'We never really did give up the land': Tsuut'ina chief urges public to see Treaty 7 document

The historic but controversial Treaty 7 should be seen by anyone who wants to understand how Alberta needs to move forward, says the chief of the Tsuut'ina First Nation as he urges people to check out the document temporarily on display in Calgary.

Chief Lee Crowchild says education is key to understanding the treaty obligations

Chief Lee Crowchild of the Tsuut'ina First Nation says he hopes residents in Calgary and surrounding areas come to Fort Calgary to see the Treaty 7 document. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

The historic but controversial Treaty 7 should be seen by anyone who wants to understand how Alberta needs to move forward, says the chief of the Tsuut'ina First Nation as he urges people to check out the document temporarily on display in Calgary.

It's believed to be the first time the document has returned to the area since the treaty was signed at Blackfoot Crossing, about 100 kilometres east of Calgary, in 1877. The National Archives in Ottawa has loaned it to Fort Calgary until mid-October.

The treaty between the federal government and the First Nations of the region — which the federal government considered to be part of the Northwest Territories at the time — resulted in a number of changes.

​It 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.

The federal government committed in the treaty to assisting Indigenous people by providing education and agricultural assistance as well as annual treaty payments in exchange for the First Nations ceding the land to the Crown.

Tsuut'ina Chief Lee Crowchild recently met with CBC reporter Scott Dippel to view the treaty that was signed by Chief Bull Head for the Tsuut'ina people nearly a century and a half ago — and to weigh in on the significance of the treaty and its enduring legacy.

Q: I've heard various interpretations but boiled right down, from the Indigenous perspective, Treaty 7 is a peace treaty, right?

A: Yes, it's a peace treaty. Nothing more. That's my understanding. That's how I interpret it.

Q: But the federal government also made a number of commitments?

A: When you go over the document, you see all the commitments that were made in there. You can right away say: hmm, they haven't lived up to this part of the treaty yet or that part of the treaty. What do we need to do?

Q: But from your perspective, this document is still binding?

A: Oh, it's still a living document. That living document is between the ancestors and the settlers. So how do we re-affirm the words that are spoken there? Because there needs to be something to move it forward and it has to come through education. 

Treaty 7 is on display at Fort Calgary. It's believed to be the first time the document has been in the area since it was first signed in 1877. (Library and Archives Canada)

Q:  Now the fact that the document is here, I would think that's a tremendous opportunity for education about Treaty 7?

A: Oh tremendous. You know, I really wish that the residents of Calgary and surrounding areas actually come and read what the document is and start to get another perspective of why we hold treaties so dear to our hearts, because we wanted the treaty all along. 

But with the general public, there's no understanding of that. It's a living document to this day. We've honoured our side and we hold out our hand to the other side and say, "We have information. We can help you guys understand that."

Q: What would some of those things be?

A: We never really did give up the land. We never gave up resources. We just agreed that we're going to share this, what we have here. We're going to share this with you because it speaks to the core of who we are, how we look after people. And I think that probably the things that came out of the treaty about the plows and the cattle and the land and everything, maybe the definition wasn't as clear to the nation, to the Tsuut'ina, because none of the interpreters ever spoke Tsuut'ina and I think that's kind of where things kind of fell short.

Q: From your people's perspective, how important is it to come and see the document for themselves?

A:  I think it's good information for my community, to come out and see what was really written back in 1877. 

Q: Chief Bull Head signed for the Tsuut'ina people. For people who don't know much about him, what esteem is he still held in by your people?

A: He was very bold. He was a warrior chief and at that time, he thought the best thing for us was to make our stand and say, no we're very unique. We're distinct as Tsuut'ina. We're allies with the Blackfoot. We're allies with a lot of people and we're very distinct. That boldness carries through the generations and all the ensuing chiefs have always been bold in their statements and that.

For us to progress into this time, we have to make bold statements. You look at our economic development we have on Tsuut'ina, that was a bold move that we took and the chiefs at that time, they were a bit fearless about that. They said this is the direction we have to go.

Treaty 7 is on display at Fort Calgary until October. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

Q: What are your thoughts about the interpretation that you see with the display of Treaty 7, in terms of the story that's told. Is it a full or fair representation of both sides of the treaty process?

A: It's probably an interpretation that was given by historians, by those that are ethnographers and they're writing an interpretation from a Western perspective and that's what we all base our beliefs on. If you were to go back and ask all the different tribes, "What is your understanding of this treaty?", it would certainly be different. But what's displayed here on this, it's the perspective of historians, ethnographers, and those who do this kind of work for a living.

Q: It does mention the problems of translation during the negotiations, references to broken promises. Why is it important to have that information there for everyone to see?

A: I think it is important for anyone who's trying to understand how Alberta, how Calgary, how the communities need to move forward, or else there will always be an imbalance. We say we fight for the treaty and we'll never stop saying that because that's the living document that we agreed to and it was done with the highest level of respect going forward.

We knew the realities of what the future might look like, so we have to have a way of signing so there would be no more war between both sides. 

Q: Are you glad you had actually chance to see Treaty 7?

A:  Yeah, I was actually kind of wondering what I was going to think about it, because I look at the document, what comes over me? Well certainly, anger.  Probably frustration over what was the original intent to where it is now. When I see my community members struggling.

I think this treaty hasn't been honoured well by government, by people outside of Treaty 7.  A lot of the promises that were made, they're not being kept here. Instead they introduced the Indian Act that was supposed to govern us all. That's not a treaty. It's an act. It's a policy.