First Nations in Alberta
First Nations in Alberta are indigenous peoples who live in the Canadian province of Alberta. The First Nations are those peoples (or "nations") recognized as Aboriginal peoples in Canada excluding the Inuit and the Métis. In 2001, a population of 84,990 Albertans reported a First Nations identity, rising to 116,670 in 2011 or 13.7% of all First Nations people in Canada, giving Alberta the third largest First Nations population among the provinces and territories (after Ontario and BC). From this total around half of the population lives on an Indian reserve (58,782 Registered Indians lived on-reserve in Alberta in 2005). The rest of the population lives off-reserve, amongst the rest of the Canadian population. Many of these are urban Aboriginals living in cities, especially Edmonton (the provincial capital) which had an off-reserve status population of 18,210 people in 2011, the second highest for any city in Canada (after Winnipeg). Besides this there were 19,945 people in Alberta in 2011 who claimed a First Nations identity on the census but are not part of the official Indian Register, commonly called "non-status Indians". There are 48 First Nations in Alberta (in the sense of governments made up of a council and a chief), belonging to nine different ethnic groups based on their ancestral languages.
There are a variety of ways of classifying the various First Nations groups in Alberta. In anthropological terms there are two broad cultural groupings in Alberta based on different climactic/ecological regions. In the Northern part of the province the Subarctic peoples relied on the moose, woodland caribou, etc. as their main prey, also relied on ice fishing, and utilized canoes, snowshoes, and toboggans for transportation. The Plains Indians of the south relied on the plains bison (or "buffalo") as their major food source and used the travois for transportation. Peoples in the central, aspen parkland belt of Alberta practised hybrid cultures with features of both.
In their traditional modes of existence, all the peoples in Alberta lived in two types of traditional groups, bands and tribes. Bands are highly mobile small groups consisting of a few extended families living in the same tepee or wigwam (called a "lodge" in the histories) who hunted together. The band was also a fundamental unit of government for most peoples in Alberta. For example, the three Blackfoot tribes in southern Alberta comprised a number of bands which ranged in size from 10 to 30 lodges, or about 80 to 240 persons, and it was the band, rather than the tribe, that was the basic unit of organization for hunting and defence. By contrast a "tribe" is an ethnic affiliation. A tribe is group of people who recognize each other as compatriots due to shared language and culture. There are approximately nine ethnic or tribal groups in Alberta in the twenty-first century, depending on how they are counted. They are the Beaver / Daneẕaa, Blackfoot / Niitsítapi (comprises three dialect groups), Chipewyan / Denésoliné, Plains Cree / Paskwāwiyiniwak, Sarcee / Tsuu T'ina, Saulteaux (Plains Ojibwa) / Nakawē, Slavey / Dene Tha', Stoney / Nakoda, and the Woodland Cree / Sakāwithiniwak. Within these boundaries there is much fluidity, however, as intermarriages and bilingual bands are once very common. Scholar Neal McLeod points out that bands were lose, temporary groupings which were often multiethnic and multilingual, so that most mentions of "the Cree" by historians of previous decades actually refers to mixed Cree-Assiniboine-Saulteax groups. As well the whooping cough outbreak of 1819-1820 and the smallpox outbreak of 1780-1781 decimated many bands forcing them to merge together with neighbours. Other groups probably inhabited Alberta in the past. The Cluny Earthlodge Village at Blackfoot Crossing is a unique-in-Canada example of a permanent fortified village of earthlodges probably built around 1740 CE by Hidatsa or Mandan peoples. Early accounts by European explorers suggest that the Eastern Shoshone are though to have lived in Alberta before being displaced by in Blackfoot by 1787. As well, people from other ethnic groups, such the Métis, Iroqouis, and Kutenai occasionally intermarried with local peoples and were adopted into existing bands, or created their own new bands of mixed heritage. An example is the Michel Band from the Calahoo area, many of whom are descended from William Callihoo, an Iroquois or Métis fur trader from the east who married one or more local Cree women and founded the band.
