Archives for: September 2006, 29


Permalink 07:00:00 am, by Email , 1266 words   English (CA)
Categories: One Dozen Canadian Heroes

Second of Twelve: Crowfoot

For the next Eleven Fridays, I'm doing blog posts about Canadian heroes of History... some you may have heard of... others you may not know... in under 800 words (not including my usual last note), I'm going to TRY and introduce them to you as best I can...

So far, I've done posts about...

- Charles-Michel d'Irumberry de Salaberry



When Rousseau first thought out the term Noble Savage, one might think that he had Crowfoot in mind... but there was little savage about Crowfoot...

Born in 1830 into the Blood tribe of the Blackfoot Confederacy in what is now Alberta, Crowfoot was a born warrior. Before he was 20 years old he had been in 19 battles with other tribes and had been wounded six times.

It was in 1865 that Crowfoot made a name for himself with the local white population after the battle at Three Ponds. An Oblate missionary, Father Albert Lacombe, was visiting a Blackfoot camp when it was attacked by Crees. Although greatly outnumbered and despite casualties, the Blackfeet held off the raiders for several hours during the night. Just before dawn Father Lacombe tried to get between the lines to call a truce, but he was not recognized by the Crees and was wounded by a ricocheting bullet. When the battle seemed lost, Crowfoot arrived with a large number of warriors and the enemy was soon routed.

Crowfoot went out of his way to avoid confrontation with the white settlers and with other bands... even conflicting with other warrior chiefs and providing escorts to traders to avoid native raiding parties.

In the 1870's, American traders started using whiskey and repeater rifles for barter and, in response, the North West Mounted Police (The Mounties... and soon to become The Royal Canadian Mounted Police...) was formed and sent into Canada's Western regions. In Crowfoot's own words, "If left to ourselves we are gone. The whiskey brought among us by the Traders is fast killing us off and we are powerless before the evil. . . . Our horses, Buffalo robes and other articles of trade go for whiskey, a large number of our people have killed one another and perished in various ways under the influence, and now that we hear of our Great Mother sending her soldiers into our country for our good we are glad."

Unlike what was happening in the United States, the police and military were welcomed into the Native territories without issue and with open arms. Crowfoot himself forging friendships with James Farquharson Macleod, then assistant commissioner of the NWMP. Because of this, white settlement went hand-in-hand with Native presence in the West.

For his loyalty and his influence with his people to respect the police, Mcleod ensured the rights of the Blackfoot were maintained.

In 1876, the plains tribes and the U.S. calvary were at odds... The Sioux attempted to convince Crowfoot and the Blackfeet to join them in their efforts and in turn, the Sioux would help them eradicate the NWMP.

Needless to say, Crowfoot said "no"... in fact, he warned the Sioux that if they attempted to come into Canada, he and his tribe would join with the police and drive them out.

For his stance and loyalty, he gained fame and respect in Ottawa and even gained the notice of Queen Victoria in England. He was a genuine living hero.

After some disastrous defeats, the Sioux did come to Canada... but Crowfoot realised they had come as refugees... and worked hard to make them comfortable. He even met with Chief Sitting Bull and made peace with the Sioux... Sitting Bull even named his own son Crowfoot in respect of the great leader.

In 1877, Crowfoot was instrumental in negotiating Treaty no.7 which allowed for European expansion into the West and maintained native rights as best as could be negotiated.

In Crowfoots own words, "While I speak, be kind and patient. I have to speak for my people, who are numerous, and who rely upon me to follow that course which in the future will tend to their good. The plains are large and wide. We are the children of the plains, it is our home, and the buffalo has been our food always. I hope you look upon the Blackfeet, Bloods and Sarcees as your children now, and that you will be indulgent and charitable to them... The advice given me and my people has proved to be very good. If the Police had not come to the country, where would we be all now? Bad men and whiskey were killing us so fast that very few, indeed, of us would have been left to-day. The Police have protected us as the feathers of the bird protect it from the frosts of winter. I wish them all good, and trust that all our hearts will increase in goodness from this time forward. I am satisfied. I will sign the treaty."

In 1881, the Blackfeet and Crowfoot were also lobbied by Louis Riel's men and the Metis to join in the rebellion... sensing that this was a lost cause, but also remembering that the Cree (led by his own adopted son, Poundmaker,) and Metis had strong ties to the Blackfeet, he opted to stay neutral... and eventually, declared his loyalty to the crown... which, again, considering the might the Blackfeet would have added to the conflict, was much appreciated by the government.

At the end of the rebellion, Louis Riel was hung... and Poundmaker was sent to jail. Through his connections and good name, Crowfoot was able to secure Poundmaker's release in 1886... although, sadly, Poundmaker would only survive a few months after his release, dying of an illness in Crowfoot's camp.

Due to his assistance in helping with the Canadian Pacific Railway and ensuring that the rails ran "coast-to-coast" without native issues, he had been given a free lifetime pass to ride the rails... and after the Metis rebellions, he travelled to Ottawa and Quebec where he was treated like a beloved and heroic diplomat... popular with both the people and the government.

His countenance, diplomacy, and overall ability to do what was best for his people led to Canadian settlement to progress West without issue and ensured his people's welfare... although one could argue that things went downhill fast... but, there was never a universal "armed conflict" with the Natives and European settlers in Canada.

Crowfoot did see the degeneration of his people's life... the destruction of the herds... the loss of good hunting grounds... and was very saddened by it all... but he maintained his diplomatic efforts even heading down to Montana where he tried unsuccessfully to arrange a peace treaty with the Assiniboins.

His last years were spent close to his camps and his people... he passed away in 1890 and is remembered as a great diplomat and brave warrior chief.

Without Crowfoot, Canada's history with the aboriginal nations would be much different.


Much thanks to The Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online for the help with the above article.



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