Casey Eaglespeaker is a Blackfoot Elder from Kainai Nation. Today he is the Aboriginal Resource Coordinator and Traditional Counsellor at Hull Services and a member of the Centre for Newcomers Indigenous Education Elder's Council. In part 2 of a 3-part series from CFN's Indigenous Education Program listen to Elder Eaglespeaker talk about the intentions of Treaty 7 versus the destructive realities that resulted and the work that must be done moving forward to reconnect and understand our collective past in order to build a better future for all Canadians.
Treaty 7 is the last of the Numbered Treaties made between the Government of Canada and the Plains First Nations (see Indigenous Peoples: Plains). It was signed on 22 September 1877 by five First Nations: the Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood), Piikani (Peigan), Stoney-Nakoda, and Tsuut’ina (Sarcee). Different understandings of the treaty’s purpose, combined with significant culture and language barriers and what some have argued were deliberate attempts to mislead the First Nations on the part of the government negotiators, have led to ongoing conflicts and claims.
It is generally agreed that none of Indigenous nations involved in the treaty realized they were surrendering their land, and that none would have agreed to it had they understood the consequences. For the most part, the treaty did not have the effect the First Nations desired: Cree and Métis hunters continued to trespass, the buffalo disappeared, and settlers continued to arrive. The promised support for the transition to an agricultural lifestyle did not take place, and in most cases the land was unsuitable. Only two years after signing the treaty, a local Catholic priest who had encouraged the nations to sign a treaty described in a letter to David Laird their extreme poverty: “I have never seen them so depressed as they are now; I have never seen them before in want of food… They have suffered fearfully from hunger.” He went on to argue that, as to the question of whether the Treaty 7 nations understood “the real nature of the treaty” — land surrender — “my answer to this question is unhesitatingly negative.” There was, and remains, widespread feeling that the government has not lived up to its promises or dealt fairly with them.