It’s a piece of history that a lot of Albertans are not entirely well-versed on: on September 22, 1877, 139 years ago, the British crown signed a treaty with the Tsuu T’ina, Kainai, Piikani, Siksika, Bearspaw, Chiniki, and Wesley Nations to sort out claims over the very land that Calgary sits on now. The resulting agreement, Treaty 7, is considered one of the most important documents to ever be signed in the history of southern Alberta, but few of us give it much thought.
Most Canadian learned something about the First Nations land treaties in school, but textbooks never tell the whole story. Which is why the Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society formed to develop and preform Making Treaty 7, a theatre show that combines elements of storytelling, song, drama, and dance to create a narrative about what led up to the Treaty and how it continues to affect all Albertans, whether they’re of Native descent or not.
“A lot of people don’t know the history. It’s new information,” says Troy Emery Twigg, Making Treaty 7‘s Artistic Director. “When they think ‘treaty’ they think it’s a First Nations thing. But we are all Treaty people.”
The show was conceived by the late Michael Green when he was working as the creative director of Calgary 2012 and wanted to include meaningful contributions from First Nations people – through workshopping with First Nations elders and both Native and non-Native artists, the show came together as a collaboration, and that spirit still stands. When Green and his Making Treaty 7 collaborator Narcisse Blood were killed in a car accident in 2015 Making Treaty 7 suffered a traumatic loss, but the show has continued, with the flexible format allowing it to make way for new performers and perspectives.
This year’s performances take place at the Grey Eagle Resort and Casino from September 28 to 30 (with a gala dinner on September 29) and will feature a slightly scaled-down show with a mix of new performers as well as Making Treaty 7 veterans like Kris Demeanor and Michelle Thrush. The show has been compacted a bit so that the company can produce a version that will be easier to tour to different parts of Canada, including a special performance as part of Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations. A version of the show aimed at younger audiences has also been developed for schools.
But for now, the impact that the show has had on Calgarians who have been lucky enough to see it has been palpable. Audience members often describe the show as “life changing” and many Calgarians have noticed more and more public gatherings are starting an acknowledgement that they’re being held on Treaty 7 land – something that was not nearly as common an occurrence only a few years ago. The show may only be impacting one audience at a time, but it is gradually meeting its mandate to create a sense of understanding among the people sharing this land.
“It’s transformative,” Twigg says. “The project is about creating that space of mutual respect and learning how to co-exist. When the Chiefs signed the treaty it wasn’t a surrender of land, it was an agreement to live on the land together.”
Making Treaty 7 runs from September 28-30 at the Grey Eagle Resort and Casino (3777 Grey Eagle Dr.). Tickets are available through greyeagleresortandcasino.ca, 1-866-943-8849 or at the Grey Eagle box office.