in 1880. On the day of Wadsworths arrival, May 20th, 1882, it was under the supervision of ex-Mountie, Charles Kettles, who employed ten labourers to assist him. Kettles had been tasked with supplying seed barley and potatoes to Supply Farm 23 and the Band, and, like Bruce, inculcating the skills of the farmer into the Piikani. Wadsworth was initially pleased with the Piikanis progress, noting in his report that the 914 Indians then resident on the Reserve were very well to do, and will, in my opinion, be the first of the Southern Plains Indians to become self-supporting. Kettles book-keeping, on the other hand, was suspect, for his operation cost the DIA nearly $2700 in 1881, double what it cost the Department to run an identical operation on the Kainai reserve. The difference proved irreconcilable, resulting in Kettles termination in October of 1882.
Within a year of Kettles termination, the home farm program was discontinued, thenceforth agricultural instructors being hired on a seasonal basis as subordinates to the local Agent.
Along with grains, the farming instructors introduced the Piikani to the idea of growing vegetables for the table. Band members had seen the gardens that HBC employees planted at Fort Edmonton, and were likely aware that the Sioux and Mandan and other Peoples farther east had for centuries grown maize and squashes, beans, sunflowers and tobacco. They, however, had never themselves tried to cultivate gardens. On the bottom lands around the Camps water was plentiful and, with some attention to basic plant husbandry, kitchen crops could flourish, potatoes especially, and turnips. In 1882, according to Hugh Aylmer Dempsey in One Hundred Years of Treaty Seven (One Century Later), to the great satisfaction of their teachers, the Piikani harvested 2900 bushels of potatoes. Much more than they wanted to use, the Band sold its excess in Fort Macleod at 2.5¢/lb. for a fine profit.101 Everyone in the DIA was optimistic that the Tribe was successfully making the transition to a prosperous, sedentary civilized lifestyle. Building on their success, the Band produced what the Fort Macleod Gazette called and immense crop in 1884 and 6700 bushels in 1885, so much that they glutted their market and realized less than 0.5¢/lb on what they could sell, the rest ending up rotting.102 Another waste of effort, concluded the Piikani. A man who persevered with agriculture was Ioo-wi-pee, a minor chief at Upper Camp who, with his clan, broke and fenced some 60 acres upon which he grew barley and potatoes, selling his excess to local ranchers. After 1889, however, the clauses of the Indian Act restricting Native participation in the Market began to be enforced. If he wanted to continue business, Ioo-wi-pee had to approach his agent103 for written permission to sell his produce. This was not infrequently denied, for the DIA was under considerable political pressure by Settlers groups to limit Natives access to market. Rations, ran the White argument, was subsidization, so that Indians could under sell their competitors and not face starvation.
Where farming failed, however, horse and cattle ranching did not. Since the early 1880s, with the Niitsitapi more or less settled on their reserves, White entrepreneurs had felt confident enough to establish ranching operations in what soon came to be called the District of Alberta. It was this occupation that really resonated with the Piikani. Cattle were of the family bovidae, after all, close relatives to the bison. A cattle herder got to ride his horses all day, chase game if the opportunity arose. The Band had been given part of the government herd in 1884, and despite the die-off in the spring of 1887 caused by ice-locked range, by 1888 the Piikûni could boast some 90 head. So enthusiastic were the Piikani about the occupation that some of them ventured to Montana to trade their spare ponies for more cattle. The Band counted some 1,000 head by 1897 when 97 of the Reserves residents claimed ranching as their main vocation. Two years later, according to Hana Samek, the Department of Indian Affairs estimated that the Band ran but 775 head.
Besides raising the Indians self-esteem and putting meat in their bellies, ranching was also responsible for mechanizing the Piikani agricultural endeavours. Initially the DIA, presuming that Indians would not be able to operate machines, had supplied the Band with shovels and hoes to cultivate fields, and sickles and scythes with which to cut hay. Their off-reserve labour for local ranchers exposed the Piikani to the advantages of mechanical mowers such as the famous Walter A. Wood and, later, the McCormick, and they soon convinced their instructors to obtain a few for work on the Reserves hay fields. If mowers were good, the Piikani concluded, tillers and mechanical hay rakes must be, too. The DIA was disinclined to supply such equipment. However, though still preferring to envision the Indians future as subsistent peasants using hand tools, the Department allowed Natives to pool their capital and buy machinery.104 When it became evident that the small Indian ponies were unsuited to drawing agricultural machinery, local DIA officers proved in many cases willing to loan draught horses and oxen. Soon the Bands farmers were scratching at their fields with ploughs to sow wheat and barley. It was a discouraging business, however. Sewn by the broadcast method, the seed of grain varieties acclimatized to Eastern or European conditions often failed to germinate on dry western fields, and drought, windstorms, cutworms, late snows, early frosts, and showers of hail took turns destroying the crops that did emerge. Though seed drills, introduced in the late 80s to insert seed into the soil at a uniform, optimum depth, promoted reliable germination, a harvest was never guaranteed. Year after year the travails continued until even the government agents admitted that trying to farm the area was futile.105 In 1896 leading agricultural instructors to declared that neither the Kainai nor the Piikani reserve was at all suitable for farming, an opinion shared by Agent Henry H. Nash, himself a former instructor on the Reserve, and by his successor, R.N. Wilson, who stated it bluntly in his report to the Department in 1900.
