Chief Stan Grier, RMTLC Board Chairman Al Not Afraid and Sen. Jon Tester (D – Montana) with historic Grizzly Treaty.
Published February 24, 2018
BILLINGS, MONTANA — History was made at the just concluded Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council Annual Board Meeting in Billings, Montana. In a move that portends far-reaching consequences for tribal sovereignty and indigenous empowerment throughout North America, a Canadian First Nation was given full-membership of a major US-based tribal organization. By a unanimous vote, the Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy was admitted into the influential Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council (RMTLC), a groundbreaking event that offers tribal nations an opening to restore cultural and geopolitical alliances that were severed by the establishment of the northern and southern borders.
“We are humbled by this honor,” said Chief Stan Grier. “For the Piikani people, this is a momentous occasion. We have waited since 1872 to once more have a voice in our traditional territory south of the border. With our relatives and allies in the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, the Piikani Nation will be able to contribute for the betterment of all tribal people in the region, an opportunity that has not fully existed for us since 1855.”
In a wide-ranging address to the RMTLC that was constructed upon historical and cultural points of reference, Grier emphasized sovereign authority and self-determination as keys to confronting contemporary crises, from the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) tragedy through to economic hardships that burden many tribal nations.
Grier, who is Chief of the Piikani Nation and President of the Blackfoot Confederacy Chiefs, headed the Piikani delegation that was comprised of elders, spiritual leaders, and council members.
“The US-Canadian border continues to impede any substantial progress on the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women tragedy,” Chief Grier asserted. “A lack of effective cooperation exists not only between law enforcement agencies, but also between our tribal nations, due to the status-quo of jurisdictional paralysis. We must campaign to rectify significant jurisdictional issues that undermine our ability as tribal leaders and governments to act effectively. The trust and confidence of Native communities in law enforcement must be addressed and improved.”
Grier outlined how “more responsive and effective support systems for victims’ families” are essential. “The problem does not stop at or differ on each side of the US-Canada border: it is the same problem with the same tragic impacts on our communities,” Grier continued, and referenced how victims were trafficked “through this very city.” “Billings and Minneapolis are two hubs through which Native women and children are trafficked north, via the Bakken. The traffickers don’t stop at the border, and we cannot,” Grier urged.
Piikani Elder Jim Swag and Councilman Barnaby Provost
The Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council is comprised of the the tribal nations located in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, specifically the Blackfeet Nation, the Chippewa-Cree, the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, the Crow Tribe, the Eastern Shoshone, the Fort Belknap Indian Community, the Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board, the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians, the Northern Arapaho Tribe, the Northern Cheyenne Nation, and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Idaho. The Piikani Nation, headquartered in Brocket, Alberta, is now the twelfth-member.
In May 2000, the Blackfoot Confederacy made an affirmative declaration that states: “The international boundary between Canada and the United States of America has arbitrarily divided our people without our consent resulting in restricted access to our traditional territories and interference with our religious, economic, social and governmental relationships.” Grier quoted the passage while RMTLC leaders examined a vintage Interior Department map that showed Blackfoot Confederacy territory from the 1851 Fort Laramie and 1855 Lame Bull treaties. The landmass exceeded 50% of the present State of Montana.
“We never claimed to ‘own’ this land in the Anglo-European sense, and we never claimed to hold exclusive jurisdiction over it at the exclusion of your people. We consider it our traditional territory in our conception of that meaning,” added Councilman Fabian North Peigan.
Grier read excerpts from 1855 treaty commissioners diaries that described their journeys to the environs of what is now the reserve of the Piikani Nation to locate leaders such as Lame Bull and Mountain Chief, to demonstrate how the US Government recognized the Piikani as the primary signatories of the 1855 treaty.
“We were one people,” he explained. “At the time, we Piikani did not see each other as Aapátohsi Piikáni (Piikani) and Aamsskáápi Piikani (Blackfeet), that came with the border, after the passage of the British North America Act in 1867.”
“What the 1855 treaty also did was encourage political alliances and diplomatic relationships with many of your ancestors; our ancestors reached agreements with yours for subsistence rights in parts of those treaty lands that were ultimately taken to establish Montana. We have a historic relationship with the member tribes of the RMTLC. With our Algonquian cousins, the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, that kinship is thousands of years old,” Grier said.
The Piikani Nation, illustrated Grier, had “taken steps to reignite that flame our ancestors nurtured with yours – to reconnect, and to reunite for the common good of all of our people.” Piikani initiated The Grizzly: A Treaty of Cooperation, Cultural Revitalization and Restoration which is now the most-signed treaty in history, with over 200-tribal nation signatories, and is recognized and signed by the United Nations. The treaty inspired HR 3894, The Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act, that was introduced to the 115th Congress in October.
With the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, the Piikani Nation introduced the declaration opposing tar sands expansion and the Keystone-XL Pipeline that was embraced by 80-plus tribes and resulted in major events in Calgary, the Black Hills, and Nebraska. Piikani has also spearheaded the campaign to change the names of war criminals and white supremacists in Yellowstone National Park, an area the Interior Department now acknowledges is culturally significant to 27 tribes. Councilman Ferlin Crow Shoe presented copies of the documents to RMTLC Executive Director William Snell.
Northern Cheyenne President L. Jace Killsback
The RMTLC tribal leaders acknowledged the Piikani Nation’s contributions. “You guys have been at the forefront of many of these movements, and these are very important issues to us and our people,” offered Chairman Gerald Grey of the Little Shell Tribe, a sentiment reflected in other leaders’ comments. Northern Cheyenne President Jace Killsback and Vice President Conrad Fisher elaborated upon the ancient cultural relationship between the Piikani, Cheyenne and Sutaio, and acknowledged the Piikani delegation’s respect for traditional protocols, led by elder and ceremonial leader Jim Swag and Councilman Barnaby Provost.
The Northern Cheyenne seconded the motion introduced by the Blackfeet Nation to accept the Piikani as a full member of the RMTLC. President Jace Killsback and Blackfeet Councilman Tim Davis requested that the RMTLC constitution be amended forthwith to admit the Piikani, which it was.
Chief Grier is optimistic that the development will not only lead to a “redefinition and reevaluation” of tribal relationships and status impacted by the US-Canadian border, but also “aid and support the positions of our Tohono O’odham and Yaqui allies” similarly effected by the US-Mexico border. The Tohono O’odham and Yaqui are among the tribes that signed the Piikani Nation-initiated grizzly treaty.