Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A glimpse of Aboriginal history - Blackfoot chiefs invited to Rideau Hall

Joyce Sasse - Father Albert Lacombe committed his life to working with the Aboriginal people. One of the stories told, in the drama “Man of a Good Heart” is as follows:

In 1883, when the gangs laying the CPR track entered the Blackfoot Reserve, the young starving warriors resented the intruders, and threatened them. Chief Crowfoot sent for Father Lacombe to try to help calm the confrontation.

In 1885, when the Riel uprising took place in Saskatchewan, Alberta’s Rocky Mountain Ranger Reservists were commissioned to protect railway and telegraph lines and help with homeland security. Father Lacombe was asked to meet with Chief Crowfoot to get the pulse of what the natives might do. “I am a friend of the Indian and the white man,” Crowfoot said “… we will be peaceful”. He asked the priest to tell the Queen, “Should Indians or Metis come to our Reserve and ask us to join them in war, we will send them away.”

In a few months the uprising was quashed and the reservist troops were disbanded. But the Prime Minister was so impressed with the leadership of the Blackfoot Chiefs, he asked Father Lacombe to bring men to Ottawa so he could meet them. It must have been quite a venture travelling East on that “demon-like iron horse” that belched its way through their land. Curious and timid at the same time, the Chiefs were glued to Father Lacombe’s side. Even when they were given large hotel suites, they all insisted on sleeping in the same room with him.

The gentle priest chuckled as he recalled the reception his party received. Easterners, who believed only ‘savages’ lived in the West, were so impressed by Crowfoot’s dignity, physique and charisma, they held their breath when they heard him speak.

It was quite an itinerary. They were received by the Prime Minister at Parliament hill and again in his home. They were guests at Rideau Hall. Later they visited the Archbishop in the palace in Montreal and were whisked off to see a huge military review in Quebec City.

Lacombe recalls being upset by the overtones of that military review and by what happened on the last evening of their visit when dignitaries presented the Chiefs with stacks of rifles and ammunition. What was the Government trying to tell these men? Did they have no respect for the Chiefs’ sincerity?

Crowfoot stood tall before them and tried to control his emotions. But he was hurt and angry. “I don’t want these guns you would give me. I did not come to make war. Because I am here with friends, I have not even a small knife to defend myself … Keep your guns. We have enough guns in our country …!”

When his words were translated by Jean L’Heureux, Crowfoot’s pronouncement was greeted with wild bravos and cheers. The impressionable audience was seized with the strength of his person. Someone shouted “Vive Crowfoot”! Suddenly shawls and flowers and handsome gifts were showered on stage and the audience assured the Chiefs of their friendship. The gifts were accepted with a gracious cordiality and were brought home for their people.

All Crowfoot really wanted was for his people to be left in peace so he could find ways to take care of them.

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