Though many in the Band naturally clung to the comfort of tribal traditions, unwilling, perhaps, to come to grips with the changes that had overtaken their People, others ventured into the money economy of the world outside the Reserve, forced to some extent by the governments strategy of cutting rations to the starvation point. One of the Bands first exposure to work in the European sense of the word came with the sawmill that John Keen had set up for the DIA at Mountain Mill in 1879. Even after the CPR built its Mainline through Blackfoot territory in 1883, many of the essential supplies for the Piikani Reserve had to be imported by cart and waggon from Fort Benton in Montana Territory. A few Piikani got jobs driving these vehicles, or escorting them. Others cut ties and timbers required by the Railway, and hauled them north to the Mainline. The N-WMP engaged a few riders as scouts, guides and, occasionally, as Special Constables.106 When Whites began to establish ranches in the region they hired Piikani to ride herd on their cattle, clear brush, break horses, build fences and help keep their houses. One entrepreneur, Big Swan, even opened a stopping house on the reserve in 1892 to serve stagecoach travellers on the road between Pincher Creek and Fort Macleod. In 1898, when the Band was obliged to accept $2100 from the CPR for the privilege of having the Crows Nest Lines right-of-way cut across their Reserve, the Piikani took the advice of their new agent, R.N. Wilson (18981903), and bought saw mill machinery which they emplaced on their 11.5 square mile timber reserve (147B) up in the Porcupine Hills in 1899.107
Along with the practical information provided by the DIA farming instructors came formal education delivered by religious groups. The Anglicans were the first to arrive on the Piikani reserve, sending the Rev. Rural Dean George McKay of the denominations Society for the Propagation of the Gospel108 to build a house and a day school in 1879 or 1880. Responsible until 1885 for the Piikani school and the one he opened on the Kainai reserve in 1882, he tried his best to teach the children their ABCs and a bit of rudimentary arithmetic while helping the Band build log cabins and preaching about the rewards that awaited good Christians in heaven to anyone whod listen. The culture barrier was doubtless difficult to breech, but he made it a bit easier for Father Emile Légal who arrived in 1886 to build the Church of the Conversion of St. Paul and a rectory in the River valley. Nearby the Father built what Hana Samek identifies as the Sacred Heart day school and, though he attracted few steady pupils, he was able to prepare three boys well enough by 1888 that they were accepted at St. Josephs (Dunbow) Indian Industrial School on the Old North Road some 45 kilometres south-east of Calgary. Their parents soon retrieved them. Still struggling with the change in their Bands circumstances, many Native families hesitated to dispatch their sons into the unknown of St. Josephs. Modifications, however, to the Indian Act in 1894 removed Native children from the care of their parents, requiring them to attend a school.
By and large, Niitsitapi parents submitted to the new Act, their faith, perhaps, in the Old Ways having been severely shaken by the disappearance of the buffalo; a covenant broken, it seemed, for whatever reason. Without bison, starvation and the extinction of the People was a very real possibility unless they absorbed the knowledge of the New Way that the New-comers claimed to possess. Too, these White men with black books and crosses were evidently favoured by the Creator, for when the Niitsitapi had inexplicably sickened and died by the hundreds, the New-comers were rarely touched. Perhaps they merited the Indians attention.
Disappointed with the Piikani response to his day school,109 in 1889 Légal had begun advocating the construction of a boarding school on the Reserve to insulate the children from the deleterious influence of their families. Isolated, he felt, the children could be more quickly and thoroughly cleansed of their culture and converted into productive minions of the new order. In 1896 Fr. Foisy opened the Sacred Heart Residential School and welcomed its teaching staff, Les Surs de la Charité de Nicoletthe Grey Nuns.
Légals efforts dovetailed neatly with those of the Reverend H.S. Bourne of the Anglican mission by the Kainai Reserve who had in 1888 suggested to his new bishop, William Cyprian Pinkham in Calgary, that Pinkham begin lobbying Ottawa to sponsor the construction of a Church of England boarding school on the Piikani reserve. The record is a little hazy, but apparently the completion in 1890 of St. Cyprians Residential School was the result of this effort.110 It was small and in 1897 under the direction of Rev. Haynes it was replaced with the Victoria Jubilee Home111, located in the Oldman valley a bit off the downstream shoulder of the modern Crowsnest Highway where it leaps Pincher Creek near LaGrandeurs Crossing. This facility, though declared substandard by the Department of Indian Affairs in 1912 because of the run-down state of its buildings had sickened 12 of its 19 students, lasted until 1926 when a new St. Cyprians with an attached 3-storey brick dormitory was built up on prairie level about four kilometres south-east of the settlement of Brocket. It remained in use until 1965 in a time when governments were beginning to encourage Native students to attend provincially-administered schools.
