First Nations chiefs and government officials gathered east of Calgary Sunday to commemorate the 125th anniversary of a treaty that allowed for the peaceful settlement of a huge tract of land in Western Canada.
For the past seven days, to mark the anniversary, schoolchildren have been visiting Blackfoot Crossing on the Siksika reserve to learn more about the final treaty signing of the 1870s.
At the time, the Canadian government was committed to building a transcontinental railway, and Treaty 7 permitted tracks to run across Indian land in what's now southern Alberta.
The tribal chiefs of the Blackfoot Confederacy, led by Chief Crowfoot, signed the treaty on Sept. 22, 1877, as did commissioners representing the British Crown and Canada.
The treaty guaranteed certain hunting rights, supplies and teachers in return for land.
But many First Nations people say it marked the end of their traditional way of life and the beginning of life under the Indian Act because of its provisions for setting up reserves.
"We were prevented from leaving the reserve unless a person got permission from an Indian agent," said Chief Darcy Dixon of the Bearspaw band. "Education was repressive and used as a tool for assimilation."
Due to cultural and language differences at the time, interpretations of the treaty have differed since it was signed.
According to some tribal leaders, what the Blackfoot agreed to was strictly a peace treaty and they never ceded the land. They say in their language, there were no words for selling, money or land ownership.
The prime minister has "made it very clear" in recent days that the needs of aboriginal people is a priority of his government, Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault told reporters at Sunday's gathering.
Last week in Calgary, Jean Chrtien promised that the throne speech on Sept. 30 would address issues facing First Nations people.