Since the founding of Canada, the common practice is for treaties to be signed between First Nations and the federal government, but that wasn't always the case.

On Thursday, First Nations from both sides of the Canada-U.S. border gathered in Banff to welcome the Stoney Nakoda and the Samson Cree as signatories to a treaty that harkens back to a time when these kinds of agreements were more common. 

The Buffalo Treaty, as it's called, creates an alliance among the 10 groups, aimed at: 

  • Engaging tribes and First Nations in continuing dialogue on bison conservation
  • Uniting the political power of the tribes and First Nations of the Northern Great Plains
  • Advancing an international call for the restoration of the bison
  • Engaging youth in the treaty process
  • Strengthening and renewing ancient cultural and spiritual relationships with bison and grasslands in the Northern Great Plains

The agreement stemmed from proposals to bring free-ranging bison back to the areas like Banff National Park and aims to restore links that existed when bison roamed free throughout the territories of the signatories.

"For me, it's historic," says Chief Ernest Wesley of the Wesley First Nation (Stoney Nakoda).

"We've become brothers again with the buffalo."

si-bison-banff-300

Bison in Canada's Elk Island National Park. (Courtesy of American Prairie Foundation, Dennis J. Lingohr/AP)

An open treaty

The Buffalo Treaty was first signed in September 2014 in Montana by eight nations:

  • The Blackfeet Nation
  • Blood Tribe
  • Siksika Nation
  • Piikani Nation
  • The Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes of Fort Belknap Indian Reservation
  • The Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of Fort Peck Indian Reservation
  • The Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Indian Reservation
  • Tsuu T'ina Nation  

More signatories are welcome to join. 

"The treaty is open," said Leroy Little Bear, who organized the Banff ceremony. "Other nations can sign on."

tipi

Six First Nations from Canada and four tribes from the U.S. gathered Thursday in Banff to sign a treaty called The Buffalo Treaty, an agreement aimed at furthering bison conservation efforts. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Samson Cree Nation's tipi stolen

One visiting First Nation had a bad surprise on the morning of the signing — the canvas surrounding the poles of the Samson Cree Nation's tipi was stolen. 

Most nations set up camps the day before on the Indian Grounds to combine the signature ceremony with the Stoney Nakoda Family Camp event.

The First Nation from Maskwacis, Alta., had brought a brand new white canvas to mark the signing of the treaty, but it disappeared overnight.

"To turn a negative into a positive, our chief said that we are in Treaty 7 territory, and our traditional practice is to gift. So we have gifted our tipi to somebody who really wanted it," said Beverly Crier.