The New Century
Even before detailed surveys of western reserves were completed in 1896, government bureaucrats were convinced that the Piikani reservesIR 147A and the timber reserve, 147Bwere too big. Intended to allow each Indian a fifth of a square mile (128 acres), they were calculated, the government suspected, on population figures inflated by the Piikani so as to maximize their domain.112 Inspired by the Dawes Severalty Act113 which the United States congress had passed into law in 1887 for the purpose of relieving Indians of excess land, Ottawa determined to make adjustments.
By 1900 the instructors and agents assigned to the Piikani reserve had pretty much given up hopes of helping their charges achieve self-sufficiency through agriculture. The cottonwood-sheltered alluvium in the Oldman loved to grow gardens, but up on the prairie, where most of the Reserve lay, the never-ending west wind seemed to follow behind the plough sucking every molecule of moisture out of the turned soil even before the seed was scattered. It was thus almost everywhere on the western prairies, and even New-comers with years of farming experience down East or in Europe despaired of making a living off western fields. A new method of farming, however, promised to save the Western economy.
In the autumn of 1884 Fred Willock of nearby Pincher Creek had planted a small plot of White Clawson wheat. Enough snow settled and melted in the furrows in the spring that the seeds germinated and established themselves, yielding a fine fall crop. Year after year, Willock repeated the procedure until he had seed enough to sell to neighbours. Come the end of the Century the district could boast many a fine wheat crop. The Piikani and the Kainai farmers, observing the results of their neighbours efforts, were eager to grow winter wheat.
Lauriers Liberals had won the federal election of 1896 and the new regime, eager to free Native peoples from dependence on DIA rations, discounted the reservations of the Department of Indian Affairs functionaries on the ground in the West and determined that the Piikani would make their living as farmers, growing winter wheat. The only drawback to the new technique was that it required expensive modern equipment: steam-powered traction engines, heavy breaking ploughs and gangs of harrows to bring more acreage into crop production, reapers and Massey-Harris self-binders to aid harvest, and threshing machines to process the increased yield. Always starved of funds, the DIA refused to carry the heavy capital investment needed: indeed, it was still dedicated to the vision of Indians as hand tool-using peasant farmers. Another way would have to be found to foot the bill.
Upon taking office, Wilfrid Laurier and his government embarked upon a program to attract settlers to Canadas West. In Europe, in the United States, advertisement campaigns touted the benefits of emigrating to Canada. Not the least of these benefits was land virtually free for the working. The campaign was overwhelmingly successful, and come the opening years of the 20th Century, good land was increasingly hard to find. Covetous eyes began to look at the huge reserves set aside for the First Nations peoples. To those eyes, the reserves looked overlarge for the population they carried, and underutilized by a population that had been so battered by conflicting DIA policy that many had given up agriculture. Pressure began to build to free some of that land for folks who would make better use of it. Clifford Sifton, Lauriers Minister of the Interior (and, therefore, the Superintendent-general of Indian Affairs), sympathized, agreeing that a dense population of industrious farmers would better benefit the commerce of nearby towns and the expanding railroads than a scattering of Indians who seemed to do nothing but whinge that the government was not fulfilling its treaty obligations.114 Besides, Indians had no vote (their own fault, in the governments opinion, for not embracing White ways and seeking enfranchisement), and no economic power. Old David Laird, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs since 1898 (till 1909), was once again given the task of separating Natives from their lands. From reserve to reserve he travelled, polling Indians on the idea of relinquishing parts of their holdings for cash that they could use to, say, buy modern farm equipment. The response was almost universally negative, some of the Indians elders able to recall in detail the negotiations of the 1870s in which the treaty commissioners had guaranteed that the government would never seek to alienate reserved lands from the tribes. Promises made by the party of Macdonald which was now reduced to opposition in parliament did not deter Laurier et al from pressing their requests.
In 1904 the DIA broached the proposal to the Piikani. By the 1901 census, according to Yvonne B. Hill in her Alberta District Indian Agency Enumerations (Ancestor Answers, Lethbridge, 1998), there were 536 people in 122 families living on the Reserve. It was, in the governments view, much too big for them. Should they agree to sell part of it, the Department assured the Piikani, all monies derived from the sales would be credited to the Bands accounts.115 They could buy modern equipment for the youngsters who were returning from St. Josephs school yearning to employ their knowledge of the latest farming methods. In that year winter wheat accounted for 40% of the grain crops sown in the district and was producing profits for the growers, and though some of the Band members were eager to give the method a try, none of them were unenthusiastic about surrendering any of their land. Beginning to regain their self-confidence and to reassert a measure of control over their destiny, the Piikani expressed these reservations.116 Through the offices of J.A. Markle, the inspector of Indian agencies in the N-WT and the Agent to the Siksikah Nation, the DIA persisted, especially after Frank Oliver replaced Sifton as Minister of the Interior and Superintendent-general of Indian Affairs in 1905. Reports Hana Samek in The Blackfoot Confederacy , on July 16th of 1909 the Piikani were coerced into holding a plebiscite on the matter. Fifty-four percent of the 86 ballots cast rejected the sale. Surveyors were, however, already at work dividing 20 sections of the Reserve into 160-acre lots which the DIA hoped that the Piikani would privately take up,117 and had determined that the Band possessed excess acreage. Declaring that the vote was flawed, Markle118 and the Piikani agent, E.H. Yeomans, lobbied hard for a second plebiscite and lo and behold, in that instance 60 of 102 participants elected to yield 23,000119 acres for sale. While admitting that there were irregularities in the process, Markle nevertheless insisted that the surrender was for the Bands own good and, despite vigorous protest, in November of 1909 the land was auctioned, realizing an average of $7/acre with a high of $16.