Plains peoples were able to congregate into larger communities often when following large buffalo herds and had more complex political structures than Subarctic peoples who had to remain dispersed to find enough food (even centuries later there are more First Nations band governments in the North, but the Southern communities are much more populous). A group of bands united into a semi-permanent alliance for common defence was called a confederacy by non-Native observers. Such confederacies were often multi-ethnic in that they included bands from a number of tribes. The two key confederacies in what later became central and southern Alberta during the eighteen and nineteenth centuries were the Blackfoot Confederacy (consisting of bands from the Piegan, Kainai, Sikisika nations, later joined by the Tsuu T'ina) and the Iron Confederacy (bands of Plains Cree, Assiniboine, and Saulteaux, and Stoney). Initially on friendly terms, these two grouping eventually become long-term enemies (the Battle River was named for conflict between the two groups that happened near it approximately 1810, around the beginning of their hostilities) until the Battle of the Belly River on October 25, 1870 near present-day Lethbridge.
When Canada acquired a claim in what is now Alberta in 1870, a process of treaty-making began. The federal government negotiated with various chiefs and councils made up of groups of allied bands. But each band was free to sign or not sign a treaty. The three main treaties affecting Alberta are Treaty 6 with Plains Cree and allied bands (main signings 1876–1879 plus many later additions) covering central Alberta), Treaty 7 with the member tribes Blackfoot Confederacy as well as the Stoney (1877) coverning southern Alberta, and Treaty 8 with the Woods Cree, Beaver, and Chipweyan (1899) covering northern Alberta. Under the terms of these treaties, more southerly bands accepted the presence of Canadian settlers on their lands in exchange for emergency and ongoing aid to deal with the starvation being experienced by the plains people due to the disappearance of the bison herds. Northern bands did not face agricultural settlement (to the same extent), but instead mining and lumber companies wanted access to their lands. In both cases Indian reserves were to be created where First Nations were expected to settle (meaning to end nomadic hunting lifestyle) perphaps to begin farming, but certainly to be accessible to the authorities such as the Indian agents, North-West Mounted Police, and Christian missionaries. Not all bands were equally reconciled to the ideas of the treaties, however. Piapot's band signed into a treaty but refused to choose a site for a reserve, preferring to remain nomadic. The "Battle River Crees" under the leadership of Big Bear and Little Pine refused to sign altogether. Under the reserve system, each band is attached to one or more reserves. The band has a list of members, part of the nation-wide Indian Register, and these members are eligible to live on reserve and receive treaty benefits. The band is now considered the fundamental unit of governance under the Indian Act, first passed in 1876 and still in force with modifications. Modern band governments are the legal successors to the bands that signed the treaties. In the case of the Blackfoot Confederacy, each dialect group is considered a "band" (government) though they historically comprised many hunting bands, while in other cases band governments are direct successors to much smaller historic hunting bands, many of less than 100 people.
As of 2013[update] there were 48 band governments with their own councils and chiefs. For the purposes of the Indian Act, however, the federal government lists 45 separate band governments: the Saddle Lake First Nation and the Whitefish Lake (Goodfish) Nation are administered separately but considered one band, likewise the Chiniki, Wesley, and Bearspaw First Nations have separate administrations but for the purposes of the Indian Act are one band government called the Stoney Nakoda Nation. Band names and sizes, and well as reserve sizes are not static and have continued to change since the signing of the treaties. The newest First Nation band in Alberta is the Peerless Trout First Nation, which was created in 2010 as a separation from the Bigstone Cree Nation as part of a land claims agreement with the federal government.
Bands can pool their resources by creating regional councils (often called "Tribal Councils" though they may not represent a tribe in the usual sense) and treaty councils related to one of the three treaties dealing with Alberta. Alberta bands are members of the Athabasca Tribal Council, Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations, Four Nations Administration, Kee Tas Kee Now Tribal Council, Lesser Slave Lake Indian Regional Council, North Peace Tribal Council, Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta, Treaty 7 Management Corporation, Western Cree Tribal Council, and Yellowhead Tribal Council.
