Photograph of Chief Crowfoot, April 1891. Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada, PA-009256.
Canadian Chief Crowfoot helped to maintain peaceful relationships between First Nations and Canada, and paved the way for the building of the railway across the western provinces.
Chief Crowfoot was born Astoxkomi or “Shot Close” in 1839 by the Belly River in what is now southern Alberta, Canada. Shot Close was known for his bravery and earned the name we know him by during a raid against the Crow. His new name, Isapo-muxika, or Crow Indian’s Big Foot was shortened by English interpreters to “Crowfoot.”
Crowfoot, recognized by his people for his bravery as a warrior was made chief of the Big Pipes band in 1865 and in 1870, one of three head chiefs of the Blackfoot tribe.
Chief Crowfoot saw changes coming to his territory. Illegal liquor trading was becoming prevalent and disputes, which sometimes resulted in violence, increased. Soon the North West Mounted Police were forced to intervene to stem the illegal alcohol trade to native communities. This action was supported by Chief Crowfoot who also enacted his own rules to end warring between tribes.
With settlers encroaching on the west and a dwindling buffalo population, Chief Crowfoot foresaw huge changes to the native way of life and led his people in building the necessary cordial relationship with the federal government.
Next, he managed to dissuade the Blackfoot from joining the Riel Rebellion, believing correctly that it would fail and create repercussions for his nation from a government on which his people were beginning to depend for food.
In 1877, he persuaded the Blackfoot to sign Treaty Seven, the last in a series of treaties negotiated between the government of Canada and the First nations. In order to build the transcontinental rail link between British Columbia and the rest of Canada, the federal government needed to acquire vast tracts of land which were under native control.
It was hoped by the Canadian government that the railway would open the west for immigration. Newcomers would need land for homesteads. But the government first had to obtain title to this land. In return for ceding huge tracts of land around the Bow River, Treaty Seven provided a reserve for the Blackfoot tribe, through which the railway would run. Each family received one square mile of land, a few cattle, and a small cash settlement. Provisions were made for limited medical care and the education of native children. Crowfoot received a lifetime pass for travel on the railway.
Later in life, Chief Crowfoots trust in his government allies was faltering: food rations were cut and his people faced restrictions on movements of the reservations. Indian agents and the Mounted Police seem to grow indifferent or even side against the natives.
After a long period of illness, Crowfoot, Head Chief of the Blackfoot Confederacy passed away on April 24, 1890.