Income earned by any Band normally went into accounts managed for the Band by the DIA. Of the monies from the Piikani sale, 70% went into the accounts leaving the Band nearly $50,000 to spend on farming equipment. The Piikani bought a 36 horse-power steam traction engine and set it to work breaking the sod on the prairies above the Camps. In 1910 Piikani farmers had put around 200 acres to winter wheat and quadrupled that in 1911. So optimistic was the DIA that Piikani farmers would soon become major grain producers that it spent some of the Bands money building an elevator for them on the CPR mainline at Brooks. In 1913, out of a total of 11,200 acres which they had broken by that date, the Piikani put 1300 acres to wheat.
When the Great War broke and drained many hands from the fields of Western Canada, the DIA pressed Native farmers to increase production. It was a demand made practically impossible by the Departments reluctance over the previous 20 years to allow Bands to buy modern equipment in line with its small-holding peasant farmer vision of Indian agriculture. Disappointed with Indians efforts to increase production, Arthur Meighen, since 1917 the Minister of the Interior and Superintendent-general of Indian Affairs in Robert Bordens Union cabinet, entertained in January of 1918 one of his in-laws, William Morris Graham, a mid-level DIA functionary in the Treaty 4 area since 1903 who specialized in relieving Saskatchewan bands of their surplus reserve lands. During their encounter, Graham outlined, to quote from E. Brian Titley in A Narrow Vision, , a plan to increase food production by the efficient use of idle Indian land. Graham pointed out that Indian bands also had idle funds which could be invested in the scheme, thus sparing the war-strained treasury, a facet of the scheme that Meighens Union associates appreciated. On February 16th Graham was appointed Commissioner of Greater Production for the Prairie provinces with his offices in Regina. He was given sweeping powers which he used to establish greater production farms on several reserves and to require residents to work them, to lease idle reserved lands to non-Natives despite Indian objections, and to encourage Native farmers to increase production on other reserve lands.120 He could even initiate the expropriation of any of a Bands land under the War Measures Act of 1914. To make this all legal, the Indian Act was amended in April of 1918. Though it had actually paid back the loan of its seed money to the war appropriation and would eventually show a book-profit of some $57,000, Grahams scheme was among the first projects condemned121 soon after the Liberals led by Wm. Lyon Mackenzie Kings assumed power on December 6th, 1921. The land used for the greater production farms was returned to Band control and the equipment dispersed among the residents. Only the Kainai and Siksika hosted these Farms in Alberta.
Though the Greater Production Scheme had died, the amendments to the Indian Act which empowered it were not rescinded, leaving the Superintendent-general of Indian Affairs with the authority to appropriate and cause to be utilized any portion of Indian reserve which is not under cultivation or otherwise properly used. That the DIA was the custodian of Native well-being and security did little to stiffen its resolve under the weight of political pressure to free up excess lands for sale to new-comers. Those New-comers were often veterans of the Great War who had been promised land by the Soldier Settlement Act of 1917 and its comprehensive successor of 1919 as a reward for hurling themselves into clouds of mustard gas and the killing zones of machine guns and howitzers. Some 26,000 veterans availed themselves of the plan. Indian veterans, however, of which there were several from the Piikani Nation, were not eligible for benefits under the Act. Their rewards for honourable service were dispersed by the DIA in the form of the distained location tickets to allotments of Reserve lands. Once the Native vet had satisfied the DIA requirements and was accepted into the program, funds to stock and equip the allotments were available on loan from the Soldier Settlement Board, secured by liens on the machinery and animals purchased. How many Indian veterans actually accepted allotments is unclear, but those that did must have been mighty unpopular with some members of their communities for the lands were alienated from Band control without consent.122
Mutual support in time of war had been promised by Treaty No. 7, and when hostilities broke out in Europe in 1914, the Piikani rallied to the defence of the Crown. The Nation raised $1400 for the cause, and sent some of their sons to serve. Service in the armed forces during the Great War had an effect upon natives society far beyond fireside tales of places far away and bloody battles fought. Conversing in a common language for the first time ever, Indians from across the Dominion met in the armed forces and compared their experience of life since the coming of the Whites. One result was The League of Indians of Canada, formed under the direction of Frederick Ogilvie Loft on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario on December 20th, 1918. When apprised of the League, Duncan Campbell Scott, the Deputy Superintendent-general of Indian Affairs, went off his nut, attacking Loft and the League as subversives, doing everything within his power to discredit both. Nevertheless the League survived, holding its annual conferences locations progressively farther west, the one in 1922 being held at Hobbema, just north of Red Deer, Alberta. The Niitsitapi were well interested in the League, as was the newly-formed Royal Canadian Mounted Police whose nation-wide activities included the suppression of Bolshevism, trade unionism, communalism, and any other organization that its political masters in Ottawa deemed a challenge to the continued dominance of the property party of Canada. DIA and RCMP efforts stalled the League, and by the time Loft died in 1934 it was moribund in the East, barely hanging on in the West to form the basis of the North American Indian Brotherhood in the late 40s, the National Indian Brotherhood in 1968, and its successor from 1982, the Assembly of First Nations.