First Nations history in Alberta
Fur and buffalo rivalries
The eighteenth and nineteenth century history of present-day Alberta was dominated by rivalries for control of trade and hunting. The two Aboriginal confederacies opposed each other, and at the same time they interacted with Euro-Canadian trading companies such as the Hudson's Bay Company, North-West Company, as well as American traders who competed among themselves to win over Aboriginal customers.
Treaties and the North West Rebellion
One incident during the North West Rebellion of 1885 occurred in what later became Alberta, the Frog Lake Massacre, where are Plains Cree war party led by Wandering Spirit attacked the village of Frog Lake.
After the North West Rebellion
Following the North West Rebellion, Canadian policy towards First Nations on reserves grew much more restrictive and invasive. A system of passes was brought into being which restricted the freedom of movement of reserve inhabitants. The Canadian Indian residential school system removed First Nations children from the their homes and educated them in English and Christianity to the exclusion of their former culture. Alberta was home to 25 such residential schools, the most of any province. Several bands were convinced (or coerced) to surrender much of there reserved lands. In two cases unique to Alberta the government deems in the band to have ceased to exist, the Papaschase (1891) and the Michel Band (1958) though there are descendents who still claim the treaty rights of those bands.
- List of Indian reserves in Alberta
- List of Aboriginal communities in Canada
- List of First Nations governments
- List of First Nations peoples
- Indian Act
- Métis in Alberta
- Statistics Canada - Population reporting a North American Indian identity, provinces and territories, 2001
- "Aboriginal Peoples in Canada: First Nations People, Métis and Inuit". 2.statcan.gc.ca. 2014-01-14. Retrieved 2014-02-26.
- Alberta Municipal Affairs - 2005 Official Population list - Indian Registered Population. December 2005. Retrieved on 24 September 2006.
- pg 14
- Government of Alberta. Aboriginal Peoples of Alberta: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. pg. 12
- "Blackfoot History". Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump. Alberta Culture. May 22, 2012. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
- McLead, Neal. (2000), "Plains Cree Identity: Borderlands, Ambiguous Genealogies and Narrative Irony", The Canadian Journal of Native Studies XX (2), retrieved 2013-04-18
- "Blackfoot Crossing National Historic Site of Canada". Parks Canada. Retrieved October 6, 2010.
- "Beyond Borderlands: Discussion: Aftermath". Segonku.unl.edu. Retrieved 2013-12-16.
- "Michel Band: Metis Who Left Treaty". "Father Lacombe wrote of the Iroquois at the Michel reserve saying their language was almost extinct, replaced by Cree or French"
- The Beaver Hills Country: A History of Land and Life, Graham A. MacDonald, 2009, Athabasca University Press, p 17.
- "Suffering (1870's)". The Story of Treaty Six. Living Sky School Division No. 202. "The Blackfoot and the Cree were fighting to gain control of the Cypress Hills boundaries and in the fall of 1870 there was a battle between them called the “Battle of Belly River.” Big Bear and Little Pine led the Cree’s and attacked a Blood First Nations camp. The next day, well armed Peigans entered the battle and defeated the Cree, approximately 200-400 Crees died in the battle. Eventually the Cree and Blackfoot negotiated peace and access to the Cypress hills." (Dodson 14)"
- Michel Hogue, "Disputing the Medicine Line: The Plains Crees and the Canadian-American Border, 1876–1885", Montana The Magazine of Western History, 52 (Winter 2002), Montana Historical Society, pp 2–17.
- "First Nations in Alberta". Aadnc-aandc.gc.ca. 2010-09-15. Retrieved 2014-02-26.
- "A New Beginning for Bigstone Cree & Peerless Trout First Nations". Aadnc-aandc.gc.ca. 2012-07-09. Retrieved 2014-02-26.
- Canada Indian and Northern Affairs - First Nations in Alberta
- Aboriginal Canada - First Nations in Alberta
- Statistics Canada - General statistics regarding First Nations in Canada
- Natural Resources Canada - The Atlas of Canada - North American Indian Population - 1996