Tsuut'ina Nation Series - Part 1

This is the first in a two-part series written for Lakeview residents by Hal Eagletail of the Tsuut’ina First Nation. Click here for part 2.

By Hal Eagletail

There are more than 600 Native Bands in Canada that all belong to one of eleven language groups.

TsuuT`ina belong to the Athabascan-speaking language group. This group has the greatest combined population in North America today, living from Alaska to Mexico. To the north, we are known as Dogrib, Beaver, Dene, Chipewyan, Slavey and Carrier (to name a few) and to the south, the Apache, Hupa and Navajo.

Here is our story:

About 3,000 years ago when the Athabascan were one Nation (Tsuut'ina means ‘a great number of people’), a great separation occurred in the north.

As the People were crossing a frozen lake in the deep cold winter, a small child noticed a horn sticking up from under the ice. He cried for the horn to play with, and to stop the child from crying, his grandmother took out her stone axe to try pry the horn free, thinking that someone ahead of them had dropped the horn.

What she did not realize was the horn was attached to the head of a monster sleeping under the ice. The grandmother unknowingly woke up the monster and it stood up, busting through the ice and separating the People.

Instead of re-grouping, the Athabascan branched out and settled to our present day locations.

This story of separation is similar in all Athabascan history. For example, The Dene say the horn was an Elk horn attached to a frozen carcass. Their story says that the weight of the carcass, combined with the grandmother chipping the ice and the weight of the People crossing, was the reason the ice broke through. The Navajo have the same story, except the horn was on a Buffalo carcass. The moral of the story is ‘ never spoil the children. ’

• • •

After the great separation, the Tsuut'ina traveled south with a smaller population and came into Blackfoot territory. This area covered the North Saskatchewan river south to the Yellowstone river in Montana, and from the Rocky mountains east to the Cypress Hills and on into Manitoba.

When the Blackfoot found our Tsuut'ina camp on their Lands, they immediately tried to drive us out. However, the Tsuut'ina were known for their fierce ability in battle and guerrilla warfare tactics, and the Blackfoot could not remove the Tsuut'ina from their lands.

After many failed attempts, the Blackfoot decided it was better to make peace with the Tsuut’ina and we became allies. They also gave us the name “ Sucseqwan ” (Bold People), taught us how to live on the Great Plains and shared their knowledge of the medicines. This began many generations of peace – until the coming of the White man.

• • •

It has only been 300 years since first contact was made between the Tsuut’ina and first Europeans.

With first contact came our first true fight of survival – one we could not win. The first epidemic of smallpox hit us in the late 1700s, followed by a second wave in the 1830s. By 1877, our population was approximately 150 people.

It was at this time a peace was formed in Canada to share the land with the First Nations.

Tsuut’ina Head Chief “ Chula ” (Bull Head) signed Peace Treaty No. 7 on Sept. 21 1877 at Blackfoot Crossing, about 75 kilometers east of present-day Calgary.

Although the Peace Treaty signed in 1877 by Chief Chula “ Bull Head ” allowed for the construction of a railroad across Canada, the federal government only negotiated land for themselves the depth of a plow to allow for settlers to harvest their crops. That is, until the mineral rights were stolen from us in the 1930 Natural Resources Transfer Act, which was not negotiated with us.

In exchange, the Tsuut'ina were to settle on a small tract of land. We were to be given $5 per person each year, free education, housing and health care. We would not have to pay any taxes on our Reservation Land, over which we were given complete autonomy.

This Treaty was to be in effect for “ As long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow. ”

• • •

After we agreed to this Peace, our Reservation Lands were chosen by the federal government to be located beside the Blackfoot (Siksika). Our Chief Chula (Bull Head) did not like the Land, and sent two scouts to look for new Land southwest of Fort Calgary, with instructions it must have an abundance of spruce and pine trees so we could make log home settlements for the People.

The first chosen site was along the Sheep River. However, the land had a very bad smell – especially in the spring after the winter thaw – so because of this reason it was rejected. Later in 1914, this area became the biggest natural gas find in North America and today is known as Black Diamond and Turner Valley.

The second chosen Land overlooked Wolf Creek (later known as Fish Creek) and the scouts left a small rock pile as a marker. In the spring of 1883, all the Tsuut'ina People gathered at this marker and Chief Chula asked them if they approved of this Land.

The Land was approved for two reasons: one, all the Medicines we needed were available and two, our sacred Moose Mountain was very close by, so our Warriors did not have to go far for their vision rights of passage.

Once the People agreed this was our new home, Chief Chula asked every man, woman and child to gather a stone and add it to the rock pile so it would be a marker for all our People.

He then made a proclamation and said, “ As our population grows, continue to add stones to the rock pile so that it will be a marker for our People forever. ” That is why to this day, we have a rock-placing ceremony for our young children every year in May.

• • •

When the People were gathering their stones, a Medicine Warrior (Eagleribs) had a vision on the new Land we had chosen. He said: “ In my vision, I seen boxes surround this Land in the future. When the boxes arrive, our People will live and learn off one another and our People will prosper. ”

Back then, we had no word for “ houses, ” what Eagleribs had seen in his vision: When the boxes (houses) surround this Land, our People will prosper.

We are now intertwined in prophecy and history, you and me, and I look forward to living and learning off one another.

(This is the first in a two-part series written for Lakeview residents by Hal Eagletail of the Tsuut'ina First Nation. Click here for part 2.)