By an amendment to the Canadian Citizenship Act read into law on June 7th of 1956, First Nations were retroactively to 1947 enfranchised as citizens of Canada. Emerging from their political limbo, as part of the Indian Association of Alberta (AIA), the Piikani contested the agenda of the Trudeau Liberal governments 1969 White Paper on Indian Policy which proposed to integrate Canadian Natives into, quotes Thompson in Forging the Prairie West, full social, economic, and political participation in Canadian life. The Paper was a radical initiative that would have destroyed reserves, the special legal status of Natives, dismantled the Department of Indian Affairs and turned responsibility for First Nations over to the individual provinces with the aim of fully assimilating Indians into the Canadian mosaic. The response, the AIAs Red Paper, effectively countered Ottawas arguments with demands that the treaties be honoured and re-interpreted to meet the needs of the Natives in the modern era. One outcome was the creation of the National Indian Brotherhood in 1968.
In 1974 Ottawa established the Office of Natives Claims to hear the complaints of injustice and try and sort out land disputes, et cetera. The Office was supposed to be, the Natives understood, a partnership between Nations with the object of righting past wrongs. The power, of course, lay where it had for the previous hundred years, and the process quickly reduced the Indian partners to pupils in the familiar pattern of paternalism that had historically defined Indian/White relations.
The Great War sent not only politically-aware veterans home from the killing fields of Europe. In September of 1918 what is now called the Spanish Influenza disembarked along with returning Canadian troops. Like a wind-caught fire on dry prairie grass, the disease swept across the country. Most communities were touched, some decimated, some almost eradicated. Not spared were the Piikani and the churches in the little community of Brocket hosted funeral after funeral, oft-times the flu infecting mourners even as they wept at the service of a friend or relative. Though the Flu was racially indiscriminate in its ravages, it geminated the seeds of embarrassment in the DIA that had been sown before the War. Tuberculosis had long been (and, tragically, in the early 20-aughts, is reviving itself) a major killer on western reserves. How would it look to the Nation and the World if the Indians died out while under the stiflingly paternalistic care of the Department? In a belated attempt to ensure the survival of the Indian race, the DIA began building hospitals and clinics. In 1927 it established a Medical Branch under the guidance of Dr. E.L. Stove. Despite his efforts, an Indian on a reserve was still six times more likely to die for T.B. in 1931 than a White. Not until streptomycin was introduced in the 1950s, reports Titley in A Narrow Vision, was any significant improvement achieved.
A later check of the relevant Department of Energy, Mines and Resources Canada, Surveys and Mapping Branch sheet for this area reveals that it is less than 40 vertical metres from the depths of the Pincher Creeks valley at LaGrandeurs Crossing to the top of the eastern escarpment. To someone cranking a loaded bicycle up the grade under a mid-day Alberta summer sun, it might seem farther. Much farther. Topping the grade, however, the traveller finds the community of Brocket (1064m), sitting just inside the boundary of Indian Reserve No. 147A of the Peigan Nation. Travellers are expected not to stray from the Highway, and visitors are advised to register at the Bands office in the nearest big building south of the Highway on the eastern side of the settlement.
