We Are All Treaty People

Office of the Treaty Commissioner recognizes the anniversary of the Cypress Hills Massacre

  • Published - 01/06/2023
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  • Posted By - OTC
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Today the Office of the Treaty Commissioner recognizes 150 years since the Cypress Hills Massacre and the history of this historical and tragic day.

On June 1, 1873 accusations of thievery lead to the massacre of Assiniboine (Nakoda) Elders, warriors, women, and children staying in camps near two trading posts in the Cypress Hills. Only one of the wolfers was killed in the melee, a French-Canadian man.

The massacre of the Nakoda people at Cypress Hills was the reason why the North West Mounted Police marched from Winnipeg that year to try to bring order to what was seen as the lawless west. Nakoda men, women and children were massacred by American wolf hunters and whiskey traders. The hunters and traders surrounded the camp and used rifles to shoot the people there. The exact number of people killed that night has been lost to time. Some historians peg it around 20 people killed, or slightly more, where survivors of the massacre said it’s closer to 300.

There was no burial for the Nakoda people, their bones lay on the ground for years. The survivors, however, reached safety with some Métis a few kilometers away. The Montana traders packed their belongings and returned south, escorted by the wolfers. News of the massacre spread slowly. Abel Farwell, who ran a training post, reported it to the authorities in Montana, who relayed it to Washington. Meantime, Métis brought the same news to Winnipeg. Both reports reached Ottawa by the end of August 1873.

For three years the federal government tried to bring the murderers to justice. In July 1875, officers of the new North West Mounted Police (NWMP) traveled to Montana, but failed to extradite seven men. Another three, captured in Canada, were tried and acquitted in Winnipeg in June 1876. No witness under oath would incriminate the accused. All charges were dropped in 1882. While the US government cooperated, public opinion in Montana favoured the accused; in Winnipeg it was divided.

Parliament passed the needed legislation even before the massacre. Cabinet discussed the whisky trade early in August and on the 28th the Ottawa Citizen announced that the NWMP would be organized immediately. The next day saw the first published report in eastern Canada about the Cypress Hills Massacre while the first 150 members of the NWMP were already training in Manitoba.

Government thought the ensuing pursuit would strengthen Canadian authority by showing to First Nations that the justice system was impartial and as part of their Treaty, provide them a life free of interference from settlers and whiskey traders.  We see today that this is not the case and the NWMP and subsequently the RCMP have been part of the genocidal practices used to build Canada.

Although the Cypress Hills Massacre has faded from many modern memories, it is still remembered every spring with commemoration through the descendants of Ceg-A-Kin, the ancestors of the modern “Carry the Kettle” First Nations. They signed adhesion to Treaty 4 at Fort Walsh on September 25, 1877. The three Assiniboine Chiefs who signed the Treaty 4 adhesion were Man Who Takes The Coat (Cuwiknaga Je Eyaku, in the Assiniboine/Nakoda language), Long Lodge (Teepee Hoksa), and Lean Man (Wica Hostaka). Ochankugehe (Dan Kennedy) published a moving account by an Assiniboine survivor in 1972. The incident remains important to Nakoda in the area, where some are working to obtain protection for the site of the 1873 camp.

The Cypress Hills massacre shows the racism and oppression faced by Indigenous people, and in so many ways we see how this has continued today. The Office of the Treaty Commissioner urges people to learn the true history of this land as they begin their reconciliation journey, because without Truth there is no reconciliation.