In support of Canada’s commitment to Reconciling its colonial history with Indigenous communities, this week we focus on Indigenous leaders during Confederation. Many Indigenous communities were displaced and disadvantaged as a result of colonialism and Confederation, and their stories are important to the development of Canada. We wrote about one well-known leader, Louis Riel, earlier this semester.
Today we biograph Red Crow, a chief of the Blood (or Kainai) Tribe who was a signatory to Treaty 7 in 1877. But signing Treaty 7 should not be considered his greatest achievement; his commitment was not to Confederation or the government but to his tribe. Treaty 7 seemed to present a promising future for Red Crow’s people.
Red Crow had several descriptive monikers, including Captured the Gun Inside, Lately Gone, and Sitting White Buffalo. He earned his Blood Tribe adult name, Mékaisto, as a warrior against other Indigenous bands and tribes. He was born around 1830 south of present-day Lethbridge, Alberta, and later died on August 28, 1900, in the same region. Red Crow’s band chose him as chief after his uncle and father died of smallpox in 1869. As a strong and respected leader in his community he eventually became the leading chief of several bands, representing the Blood Tribe at the signing of Treaty 7.
Red Crow saw his fair share of violence during his life. His reputation as a warrior began in his youth, and he participated in more than 30 wars and raids against other Indigenous groups and against American settlers. Historian Hugh Dempsey writes that, as an old man, Red Crow asserted that he had never been wounded in battle by a bullet, arrow, axe, spear, or knife.
Unfortunately, alcohol played a factor in the violence Red Crow experienced. Though his tribe traded with American whisky traders at first, the addictive and destructive effects of alcohol ultimately changed his tune. Red Crow worked alongside the North-West Mounted Police to try to end the otherwise convenient trade. Members of his community struggled with alcohol abuse and traded buffalo robes at a fraction of their value. Red Crow killed his own brother “during an alcohol-fuelled argument,” as well as two other Indigenous men who attacked him when they were intoxicated. Even one of his wives was killed as a bystander when an altercation arose between two intoxicated individuals.
According to Dempsey, in his report for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, it is likely that Red Crow did not foresee the negative impacts that signing treaties would have on Indigenous communities. It appears that his decision, and that of other Indigenous leaders, was clouded by the immediate benefits that the new government provided and promised, but he failed to foresee the future of Indigenous struggles as a result of the reserve-land system.
As European communities continued to settle in Alberta, Red Crow realized that his community’s nomadic lifestyle would be a challenge under Confederation. He became a successful farmer and helped support his followers on newly endowed reserve land. As a respected warrior, local politician, and magistrate, Red Crow resolved disputes between the Blood, other tribes, and government agents. His interaction with government agents and, especially, his friendship with Mounted Police Commissioner James Farquharson Macleod spurred his acceptance of Treaty 7.
Red Crow realized that negotiation and treaties were necessary to create a peaceful future with other tribes and with the new Confederation government. However, his acceptance should not be mistaken for subservience or dependence on the government. Red Crow believed that as his community expanded their livelihoods through farming, ranching, and education, they would maintain their independence and pride. He respected modern education and Christianity, but believed in his traditional customs and religion. Unfortunately, living conditions for many rural reserve communities after Red Crow’s death would not have met his expectations.
Red Crow grew from a young, reckless warrior into a peaceful, patient negotiator, continuously demanding better living conditions for his band. His optimism and vision for future generations should serve as an inspiration in 2017 as we recognize #Canada150 and continue to work on #Reconciliation150.
 “Red Crow,” Native Leaders of Canada, New Federation House, online: <www.newfederation.org/Native_Leaders/Bios/Red_Crow.htm> [“Red Crow”].
 Municipal Plans and Bylaws, Oldman River Regional Services Commission, online: <www.orrsc.com/members-page/>. Group Photograph of Nitai’kihtsipimi, M’kaisto, and North Axe, Blackfoot Digital Library, online: <https://www.blackfootdigitallibrary.com/publication/group-photograph-nitaikihtsipimi-mekaisto-and-north-axe>; Hugh A Dempsey, “Mékaisto,” 12 Dictionary of Canadian Biography (1990), University of Toronto/Université Laval, online: biographi.ca <www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mekaisto_12E.html>.
 Dempsey, ibid.
 “Red Crow,” supra note 1.
 Historica Canada, “Red Crow,” Indigenous Peoples Collection, online: thecanadianencyclopedia.ca <www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/red-crow>.
 Dempsey, supra note 3.
 Canada, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Treaties and Historical Research Centre, “Treaty Research Report – Treaty Seven (1877),” by Hugh A Dempsey (1987), online: INAC <https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100028789/1100100028791> [INAC].
 Dempsey, supra note 3.
 Ibid; Historica Canada, supra note 7.
 “Red Crow,” supra note 1.