No matter how one looks at it, Brocket is, umm; unprepossessing. Not a tree above shrub-sized breaks the wind. Called pikúni-owi-otsit-onipi in the Niitsitapi languagewhere the Peigans have their fathermost of it lies south of the Highway and the paralleling CPRs Crows Nest Line. On the north side of the Highway, overlooking the valley of the Oldman, Crowsnest Service, formerly Napiis Place, pumps gas and will sell a cyclist a root beer and a bag of chips. Near it, finding scant shelter behind a few tufts of caragana, is St. Cyprians Church. In green-trimmed white, it is the communitys oldest structure, deconsecrated on June 19th, 1999, and standing unused and pretty much ignored since. Built by Anglicans down in the valley probably in the late 1880s123, it was sawn in half and moved to its present location on the lip of the Valley at a date unknown. Just inside the western boundary of the Reserve, gravelled 15th Avenue tees south from the Highway, bumps across the Railways tracks and hooks a hard, dusty left to crunch along due east. In its half mile run to Secondary 786 and the new centre of Brocket, 15th passes a scattering of older buildings mostly housing churchesSt. Pauls Roman Catholic, a Seventh Day Adventist, and the Church of the Latter Day Saintsan art school, an adult education centre, and a tiny, struggling strip-mall anchored by the Red Feathers convenience store and the Post Office. The road used to serve Brockets train station and elevator row, but the last of those structuresa full-sized, metal-clad grey United Grain Growers edificewas removed to Heritage Acres Museum some miles west on the north side of the Oldman River around the turn-of-the-millennium. Its long-time companion, an ancient Pacific Grain elevator, was simply demolished, as were so many on the Canadian prairies in the 1990s. CP salvaged the station in 1973. Nearing southbound Secondary 786, 15th humps over the tip of a wye which since 1957 has switched trains of tank cars and gondolas onto the CPRs Pecten branch that zig-zags 32 miles south-westward to the former British-American and Shell Petroleum gas plants at Drywood124 and Pecten respectively. Five metres beyond the Branch, 15th dead ends on Secondary 786 which itself tees off from the Highway opposite St. Cyprians to cut cardinally south across the Reserve. Sheltered in a series of buildings strung along the east side of 786 and surrounded by pick-up trucks are the Piikani Band Office and recreation centre, the Bands archives office, the Peigan Crafts moccasin factory, the new RCMP post, and south a few metres, the big Piikani Nation Secondary School. Farther east, a small, angular subdivision largely comprised of neglected bungalows mourns a failing attempt to bring decent housing to the Reserve.125 And thats Brocket. With no trees to speak of, the community looks desolate, a place of fierce west winds blowing and scrawny, spurned dogs hunting.
Like most prairie settlements, Brocket is a child of the Railway. There was nothing here but over-grazed grass when CPR surveyors aligned their stakes across the bald prairie in May of 1897: all the Piikani were living in the valley. Construction began on the bridge over Pincher Creek west of the community in November of 1897, a siding laid and a camp set up to accommodate the workers. The steel was pushed this far and ballasted by the end of January, 1898, and when the bridge was completed in February of 1898, the camp vanished, leaving the Piikani to ponder the great istsienakasfire waggonswhich regularly roared across their reserve, spewing sparks and smoke and occasionally leaving the grass aflame in their wakes.
When the first commercial train stopped at Brocket is not known. It was likely a rare occurrence that goods were dropped off or animals, lumber or grain picked up: the Department of Indian Affairs kept a tight lid on commerce. Whether for the Piikani or the use of local White settlers, in 1907 both the Alberta Pacific Grain Elevator Company and Pincher Creek merchant, Timothé Lebel, had grain warehouses and loading docks constructed at the Siding. Two years later surveyors laid out the townsite, and in 1910, according to C.W. Bohi and L.S. Kozma in their Canadian Pacifics Western Depots: The Country Stations of Western Canada (South Platte Press, David City, NE, 1993), the CPR erected a Type 13 station.126 In 1916 the local chapter of the United Farmers of Alberta built a grain mill and contracted merchant J.D. Megginson to operate it.
Over the years the Piikani had gradually abandoned their camps in the valley and gathered around the excitement of the station. This shift in population was officially recognized in 1926 when the Anglicans abandoned their Victoria Jubilee Home in the bottom of the Pincher Creeks valley and built St. Cyprians Residential School with an attached 3-storey brick dormitory a couple of miles south and east of the new settlement. The next year, believes Geoff Crow Eagle of the Old Man River Cultural Centre, the Catholics raised Sacred Heart Residential School nearly due east of Brocket some 7.5 km, near a lake and a hill in which the Church carved out Sacred Heart127 grotto. The present Brocket school was opened in 1964 for the elementary grades, and St. Cyprians and Sacred Heart were closed. The senior students were bussed to Pincher Creek or Fort Macleod until the reserve school was expanded into the all-grade Piikani Nation Secondary School in 1997. There was never a hotel in Brocket, nor a bank.
In 1890 there were 914 Piikani on Indian Reserve 147: there were only 532 Whites in the whole district. Within eight years, however, the situation was reversed, with thousands of New-comers running cattle and breaking the sod in fields along the newly-constructed Crows Nest rail line, and barely 500 souls surviving on the Reserve. Their tipis had long worn out and, with DIA supervision, the Band had replaced them with cabins. Living in the same place for years on end required disposal habits which were alien to the Piikani who, in times past, rarely stayed in any one place long enough for refuse to become a problem. Poorly ventilated, the cramped cabins were ideal tuberculosis incubators. Scores of Piikani died. In the autumn of 1918, the Spanish influenza epidemic which terrorized the western world nearly extinguished the Piikûni. Only about 250 survived to benefit from the improved health care which the federal government belatedly introduced onto the Reserve in the interwar years and, especially, after World War Two.
