Cattle deal dealt with 140 years later

Cattle are herded on the Blood Reserve in November 1966.  |  Lethbridge Herald/Galt Museum Archives photo

The language within the 1877 Treaty 7 is plain with little room for ambiguity.

As part of the Blood Tribe’s participation in the treaty covering southern Alberta from the Rocky Mountains to the western edge of the Cypress Hills, cattle or farming implements would be provided at the expense of the Crown in exchange for allowing settlement of the same portion of land.

“In 1882, the tribe were ready to take over the cattle that was promised under treaty,” said Dorothy First Rider, Blood Tribe councillor in an address earlier this year. “But we never received it.”

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More than 140 years later, the Blood Tribe voted earlier this month to accept a $150 million settlement for compensation for the breach of what’s commonly referred to as the cows and plows provision found in most of the country’s numbered treaties.

The signature First Nations to Treaty 7 — Tsuut’ina as well as the three Blackfoot nations of Siksika, Piikani and Blood — had the option to either take cattle or farming equipment and seeds or a combination of both.

“But we went for 100 percent of the cattle,” said First Rider in her address.

According to the wording of Treaty 7, that meant; “for every family of five persons, and under, two cows; for every family of more than five persons, and less than ten persons, three cows, for every family of over ten persons, four cows; and every Head and Minor Chief, and every Stony Chief, for the use of their Bands, one bull.”

In her submissions to a national claims commission as part of a separate settlement, elder Rosie Day Rider gave government officials the Blood’s interpretation of Treaty 7.

“At the time, they promised us that they would educate us, that they would take care of our health, and that they would train us and provide the funds to farm, and that they would do this as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow, and as long as the grass grows. And as long as the mountains are there,” she said in 2004.

Senator James Gladstone at his home on the Blood Reserve in February 1956. | Lethbridge Herald/Galt Museum Archives photo

But Keith Regular, author of, “Neighbours and Networks: The Blood Tribe in the Southern Alberta Economy, 1884-1939”, said those commitments didn’t materialize.

“Because the Department of Indian Affairs stood in the way, being extremely paternalistic,” said Regular. “Not recognizing the rights and abilities for the Blood to decide for themselves.”

Leaders during the years following Treaty 7, such as Red Crow and Shot Both Sides, were not just leading the largest Indigenous band in Alberta but the Bloods made up the one of the biggest communities in the province, said Regular, while at the same time, non-native ranchers and settlers often received preferential treatment by government officials, even at the expense of the Crown’s treaty obligations.

“All of that handicapped the ability of the reserve to achieve its full potential,” said Regular.

With the Blood lacking the cattle promised, the rich grazing opportunities on the reserve, attracted non-native ranchers to the area.

But that too led to a separate 2019 settlement between the government and Blood Tribe as the funds generated from grazing and hay farm leases and to be held in trust were mismanaged along with officials allowing overgrazing.

Tom Threepersons was winner of the Calgary Stampede’s 1912 saddle bronc competition. | Library Archives Canada photo

“Often, the ranchers and farmers didn’t honour the contracts,” said Regular. “They expected not to pay if there was a drought.”

The Blood would be at the mercy of the Indian agent to collect such debts, said Regular, which wasn’t always successful.

The idea such settlements like the most recent one for the Bloods aren’t earned is “simplistic” added Regular, “if you consider that the government for decades failed in its fiduciary responsibility to the Bloods to vigorously defend their interests and also stood in the way of the Bloods handling their own affairs.

“Given the passage of time and all the neglect, surely it’s not free money. It’s money they are entitled to and should receive.”

While Regular and other historians point to Parliament’s inaction in meeting its obligations under treaty for decades, Ottawa did eventually hear directly from the Blood.

Speaking to the Upper Chamber in 1958 on the bill that would give First Nations the right to vote, newly appointed senator and Blood tribe member James Gladstone told Parliament how the permit system in place stymied attempts to sell their agricultural products. And it ruined the chances of developing the sector.

Gladstone told how having to get written permission from officials to manage the cattle and crops they did have, and at what price, killed the ability to develop the agricultural sector on the reserve.

In 1884, Gladstone said the Blood were able to harvest several thousand bushels of potatoes.

“In that year, a minimum price of 25 cents a bushel was set for potatoes. And any Indians who tried to barter their produce for less were punished,” said Gladstone, according to the senate Hansard.

As a result, the Blood had their storage capacity full by the next spring.

“Wouldn’t it have been better to let the Indians dispose of their potatoes, even for five cents, instead of discouraging them and causing them to quit farming,” Gladstone asked.

The Blood tribe has earmarked the funds from the latest settlement for community needs, such as snowplows, a funeral home and community housing.

Individual community members will also receive part of funds.

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