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History remembered in Îyârhe Nakoda band's name change

Jacob’s band, Wesley, Goodstoney – the history of what is today known as the Goodstoney (Kichipwot) First Nation is long and winding.

ÎYÂRHE NAKODA – Jacob’s Band, Wesley, Goodstoney – the history of what is today known as the Goodstoney (Kichipwot) First Nation is long and winding.

It’s a path of acknowledging origins, celebrating history and reclaiming identity.

Treaty 7 was signed in September 1877 by Chief Jacob Bearspaw of the Bearspaw band, Chief John Chiniquay of the Chiniki band and Chief Jacob Goodstoney of what was then called Jacob’s Band. The three bands encompass the Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nations.

The evolution of the Goodstoney name is better understood by the late Chief John Snow’s book, These Mountains Are Our Sacred Places: The Story of the Stoney People, which asks the question of why the Îyârhe Nakoda were included in Treaty 7 at all.

There was considerable confusion as to what the three bands believed had been promised to them in 1877.

After the treaty was signed, encompassing only lands around what was then known as Morleyville (Mînî Thnî), there were claims made by the Îyârhe Nakoda that insufficient land had been allocated for all three Nations. Many members of Jacob’s Band and the Bearspaw First Nation refused to stay on the reserve and insisted on camping within their traditional hunting grounds which were north, on the Kootenay Plains along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River and south, 80 kilometres southwest of Calgary, along the Highwood River.

Resentment grew over restrictive game laws, the gradual encirclement by white settlers, government regulations, the confinement of the Morleyville reserve and the reduction of government-controlled rations.

After the signing, Goodstoney had the task of trying to mend the division in his band between factions that opposed life on the reserve and those who tried to adapt to reserve life. Land surveyed for the Îyârhe Nakoda in 1879 was agriculturally poor, so the transition from a hunting to a farming life was frustrating for the three Nations. 

For members of Jacob's Band, this climaxed when an estimated one-third of the band, about 100 people, moved to the Kootenay Plains under the leadership of Peter Wesley.

“Some of the prominent families included the Abrahams, Beavers, Houses, Hunters, and Wildmans, all of whom long resided on the Kootenay Plains,” Snow wrote.

Wesley would later be given the Stoney name Ta-Otha, or moose killer, for his honoured reputation as a provider to the band, leading them back to their traditional ways of life.

“Peter Wesley’s decision to reject the supervision and culture of the whiteman increased his stature among the Stoneys,” Snow wrote.

As a result, when Chief Jacob Goodstoney died in 1885 in Morleyville, and his son, Jonas Goodstoney, later resigned from the chieftainship of Jacob’s Band after 13 years, Ta-Otha was elected as his successor in 1904.

“[Wesley’s] courageous action was a joyous and happy occasion for my people; with him they returned to their traditional life of freedom: to hunt, to fish, to roam, and to worship the Great Spirit,” Snow wrote.

“The mountains again presented the challenge to any young man who wanted to go to their tops for a vision quest and for fasting.”

Ta-Otha saw his band through many profound changes by the time he died, well into his 90s, in May 1935.

At the beginning of his chieftainship, the band was renamed Wesley, as it would remain for the next 89 years under seven different chiefs.

But Wesley may never have led his people to the Kootenay Plains, leading to the band’s name change, had treaty negotiations gone as expected.

Not only did Indigenous groups believe the treaty signing would allow them to continue their traditional ways of life hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering on their traditional hunting grounds, but it was also first suggested that the Îyârhe Nakoda Nations would sign an adhesion to Treaty 6, instead of Treaty 7.

“In all the government correspondence, official reports, and Orders-in-Council that preceded the Treaty 7 negotiations, there is no mention of the fact that our tribe was to be included in it,” wrote Snow.