As of February of 2004 there were 3,342 registered Piikani, 2,279 of which were resident on I.R. 147. They are still the smallest and least wealthy of the Niitsitapi, and are struggling, conflicted by the need to integrate their economic efforts into the society in which the are immersed, and detestation of that very Society for the abuses it has visited upon First Nations. Early on they were the first People to demand the provincial vote and the control of affairs on their reserve. This they achieved despite ever-decreasing support from penny-pinching governments. Until recently the Band used to partake in an annual pow-wowBuffalo Dayson the southern slopes of the Porcupine Hills below the Head-Smashed-In archæological site, maybe twenty five kilometres across the Oldman River north and east of Brocket. A cultural celebration as well as a political convention, the site throbbed with dance chants and earnest discussion. For Whites whose only insight into the Native experience might have been glimpsed on seedy street corners and dingy ghettos in Canadas cold-shouldered cities, or parading in fancy regalia at an urban stampede somewhere, the Pow-wow was a real eye-opener. Here, amid motor-homes and painted and bannered tipis, a proud and ancient people conducted their affairs with confidence and wisdom and a sense of their history which three generations of indoctrination, isolation and abuse has failed to erase. In the opening years of the Third Millennium, however, the celebration is sporadic: some years it just isnt held.
The Piikani harbour grievances against Ottawa still for its conduct after the signing of Treaty 7 in 1877. The Band has no patience with the governments argument that Indians cannot expect the benefits granted by the Treaty to go on forever. They surrendered their hunting grounds forever; why should they not expect that the benefits will go on forever? The smoking of the pipe, declared Hugh Crow Eagle, made the treaty spiritually binding, nation to nation, despite the transitory nature of Canadian governments. The Law that the N-WMP brought to the West in 1873 and avowed was to be applied equally to all for the protection of all was turned against the Indians, confining them for years to their Reserve in violation of the written provisions in the Treaty. This prevented them from hunting on Crown lands, a right that they had been guaranteed forever.128 In contradiction of its promises made at Blackfoot Crossing, the government failed to protect the buffalo, going so far, believe the conspiracy theorists amongst the Piikani, as to collude with the government of the United States in destroying the herds to reduce the Plains Indians to beggary. The Piikani know that they were promised a medicine chest to be kept for their use at the Agency offices. This was written into Treaty 6, but somehow omitted from Treaty 7. Today, argue the Piikani, this provision translates into universal health care, a benefit they are denied by the perfidy of the writers of the Treaty. They resent that one of their most sacred sites, what they call the Crow Eagle reserve129 where for generations they went to mine ochre with which to make ceremonial paint, was excluded from their reserve. The alignment of the Crows Nest Line through the centre of the Reserve is a violation of Treaty 7 as the Piikani understood it for no lands were ever to be alienated from the Band without permission. The counter-argument runs that because the Band accepted $2100 for the sale of the right-of-way, the members must have given permission. Perhaps, but maybe the suggestion of a reduction in their already meagre rations encouraged them to agree. Certainly they derived no benefit from the Line for the first few years of service, as no facilities were built at Brocket. This issue was addressed by Ottawa in 1911 when parliament amended the Indian Act to enable the governor-in-council to expropriate Indian land for the public good. This provision was doubtless employed in the early 30s when the provincial Highways department wanted to build the Red Route, the fore-runner of todays Crowsnest Highway. Another incident of expropriation still rankles in the back of the Bands collective consciousness involves the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District. In the late teens the District was looking for the ideal location to tap the Oldman River for their source. Danged if that ideal location didnt turn out to be on Reserve 147. When approached for an easement the Piikani were unenthusiastic. However, the agent then in charge, Tom Graham, was quite amenable to the plan and quickly helped the Band decide in favour of a sale. Every time the Piikani see the greening fields or the headgates of the LNID system, they are reminded of the incident and the fact that the Band derived absolutely no benefit from the deal other than a few dollars at the time, dollars that would have been paid into the Nations general account to be spent at the discretion of the DIA and the agent.
William Morris Grahams behaviour, suggest the authors of The True Spirit and Original Intent of Treaty 7, is seen by the Piikani as pretty typical of DIA functionaries. Many members of the Band suspected that these men regularly worked counter to the best interests of the Natives. While stifling initiative and withholding monies from the sale of Band produce and requiring Indians to work excessively hard for scant rations, agents and instructors sometimes leased choice bits of Reserve land to local ranchers who fenced it off for their own use. The Band rarely gained from these transactions, though the DIA personnel might have, and the ranchers certainly did. The DIA men failed in other areas, as well. They played favourites among Band members, and didnt always ensure that local merchants dealt fairly with Indians in the old days. And most of them condescended to treat the Piikani as if they were slow-witted children, not as the mature issue of a fiercely self-reliant people who had survived very well in an exacting environment until an aggressive, numerous race possessing technology which simply staggered the Native imagination exploded into their territory and, in a scenario comparable to inter-galactic time-travellers landing on Planet Earth tomorrow and instantly sucking up every drop of hydrocarbon, utterly destroyed their livelihood. Since the demise of the bison the Piikani have watched in frustration and alarm as generations of Newccomers insulted Nature by clearing streams of fish not out of necessity, but for sport, and slaying animals for the same shallow reason.
