Cree And Tsuu T’ina Renew Peace Treaty

The signing of the Peace Treaty was an historic event. Photo provided by Daryl Watson.

The signing of the Peace Treaty was an historic event. Photo provided by Daryl Watson.

By Judy Bird / Treaty 4 News, Updated: December 7, 2015

A battle took place 175 years ago that broke a peace treaty between the Mistawasis Cree nation in Saskatchewan and Tsuu T’ina nation in Alberta.

“That situation happened here in our neck of the woods. I guess 11 Tsuu T’ina warriors didn’t abide by the conditions of the peace agreement. They were still hanging around our territory after the decided upon date. A warring party from the Mistawasis band came upon them, and so as a result, 11 of their warriors were killed in battle,” said Chief Daryl Watson of the Mistawasis First Nation.

A Tsuu T’ina warrior named Bullhead sought revenge, and he came upon Kaskitāpiskan, who was later known as Broken Jaw, (Nêhiyaw) from Mistawasis.

“Bullhead shot Kaskitāpiskan in the jaw, thinking he took the life of Kaskitāpiskan, but he didn’t. Upon going towards Kaskitāpiskan to finish him off, Kaskitāpiskan started chanting his death song and it threw fear into Bullhead so he left the area and went back to his territory. Kaskitāpiskan survived and thus the name Broken Jaw came into play,” explained Watson.

Breaking the peace treaty was breaking an agreement made in ceremony.

“Since the beginning of time, the First Nation people of this land have resolved their differences through various peace ceremonies or treaty agreements,” said Watson.

The Chiefs of the Mistawasis First Nation and Tsuu T’ina First Nation began a new relationship between their First Nations with the making of a new peace treaty. Photo provided by Daryl Watson.

The Chiefs of the Mistawasis First Nation and Tsuu T’ina First Nation began a new relationship between their First Nations with the making of a new peace treaty. Photo provided by Daryl Watson.

He explained that the peace treaty allowed members of both nations to travel freely in the other’s territory for a specific length of time in order to hunt and gather food.

“The ceremony was the proper protocol that they’d use. Even though they were warring nations, they would put aside their differences for X amount of time out of ultimate respect for ceremony and protocol,” he said.

But if anyone was found in the other’s territory after that specified amount of time, they were “free game”, noted Watson.

The fight was also recorded incorrectly in history.

“In history books, it says that it was Gabriel Dumont who inflicted this injury on Broken Jaw, but it wasn’t. It was the Tsuu T’ina warrior Bullhead that inflicted the injury onto Kaskitāpiskan,” he added.

The peace treaty remained broken until recently. Its renewal came about in an unusual way, and with the help of a third party.

This summer, staff and elders at the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre were taking their annual staff retreat at the Tsuut’ina Lodge Resort in Alberta.

“We decided that we would go and visit the local First Nation and make contact with the language and cultural people,” said Dorothy Myo, president of Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre (SICC).

Dion Tootoosis, a cultural advisor with SICC, previously worked at Tsuu T’ina had contacts there, including elder and oral historian Bruce Starlight.

“We invited him to our staff retreat to give us a presentation, and he started talking to us about this unresolved matter between the two nations of Mistawasis Cree and their community. He told us of the history, over 175 years ago, this incident happened,” said Myo.

When elder Bruce Starlight shared the story with SICC staff and elders, they knew they had to do something.

“We were quite blown away by what he told us. This seemed so unreal. We talked more about it as staff, we said it was for a reason this was brought to us and we will have to act and make it possible for the two nations to get together. We felt responsible to move forward on it,” Myo said.

Before they left their staff retreat, they had a plan in place. Bruce Starlight would work with the Tsuu T’ina in gathering all the information possible about the conflict, and SICC would work with Mistawasis and together, they would facilitate the two nations coming together.

SICC staff met with chief and council. They also met with descendants of Broken Jaw. “They were quite elderly people that remember the story that was told to them from their grandparents. We gathered as much information so we could understand exactly what this was about and the breadth and depth of how we might approach it. It was quite an involved process but we took the role very seriously in terms of facilitating this to make sure it was in line with protocol,” said Myo.

Peace treaty 3

Just two-and-a-half months had passed from the SICC staff retreat until the ceremony took place.

The peace treaty was reignited through ceremony on October 23, 2015, renewing the relationship between the Mistawasis First Nation and the Tsuu T’ina First Nation.

“It was a very sacred ceremony, the songs and exchange of pipes and arrows,” said Watson.

“It was just incredible,” said Myo. “You just felt the power and the total significance to the two nations that this again was going to be a situation where they were going to resolve this and ceremony led the way in doing so.”

The historical event reaffirmed the significance and relevance of a long-standing cultural practice that still has meaning today.

“It predates confederation, it predates the numbered treaties, the colonization of Canada, more so North America,” said Watson.

“The renewal was done to maintain and show current governments that First Nation people had this nation-to-nation relationship in the past. Even though we were warring, we had the ability to conduct ceremony. And it demonstrates to each nation, including Canada, that we’re a sovereign nation and we come together in unity and peace. It’s a way forward,” Watson said.

Members of the media were also invited, and took part with the understanding that they could not document or record any part of the ceremony.

SICC documented what could be documented, and left out the ceremonial aspects to remain part of oral history only. They are making a resource for Mistawasis First Nation to share with their members. The intent is that it will someday be part of curriculum.

“I think it adds more credibility, and it gives our young children, our younger generation something to be proud of,” said Watson. “We come from a very vibrant, rich culture that is intertwined with history, with bravery, all aspects that moulds a person today.”

Myo sees the significance of the peace treaty in the fact that it is still there. “It’s really reaffirming our sovereignty as the first people of this land. People will say we’ve lost our culture, we’ve lost our language. We have not lost anything. It is there waiting for us to use, to put into practice,” she said.

The Chiefs have yet to determine if the peace treaty will be renewed annually, or perhaps every four years. Focus now turns to maintaining it and making it relevant in modern times, and determining what a peace treaty might look like today.

“We talked about ways and means of supporting nation to nation economic opportunities. I think as we move forward, we’ll find ways and means of strengthening the peace treaty and put it in more contemporary terms as we as First Nations exercise our inherent right to formulate relationships with other nations,” said Watson.

Editors Note: This is a corrected version of a story originally posted December 4, 2015. The earlier story incorrectly identified the Tsuu T’ina people as members of the Blackfoot Nation. Treaty 4 News regrets the mistake and apologizes for the error.

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