Truth for Reconciliation

How the North-West Mounted Police – the Forerunner of Canada’s RCMP – Saved the Blackfoot People from Extinction

Robert MacBain
May 31, 2023
Canadians are regularly harangued about how their nation and its institutions, including the RCMP, ostensibly brutalized Indigenous people to the point of “genocide.” But the fact is, the RCMP proved among the best friend Indigenous people had. Robert MacBain tells the near-forgotten story of how its predecessor force, the North-West Mounted Police, saved one of Canada’s largest groups of Indigenous tribes from a terrible fate. Drawing from contemporaneous accounts, including the words of prominent chiefs, MacBain recounts how the force protected the Blackfoot from the depredations of the whiskey trade, winning their friendship and trust. It was about as far from genocidal behaviour as can be.
Truth for Reconciliation

How the North-West Mounted Police – the Forerunner of Canada’s RCMP – Saved the Blackfoot People from Extinction

Robert MacBain
May 31, 2023
Canadians are regularly harangued about how their nation and its institutions, including the RCMP, ostensibly brutalized Indigenous people to the point of “genocide.” But the fact is, the RCMP proved among the best friend Indigenous people had. Robert MacBain tells the near-forgotten story of how its predecessor force, the North-West Mounted Police, saved one of Canada’s largest groups of Indigenous tribes from a terrible fate. Drawing from contemporaneous accounts, including the words of prominent chiefs, MacBain recounts how the force protected the Blackfoot from the depredations of the whiskey trade, winning their friendship and trust. It was about as far from genocidal behaviour as can be.
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The 150th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) came and went on May 23rd. Although Niagara Falls was lit up by night in spectacular crimson, celebrations were generally subdued and the official statement of Marco Mendicino, federal Minister of Public Safety, said Canada’s national police force was “reflecting on its past with humility” and “acknowledging that the RCMP has played a role in some of Canada’s most difficult and dark moments.” Not your average gusher of praise, to be sure. In a country whose government, academia, news media, social activists and Indigenous organizations are pushing a narrative that their nation’s treatment of Indigenous people has amounted to “genocide,” it seems the top law enforcement organization is being forced to share the blame.

In fact, the historical record is clear that for much of Canada’s history, the RCMP was among the best friend Canada’s Indigenous people had. In at least one instance, its predecessor organization saved one of Canada’s largest groups of Indigenous tribes from extinction: the Blackfoot.

It’s your anniversary, now feel terrible: While events were held on May 23 to commemorate 150 years since the founding of Canada’s national police force, Federal Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino (right) used it to advance the Trudeau Government’s narrative of shame by claiming the RCMP “has played a role in some of Canada’s most difficult and dark moments.” (Sources of photos: (left) @RCMPPEI/ Twitter; (right) Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Before Canada even became a country, and before the future Prairie provinces were settled by whites, the unquenchable thirst for alcohol that had grown among the Blackfoot of southern Alberta had become so strong that some were found frozen to death in the snow following a binge of heavy drinking. The problem worsened after an outbreak of smallpox in 1870, with some selling all that they had to obtain alcohol, and outbreaks of violence and murder becoming more common. It became so bad that the proud warrior nation began to separate into small groups, afraid to cross paths.

That’s the way Irish-born Father Constantine Scollen described the Blackfoot in a letter to Alexander Morris, Lieutenant-Governor of the recently created North-West Territories, in September 1876. “It was painful to me to see the state of poverty to which they had been reduced,” Father Scollen wrote. “Now they were clothed in rags, without horses and without guns.”

In a letter to Alexander Morris, Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Territories (top right), Father Constantine Scollen (top left) lamented that the devastation of alcohol and smallpox had reduced the formerly “proud, haughty, numerous” Blackfoot people to half their former number. (Source of bottom photo: University of Alberta Libraries, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This was in stark contrast to the state of the Blackfoot when Scollen first started living among them in 1861. “Formerly they had been the most opulent Indians in the country,” he wrote. “They were then a proud, haughty, numerous people (perhaps 10,000 on the British side of the line) having a regular politico-religious organization.” In the blunt language of the day, Scollen also noted the Blackfoot people’s “thirst for blood” and other “passions.”

Modern-day confirmation of how well off some of the Blackfoot had been comes in a booklet published in 2008 by the Blood Tribe (one of the three main members of the Blackfoot Confederacy) describing Chief Peeniquim (Seen From Afar) as being rich enough to have 10 wives, 100 horses and a huge lodge made with 30 buffalo skins. Two horses were needed to move his lodge from place to place.