Dark conspiracies some Piikani see in the efforts of the religious institutions on western reserves, suspecting the use of black arts to destroy the childrens attachment to their parents, permitting medical experiments to be practiced upon students in the schools. Almost all Piikani resent the seeds of denominational division that the religious sects sowed within the Band as they competed for souls, and resent the suspicion and intolerance they felt and feel off-reserve except when invited to lend the colour and dignity of their presence to some official function or stampede parade.
It is no wonder that some Piikani hesitate to extend the unreserved hand of welcome to travellers on the Crowsnest Highway.
For the first few kilometres away from Brocket eastbound, the Highway angles north-east through the Piikani reserve. The sky is immense, the terrain flat. Amid huge grain fields reminiscent of the Hutterites approach to agriculture are patches of, in the parlance of the agronomist, improved pasture. Observed G.M. Hutt, the Montrél-based Development Commissioner of the CPR, in his 1945 article for Agricultural and Industrial Progress in Canada, Medicine Hat to Vancouver, these patches evidence the gravel beds of lakes laid down in glacial times. Likely not. Likely these are glacial deposits. The soil clinging to the gravel dries out quickly and must often be cleared of herbivores so that the grasses can recover. Here exotic grasses have gone feral and mixed with indigenous species over the decades since the delicate virgin sod was broken in the 19-teens. Behind Highway-hemming barbed-wire fencing, frisking ponies, tails up like flags and necks arched high, sometimes sport with a cyclist, knickering excitedly to each other, convinced that they are seeing their first centaur. Treeless and flat, the landscape shows to bad effect the few remaining identically plain little Monopoly game houses which the government threw up maybe fifty years ago to shelter the Piikani farming families, cardinally regimented to the square, weathered grey by the Prairie winters and as likely as not to be surrounded by a few generations of discarded cars. More numerous are newer houses, split-levels and two-storey bungalows, fighting to retain their earth-coloured siding and shingles on their west-facing ends in the teeth of in the relentlessly ripping West Wind.
To the South, the Plains roll away like a sea of giant waves threatening the beacon of Chief Mountain on the horizon. West, the Rockies, slowly sinking from sight, distain the protection of foothills and leap up out of the rolling green to defend B.C. from inundation by the rest of Canada. Eastward the grassy sea begins to calm and flatten, while to the North, the rough horizon of the Porcupine Hills ends abruptly.
Where the Hills end, some 18 kilometres north of the Highway, is one of the pre-eminent archæological sites in the world; the Head-Smashed-In buffalo jump, where 300 generations of Aboriginal hunters stampeded herds of bison over the bluff and butchered the animals where they fell on the flats below. Scholarly excavation was begun here by the famous archæologist, Boyd N.D. Wettlaufer, et al in the 1940s. In 1968 the Canadian government finally recognized the importance of the site by declaring it a National Historical Site. In 1981 UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site. Just how essential the bison were to Amerindians is detailed at arresting, multi-tiered interpretive centre opened in the summer of 1987. At their present eleven metre height, the bluffs are impressive. But when one considers that 6,000 years of debris has raised the level of the Plain eleven metres, one can imagine how really effective this hunting technique must have been. At the Centre, one will find out that it was no simple matter to get a herd of bison running, and keep it running, in the right direction. A sophisticated complex of some 30 V shaped runways demarcated by over 12,000 cairns helped Indians direct animals to the Jump. Runners disguised in bison robes risked their lives in front of the rushing herd, guiding it along the proper path, while other Runners in wolf skins threatened the bisons flanks to keep the herd bunched. With hazers hiding behind strategic cairns and jumping up and waving flags at the appropriate moment, the herd, up to five hundred strong, was run to its doom. At the base of the bluffs waited the butchers to dispatch the injured and begin the process of stocking the Tribes larder. So efficient was this method of harvesting bison that it was used well into the Niitsitapis firearm era, the last jump being conducted around 1860.
Some 20 kilometres northeast of Brocket a pile of low hills is graced with slopes steep enough to force The Highway to twist and snake through picturesque vales and hollows. This is an end moraine, opines Chester B. Beaty in The Landscapes of Southern Alberta - A Regional Geomorphology (University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, 1975), but caused by which glaciation he is unsure. This was probably the farthest reach of tongues of alpine glaciers licking out from the combined Livingstone-Oldman-Crowsnest-Castle drainages perhaps 6500 BP. They doubtless would have pushed up a moraine, but the picture is complicated by the fact that the margins of last continental icesheet, the Laurentide, arrived in this area later, after the alpine glaciers had retreated, likely erasing evidence of earlier formations. Whatever the genesis of this surprising little ecosystem, its eastern edge roughly marks the boundary between the Piikani Reserve and Municipal District No. 26, Willow Creek.
Next: Fort Macleod
Associated article: The Kainai