In addition to the three Îyârhe Nakoda, Treaty 7 consists of the three tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy – the Blackfoot, Siksika, and Piikani – as well as the Tsuu’tina Nation. While they constituted entire tribes, the Îyârhe Nakoda were a branch of the Assiniboines; some of their kin who occupied hunting grounds further east had signed Treaty 4 and Treaty 6.

In 1876, missionary John McDougall, who had influence over the Îyârhe Nakoda people, was asked by the federal government to report on the date and location most convenient to negotiate a treaty with the three Îyârhe Nakoda bands, but his reply indicated he understood the Nation to fall under Treaty 6, which had already been signed.

In a letter obtained by Snow from the Alexander Morris fonds at the Provincial Archives of Manitoba, McDougall wrote, “Whereas the Assinaboines [Assiniboine] or Stone [Stoney] Indians are included with the limits of Treaty No. 6. I would recommend the following dates and places as the most convenient for the meeting of these Indians with the Commissioner who may be sent to secure their adhesion to the Treaty next summer.”

“But when Lieutenant-Governor [David] Laird arrived at Blackfoot Crossing to conclude Treaty 7 with the Blackfoot, it appears that he simply assumed that we were present to participate in the new treaty, not to sign an adhesion to an earlier one,” Snow wrote.

Further, the area around Morleyville – traditional to the Chiniki band – was the only land designated to the Îyârhe Nakoda, excluding the other traditional lands of the Bearspaw and Goodstoney bands.

Despite previous advice and according to official records, John McDougall – present at the treaty signing – never questioned why leaders did not sign an adhesion to Treaty 6.

“One explanation could be that the treaty commissioners assumed, from what the Wesleyan missionary said, that all our people lived at Morleyville, and that John McDougall found that false assumption very convenient,” wrote Snow. “We now know and realize that John McDougall had a personal interest in having one large reserve established at Morleyville; the church was there, his home and farm building were there, the hay fields were nearby, and a small area was under cultivation.

“It was apparently his feeling that the Church could not continue effectively Christianizing my people if we did not all settle on one reserve.”

It wasn’t until 1946 that a 5,000 acre ranch on the Highwood River was purchased and transformed into the Eden Valley reserve for some members of the Bearspaw band, and, a year later, another 5,000 acre portion of land in the Kootenay Plains was set aside for the Goodstoney people as the Big Horn reserve.

The Wesley band name was later changed in 1992, near the end of Snow’s first run as chief, which lasted 24 years.

“Back around 1992, we had a referendum changing the name from Wesley to Goodstoney and it passed,” said Chief Clifford Poucette. “It ended up becoming a bit political; the late Chief John Snow was the one to introduce the referendum and when he was beat by the former Chief Ernest Wesley in the next election, it was changed back to Wesley.”

The name stayed despite Snow being appointed chief for another term following Ernest’s first term of three. Ernest served as chief again from 2000 to 2006 and 2010 to 2018. Poucette was chief from 2006 to 2010, re-elected in 2018, and again in 2022. 

It was in his last term that Poucette and council introduced another referendum to change the band’s name back to Goodstoney.

“It was left as Wesley for a while and then people were asking us if we could change our name through a referendum when I ran for chief again in 2018,” said Poucette. “We didn’t change it to be political. People asked us if we were elected, would we change it back, and we said yes.”

Poucette said the name Wesley is one still held in high regard among all three bands, especially Goodstoney, but he feels the change honouring one of the original signatories of Treaty 7 is of high importance.

“We have to honour our ancestors, our past chiefs,” he said. “They were at the treaty signing for a reason and we are treaty people, and we have to honour that. We have to honour our clan.”

The late Goodstoney band member and knowledge keeper Trent Fox joked that the back-and-forth name changing was indicative of an “identity crisis.” Though, he agrees the name Goodstoney is more in line with how the band’s history should be represented.

“My own perspective on that is that we should really turn to our own language and identify as Kichipwot Ayotabi, which would mean Goodstoney First Nation,” he said in an interview with the Outlook earlier this year.

“But it’s progress as long as we’re reclaiming some of our identity.”

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.

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