In his letter to Morris – who negotiated four of the seven treaties the new Dominion of Canada entered into between 1871 and 1877 with the Ojibway, Cree, Blackfoot and other tribes living between Thunder Bay and the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains – Scollen attributed the Blackfoot’s fallen state to the devastating impact of smallpox and to alcohol. “The fiery water flowed more freely, if I may use the metaphor, as the streams running from the Rocky Mountains, and hundreds of the poor Indians fell victim to the white man’s craving for money, some poisoned, some frozen to death whilst in a state of intoxication, and many shot down by American bullets,” he wrote.

The “fiery water” was not part of a diabolical plot by the fledgling Canadian government to commit genocide upon the Indigenous peoples of the Prairies. It came from the American side of the 49th parallel, specifically from the rapidly developing chain of towns along the Missouri River running through northern Montana and North Dakota – places like Fort Benton and Great Falls.

From there, bands of whiskey traders, wolf hunters and Indian fighters (often one-and-the-same) ranged northward into the essentially lawless lands across the American border. At American trading posts like Fort Whoop-Up, near present-day Lethbridge, Alberta, the Indigenous people could trade their buffalo robes, wolf pelts, deerskins and other furs for guns, utensils like iron cooking pots, blankets, flour and other items.

They could also forego those useful and life-improving items for “firewater,” a highly addictive brew made with a vile mix of alcohol, chewing tobacco, pain killer, molasses and red ink that was dispensed by the jug or cupful from a large barrel. They would get two litres of the Devil’s brew for one buffalo robe. This was a steep price, since hunting and killing a buffalo was dangerous work and processing the hide labour-intensive. More often than not, and much to their peril, the Blackfoot went for the firewater.

At Fort Whoop-Up, near present-day Lethbridge, Alberta, American whiskey traders offered “firewater” for furs, deerskins and buffalo robes, a noxious trade that left the Blackfoot “demoralized as a people.”

It was devastating. Scollen estimated that the Blackfoot population north of the American border had fallen from around 10,000 when he first arrived in 1861 to 5,000 and had been “utterly demoralized as a people.” Periodic smallpox outbreaks worsened the despair and increased the tendency to addiction.

Meanwhile, the Blackfoot had to fight off increasing encroachments by the Cree and Assiniboine from southwestern Saskatchewan. “The Blackfeet are extremely jealous of what they consider their country, and never allowed any white men, Half-breeds, or Crees to remain in it for any length of time,” is how Scollen put it. At times these encroachments flared into fierce warfare.

One such encounter was the October 1870 Battle of Belly River (today the Oldman River), at what is now Lethbridge. Believing that a smallpox outbreak had badly weakened the Blackfoot Confederacy, Cree warriors led by Big Bear and Little Pine fell upon an outlying camp of Bloods (Kainai in their own language). Much to their surprise, nearby camps of well-armed Blackfoot (Siksika) and Piegan (Piikani) warriors entered the fray the next day, gained the high ground and devastated the Cree. An estimated 300 Cree warriors were killed at the cost of fewer than 40 Blackfoot.

Believing the Blackfoot to be weakened by a smallpox epidemic, Cree warriors in 1870 launched a surprise attack, only to suffer a bloody defeat at the Battle of Belly River. (Source of photo:

While the Confederacy won that battle against the Cree (as they had many previous encounters), they were no match for the American whiskey traders and wolf hunters. These were not only ruthless and experienced fighters, but were armed with new technology: fast-loading cartridge-based rifles, including the Henry, a .44 calibre, lever-action repeater with which a skilled rifleman could unleash 28 rounds per minute. The Blackfoot were indeed at the edge of extinction – or something very near to it – but not in the manner often claimed by Canada’s official narrative today.

The New Dominion of Canada Expands West

Upon Confederation in July 1867, much of what geographically is now Canada, including southern Alberta, northern Ontario and Quebec, Manitoba, most of Saskatchewan and a portion of the current Northwest Territories – a vast area of some 2.5 million square kilometres – was still loosely operated by the Hudson’s Bay Company under a charter received in 1670 from King Charles II. The Company was there for commercial reasons only and the Indigenous peoples governed their own affairs.

The enormous holding’s transfer to the new Dominion of Canada on November 19, 1869 left it up to the fledgling country to provide law, order and security against American encroachments. Canada’s total population was approximately 3.8 million of whom, according to the official census, a little more than 100,000 were Indigenous. There were approximately 40,000 Indigenous people living in the newly acquired lands west of Thunder Bay. The concurrent Métis uprising in Manitoba under Louis Riel delayed the transfer until the following July, and accentuated the challenges.

