By the early 1870’s, the plains First Nations were suffering
Not only did smallpox devastate the First Nations populations but the buffalo herds were declining rapidly. The buffalo was the plains First Nations livelihood: their source of food, shelter, clothing, and trading goods. By this time, the only known buffalo herds left were located in the Cypress Hills.
"The Blackfoot and the Cree were fighting to gain control of the Cypress Hills boundaries and in the fall of 1870 there was a battle between them called the “Battle of Belly River.” Big Bear and Little Pine led the Cree’s and attacked a Blood First Nations camp. The next day, well armed Peigans entered the battle and defeated the Cree, approximately 200-400 Crees died in the battle. Eventually the Cree and Blackfoot negotiated peace and access to the Cypress hills." (Dodson 14)
First Nations started hearing rumors that their lands were being sold without their consent. In the face of survival, the Cree started to assemble and meet with one another to discuss their approach to the government. They believed that “the land was sacred. It belonged to no one man and could not be sold” (Christensen 146).
Looking for Help
In 1871, a delegation of Chiefs went to Fort Edmonton to meet with Chief Factor W.J. Christie, the officer in charge of the Hudson’s Bay Company for the Saskatchewan District. Chief Sweetgrass, a well respected leader was chosen to be the spokesman for the meeting with Christie (Christensen 148). After meeting with the First Nation Chiefs, Christie wrote a letter at their request and on their behalf to Lieutenant-Governor Archibald to state what the leaders were asking for and their concerns. He related that the First Nations Chiefs wanted to know if it was true that their lands were being sold. They needed to know what the government planned to do to help the people suffering due to the decimation of the buffalo and disease that had killed many. They wanted assurance of their spiritual and physical survival (Price 20). The First Nations knew that treaties were being negotiated to the east of them and wanted to speak with the government about their future (Miller, Ray and Tough 135).