Tsuut'ina Nation Series - Part 2

This is the second in a two-part series written for Lakeview residents by Hal Eagletail of the Tsuut’ina First Nation. Part one in the series is posted here.

By Hal Eagletail

Tsuu T’ina Nation was established as Reservation #145 in 1885.

With a land mass of six miles by 18 miles, the reservation was located between the Elbow River and Fish Creek (Wolf Creek) southwest of Fort Calgary, which in 1894 was re-established as the City of Calgary.

For the next forty years, the Old Agency was the buzz centre of the Nation. The residential school, hospital, Indian agent’s house, farm instructor’s house and Protestant Church were located along the Fish Creek (Wolf Creek) near the first log cabins built on the Nation in 1883. In 1886, the first entrepreneur on the Nation was “ Foxtail, ” who sold firewood and Christmas trees.

In 1908, the Nation leased its first land with the federal government’s Department of National Defence with the establishment of Harvey Barracks along the northeastern side of the Reservation boundary (today located at the corner of 37th Street and Glenmore Trail S.W.)

We would not see this land returned to the Nation until former Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chretien moved Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Calgary to CFB Edmonton in 1997.

(This land had become contaminated with unexploded ordinance from the military lease. A Nation company, Wolf Flats Ordinance Disposal, properly cleaned up the land to make it safe for vehicle travel in 2000, prior to negotiations taking place with the provincial government in 2003 for the southwest leg of the ring road.)

In 1909, the first wooden framed house was built for Chief Bullhead (Chiila) in which he lived until his death in 1911. It remained the official residence of the Chiefs, including Chief Bigbelly and Chief Big Plume.

This house is still standing today and is the only official Chief house in existence in Alberta. It is deteriorating and without restoration, it will be lost. Efforts have been made to acquire federal grant monies to fund the restoration, but we were told to ask the provincial government as it falls under their responsibility.

However, when we asked the Province to help, they said because it was on First Nation Land, it is the responsibility of the federal government. So nothing has been done to repair this very important historical site.

In 1910, the death rate of small children was so high at the residential school the undertaker would dig one grave and put numerous bodies into one just to keep up with the death toll.

This caught the attention of Dr. Thomas Murray, who was assigned as the new Indian Agent to the Nation.

He did not want his arrival announced so that he could inspect the situation at the Residential school for himself.

This story comes from my late grandfather Frank Onespot, who was 10 years old and a witness to actual events upon the arrival of Dr. Murray at the residential school.

"We were about to eat porridge, we ate that three times a day, ” he told me. “ The good vegetables we picked from our gardens was in the soup of the teachers and instructors. The children with sickness and disease were in the same classrooms with the healthy ones and they couldn’t figure out why we kept getting sick.”

“That is when a kind-hearted white man came into our lives and saved us. When I first saw Dr. Murray, he was looking at what we were eating and then he turned to see what the teachers and instructor were eating. He started yelling at them and immediately made them switch food with us. After that, he separated the sick and healthy kids. He even gave us all needles this seemed to help because after that we all started to get better. From there our population started to grow.”

Frank Onespot lived from 1900 to 1993.

Dr. Thomas Murray really did save the People of Tsuu T’ina Nation and the population was on a rise. We numbered 150 in 1877 when we signed the Peace Treaty No. 7 and we reached a thousand people in December 1995.

This was an accomplishment of great magnitude.

The last time our numbers were at one thousand was in the late 1700’s, when we had first contact with the white man and our first smallpox epidemic hit our People. The second epidemic hit us in the 1830’s.

Today, our population is closing in on 1,600. Dr. Thomas Murray’s memory and kindness has never been forgotten. In 2002, we named our new Health Centre the “ Dr. Thomas Murray Health Centre ” to honour a great man.

In 1911, we lost a great chief, Chief Bullhead (Chiila). His successor, Big Plume, was only a young boy, so his uncle Big Belly (the name given to him by the missionaries) was chosen as Chief.

His real name was "KOTA DISH KLASH E" (Running down a slope). That name has been shortened to “ Runner ” and is still used today.

During the First World War, when the military was trying to draft our warriors, Big Belly told them: “ Why are you trying to make us break our promise? When Chief Bullhead (Chiila) signed the Peace Treaty, we said we would never raise our arms in anger and he broke that arrow for Peace with all People, so there would be no more wars. Now you are telling my warriors they have to fight! I have warriors that will volunteer and fight with you but you can’t draft my People.”

Many of our warriors have fought and died in all of the Canadian conflicts and they have all volunteered to do so.

This includes Teddy Manywounds, who died during the Second World War in Italy.

During Chief David Crowchild’s term as Chief, the Military sold a portion of Tsuut’ina Land to the City of Calgary for the building of the Glenmore dam reservoir flood-way.

This ignited a legal land claim battle that still exists today, one that I will cover in Part Three of the Tsuut’ina history, called “ together into the future.”

This floodway was the home of Sam Livingston, one of Calgary’s first ranchers. It was also home to Weaselhead, a Cree con artist.

It was a custom to name an area after something bad had happened and something bad did happen. Weaselhead was murdered near his shack for his conning ways, so we named the area Weaselhead, which it is still called to this day.