‘Making Treaty 7’ May Change the First Nations Conversation in Alberta

Many requests for groundbreaking theatrical production

Arnell Tailfeathers World premiere of “Making Treaty 7,” September 2014. Photo: Arnell Tailfeathers

Michael Green has been feeling a fresh sense of hope as calls pour in requesting that a theatre show he just produced be brought to communities in the Calgary area — and as far away as Montana.

Schools, community centres, urban centres and First Nations groups are asking about presenting a video screening of the show, Making Treaty 7, followed by a community conversation about its core message.

Maybe people are finally ready for a change, he says.

“The fact that people are willing to find the courage and curiosity to leap into this conversation which, quite frankly, isn’t easy to have, I think indicates that we might be ready.”

For Narcisse Blood, a Blackfoot elder and a project participant, the very heart of the Making Treaty 7 message is this: There is enough for all, take what you need and give back to the land.

That has been cry of his tribe and all indigenous peoples across Canada for decades, he says.

The question is, will this theatrical production finally push through the noise of other messages and most disturbingly the greed of the mainstream economic system?

“Whether this will change things or not, is always the question,” Narcisse says. “But the worst thing is to do nothing, to remain silent.”

Making Treaty 7 was about three years in the making and included a cast of about 20 poets, dancers, singers, musicians and performers. Performances ran Sept. 11, 13 and 14 at Calgary’s Heritage Park Historical Village.

“Whether this will change things or not, is always the question. But the worst thing is to do nothing, to remain silent.”
— Narcisse Blood

The backbone of the play is the story of Treaty 7, one of a family of numbered treaties signed between Canada’s First Nations and the Crown  between 1871 and 1921. Treaty 7 paved the way for the peaceful settlement of the Province of Alberta. Making Treaty 7 is about that historic agreement, but it also investigates the results and implications 137 years later.

“We’re using the art of theatre as a vehicle and a tool for a higher purpose, and that higher purpose has to do with having the vocabulary and the courage and the integrity to identify and articulate things that we can do better as a society,” says Michael.

In reviewing the history of Treaty 7, it’s possible to conclude that not all parties brought their full integrity to that event. As a result, there are a lot of things that could be made better.

For instance, it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that when Treaty 7 is interpreted through the Indian Act, the results are residential schools, systemic poverty, racism and intergenerational post-traumatic stress disorder, all of which continue to affect Aboriginal peoples living in southern Alberta.

The hope now is that this theatrical project can go some distance in solving those problems — in even turning those problems in an opportunity.

It’s one thing to ask, what if all parties had brought their full integrity to that 1877 agreement? How might things be different now?

It’s another to propose that we start behaving as though that’s what actually happened. This is Michael’s call.

“Let’s start now,” he says. “Going forward together, let’s start behaving as though that’s what actually happened, so that we can learn from each other and make a better place.”

World Premiere of Making Treaty 7 · Photos by Arnell Tailfeathers
The show / Smallpox / Mr. C (Narcisse Blood)

Narcisse describes the show, Making Treaty 7, as a cautionary tale which he also considers to be a very hopeful tale.

He recalls his elders as he grew up encouraging him to go out and talk to the “newcomers,” to learn who they are, to learn their language and then to pass on this message, from them and from the land: “There is enough for all of us, take what you need and give back to the land.”

This is what he is doing through his engagement in Making Treaty 7. He also brings this message in other ways. Thoughts of the future he is creating for the children and grandchildren he loves so dearly drive him. He holds out hope that things can indeed change.

Making Treaty 7 was a sold-out performance, with about 75 per cent of audience members from Aboriginal communities.

To learn more about the production, including the ongoing community screening and discussion opportunities, visit the Making Treaty 7 website.

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