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Contact With The Europeans


The Blackfoot have made several treaties with the Canadian and United States governments. When Americans began building railways across the continent in the 1850s, the conflict among First Nations and between First Nations and non-Natives became a roadblock to rail construction and an impediment to settlement. In the fall of 1855 various nations met at on the Judith River and made a treaty (called the Judith Treaty or the Lame Bull Treaty after one of the Piikani leaders) that acknowledged the vast extent of Niitsitapi territory and promised to protect their rights. As well, funds and education were offered that would help Niitsitapi adapt to a new way of life. A common hunting ground was also established for Niitsitapi and their Nez Perce neighbours. In return, permission was given to construct roads, railways, telegraph lines, military posts and settlements.

In 1871 the United States Congress determined that First Nations were not separate nations and that no further treaties would be negotiated. Instead, Presidential Orders and Congressional Acts were used to appropriate land. The last of these, in 1896, created Glacier National Park in Montana.

In Canada, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald’s national policy was predicated on the building of a transcontinental railway and the populating of the prairies with settlers. Before either could be accomplished, legal title to the land had to be secured. In 1870, the government purchased much of the Hudson’s Bay Company’ territory. Treaties were negotiated with First Nations to extinguish all claims to the land and resources. These treaties were given numbers, reflecting the order in which they were made.

On September 22, 1877, Canada made Treaty 7 with the Niitsitapi (Kainai, Siksika and Apatohsipiiikani), Tsuu T’ina, and Nakoda. The North-West Mounted Police were present to keep the peace and to reinforce the authority of the Crown.

This meeting reflects the great differences between the cultures. The government wanted the First Nations to cede their claims to the land. Ownership of the land was incomprehensible to people who believed that they were a part of the world and not the owners of it. The First Nations believe they had agreed to help the newcomers in return for help from the government in adjusting to a new way of life. After nearly two centuries of epidemics, the First Nations also wanted assurance that their health care would be looked after. The First Nations believed that they were making a treaty according to their traditions. The government looked only at what was written down, ignoring much of the First Nations wishes, but assuming that they now had full title to the land and all of its resources.

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