A Native Tragedy
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A Native Tragedy
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A Native Tragedy
Weakened by drinking, disease and starvation, prairie natives enter a dark age.

In the late 1800s, natives on the Canadian prairies watched their way of life slip away as the white man moved onto the land. In a short time, the once mighty Plains Indians languished on reserves, battling starvation, alcoholism and disease.

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A Native Tragedy


The Whiskey Trade
Liquor comes to the native world and brings addiction and death.
Buffalo Slaughter
Greed kills the magnificent prairie beast and changes native life forever
Treaties Signal End
Natives sign over the land and watch a way of life slip away.
A Slow Death
Starvation seizes the once-might prairies tribes and forces them to turn to Ottawa for food.
Plains Indians had limited contact with the white man before the mid-1800s. The Canadian west had already been mapped but there were only a handful of explorers, missionaries and fur traders on the Prairies.

The Cree, the Ojibways, the Saulteus, the Assiniboines and the Blackfoot lived largely nomadic lives, hunting the vast buffalo herds across the land.

Disappearing buffalo
By the mid-1800s, times began to change. Buffalo furs became popular and fur traders flooded onto the Canadian prairies. In exchange for furs, traders introduced the Plains Indians to a potent, highly addictive form of whiskey. Soon, alcoholism became a major problem among the tribes.

But the most destructive blow was yet to come. In the 1870s, millions of plains buffalo in Canada and the United States were killed for sport, profit and American military strategy. The great beast, which had sustained prairie tribes for hundreds of years, was disappearing.

Now weakened by whiskey, disease, and the threat of starvation, natives faced a Canadian nation intent on settling its western frontier.

In 1873, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald formed the North West Mounted Police to bring Canadian law and order to the West. The Mounties earned the trust of the Plains tribes and urged them to sign treaties with the Canadian government.

Fear of starvation
The Indians feared starvation because of the decline of the buffalo and Indian nations agreed to sign a series of treaties during 1870s. A key part of Treaty No. 6, was the promise of food for natives in times of famine. Indians were told that they could continue to hunt and live throughout the region. Reserves were established for Indians who wanted to farm.

The natives believed they had signed the treaties as equal nations but would soon discover their true relationship with the white man. In 1876, the federal government passed the first Indian Act, declaring all natives to be wards of the state. In subsequent years, the Act was expanded to promote the policy of assimilation.


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Can Ottawa settle the frontier without bloodshed?
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The North West Rebellion
The uprising is short but its legacy continues today.
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First Nations of the Plains
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada

The Plains Indian Nations of Western Canada
Canada's Digital Collections, Government of Canada

Blackfoot History
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, UNESCO World Heritage Site

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