'We've kept our treaty promises': First Nations' leaders say time for action, not words

Members of Alberta's Indigenous community react to Justin Trudeau's speech to the United Nations highlighting Indigenous issues in Canada, a move some see as a positive step while others just heard empty words.

Treaty 7 commemoration falls days after prime minister tells the world about Canada’s 'terrible mistakes’

The original document of Treaty 7 was on display in Calgary in 2017. The treaty cleared the way for greater settlement of the area but the agreement also created the reserves that are still home to the Blackfoot, Stoney and Tsuut'ina peoples. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Actions speak louder than words — that's the message some Albertan Indigenous peoples are conveying to the prime minister on the anniversary of the signing of Treaty 7.

The original treaty document has been on display at Fort Calgary for months, but members from Alberta First Nations gathered at Fort Calgary on Friday — where the Elbow and Bow rivers meet — to commemorate the signing back in 1877.

The original Treaty 7 document is on display at Fort Calgary until Oct. 9. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

The 140th anniversary of the signing falls just days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, addressing Canada's failure in its relationships with Indigenous people.

"I think its actually time we stood up and took responsibility for the terrible mistakes of the past," Trudeau told the General Assembly on Thursday.

Instead of addressing a global crisis, Trudeau used the opportunity to focus on domestic issues facing Indigenous peoples — a move some in southern Alberta's Indigenous community see as a positive step towards reconciliation, while others just heard more empty words.

"For me, personally, it's been said before over and over and actions speak louder than words," said Brandon Holloway from Chiniki First Nation, part of the Stoney Nation.

To commemorate the signing on the treaty, First Nations leaders held a pipe ceremony. A similar ceremony was held in 1977 for the 100 year anniversary. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

In the speech, Trudeau described Canada as a "work in progress" while highlighting the struggles with gender-based violence in the Indigenous community, a lack of safe drinking water and affordable housing on reserves.

"We've heard a lot of rhetoric about a lot of different issues from the government, but we still haven't seen the action to follow those words," said Bill Snow, consultation manager with Stoney Tribal Administration.

"And we've heard a lot of that over the years, not just from this Prime Minister."

Bill Snow, consultation manager with Stoney Tribal Administration, says Indigenous people have heard 'a lot of rhetoric' from different governments but 'haven't seen the action to follow those words.' (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Linda McLean, president and CEO of Fort Calgary, said Trudeau's "self-criticism" of the "basic needs issues" facing the Canada's Indigenous community was a welcomed change from world leaders pointing fingers at developing countries for human rights issues.

Linda McLean, president and CEO of Fort Calgary, says Trudeau's comments deserve both 'applause and some questions about when will we start to see some meaningful, tangible action on the ground.'

"I think it's definitely both applause and some questions about when will we start to see some meaningful, tangible action on the ground," McLean said.

A living document

The original Treaty 7 document is on loan from the National Archives and has been on display at Fort Calgary since June 19. The treaty will be open to public viewing until Oct. 9.

McLean said the site of Fort Calgary was used by Indigenous peoples for ceremonies long before the RCMP built the fort.

Signed at Blackfoot Crossing on the Siksika reserve by the Tsuut'ina, Blackfoot and Stoney Nations, Snow said the display of the document offers an opportunity to share knowledge of the past with the next generation of Indigenous people.

It's also a chance to commemorate — not celebrate — the significance of the peace treaty between the government and the Indigenous community, Snow said.

"We've kept our treaty promises and we live by them, and it's important that we continue to do that and to remember all those who came before us."

Troy Patenaude, manager of special events and vistor experiences at Fort Calgary, said he was inspired to bring the Treaty 7 document to Alberta to tell a side of Canada's story that 'wasn't being recognized.' (Terri Trembath/CBC)

McLean said the treaty is "the founding document of southern Alberta" and "every Canadian should be frustrated" with human rights issues on reserves.

​"So I think it does call upon all of us to understand what this document represents – that it's in fact a living document," McLean said.

"It still applies today and the promises that were made ought to be honoured."

'We can make a difference … together'

A pipe ceremony was held to commemorate the signing, just like one in 1977 to commemorate the 100th anniversary.

Troy Patenaude, manager of special events and visitor experiences at Fort Calgary, brokered the deal to bring Treaty 7 back to Alberta, and said he was inspired by Canada 150 celebrations to tell a side of Canada's story that "wasn't being recognized."

Hank Snow, council member for Wesley First Nation, said more cooperation is needed between the government and Indigenous peoples. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

"150 years of confederation also means 150 years of cultural genocide and oppression," Patenaude said.

"We can make a difference and come together, start talking about these really hard things … in a way where we can start changing the story for our future generations."

Hank Snow, council member for Wesley First Nation uncle to Bill Snow, echoed Patenaude's comments, saying it's time for both sides to work together and take action.

"This was our country. Now our resources are extracted, now we live in a third world country right inside Canada and we have been for a long time," Hank said.

"We have to make an effort to make sure that there's a good understanding between the two of us [on] how we can move ahead."

With files from Terri Trembath