The Parliament of Canada soon passed laws establishing the Province of Manitoba with a Lieutenant-Governor and Legislature, as well as the North-West Territories, to be governed initially by Manitoba’s Lieutenant-Governor. More was needed. The new country’s government and its first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, were angered at the effrontery of the American whiskey traders, concerned about the harm to Indigenous communities and painfully aware that a country that can’t control its territory will soon lose it. Annexation by the United States was a real possibility.

Riding to the rescue: Formed in 1873, the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) was sent across the Prairies to assert the Crown’s authority over the land (top); from Fort Macleod (bottom) and other outposts, they forced American whiskey traders back across the border. (Sources of photos: (top) Canadian Museum of History; (bottom) Museum & Archives)

The government had recently sent British Army Major William Butler into the newly-acquired territories to examine and report upon their state of affairs. In his remarkable report, Butler noted that, “Law and order are wholly unknown in the region of the Saskatchewan [River], in so much as the country is without any executive organization and destitute of any means of enforcing the law.”

In 1873, Macdonald organized establishment of the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP). The following summer, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel James Farquharson Macleod, they set out across the Prairies. Mounted on good horses, armed with rifles, revolvers and swords, towing several pieces of light field artillery, and wearing the red serge tunics that today are only worn ceremonially, the NWMP were a small paramilitary force totalling just over 300 men and tasked with establishing the Crown’s authority over a gigantic expanse.

At a crossing of trails west of Lethbridge that hosted wagon trains and Indigenous encampments, and was surrounded by grazing grounds for buffalo, the NWMP established Fort Macleod. They promptly forced the American whiskey traders back to the American side of the border and warned them never again to set foot on British soil – and soon began to back up that order with vigorous patrols from lonely outposts scattered across the Prairies. The militarily tiny force also asserted Canada’s first deterrent against American expansion north of the 49th parallel.

“The Year of their Salvation” – The Blackfoot Revival and the Awful Bloodshed on the U.S. Side

The NWMP’s arrival had dramatic effects on the Blackfoot. Just two years later, Scollen looked back upon 1874 as “the year of their salvation.” Since the halting of the whiskey trade, he wrote, “The Blackfeet Indians are becoming more and more prosperous. They are now well clothed and well furnished with horses and guns. During the last two years I have calculated they have bought two thousand horses to replace those they had given away for whiskey.”

While the Blackfoot clearly understood the NWMP’s role in their revival, forging lasting bonds of trust was another issue. The “Red Coats” were still white men, after all. Historically the Blackfoot had been among the most hostile tribes regarding permanent white settlers (as opposed to traders).

They had good reason for fear, mistrust and loathing, for things had gone very differently to the south. There the Blackfeet were losing more and more of their land to ever-encroaching settlers. At times parties of young warriors rode out in anger to stage raids, often far from home, sometimes attacking white civilian men, women and children.

The Americans responded harshly. Among the worst episodes was the “Massacre at Marias River” of January 1870, which took place just 70 kilometres south of the Canadian border and before the NWMP arrived on the Prairies. In an expedition organized out of Fort Ellis near Bozeman, Montana, Major Eugene M. Baker had led four companies of the U.S. Second Cavalry plus infantry north in brutal winter weather – 44 degrees below Fahrenheit by one measure – and located a camp of about 32 lodges on low ground beside the Marias River south of present-day Dunkirk, Montana (approximately 120 km north of Great Falls).

Believing he had found the hostile Mountain Chief and his warriors, Baker positioned his men on ridges above the camp and prepared to fire down on the more than 300 sleeping occupants, most of whom were women, children and the elderly, as the men were away hunting. When a scout warned Baker it was actually the camp of Chief Heavy Runner, who was friendly to the Americans and had a safe conduct pass, Baker is said to have replied: “That makes no difference, one band or another of them; they are all Piegans and we will attack them.” Baker also issued orders implying that no one, including children, was to be spared.

Horrific reprisals: South of the border, the U.S. Army went to war with the Blackfeet (as they were known there), in the winter of 1870 slaughtering 173 mostly unarmed women, children and elderly men at the “Massacre at Marias River.” Shown at bottom, the site of the battle, south of present-day Dunkirk, Montana. (Source of bottom photo: Kurt Wilson, Missoulian)

Upon hearing the first shots, Chief Heavy Runner ran towards the soldiers shouting and waving the safe conduct pass. He was shot dead on the spot. The soldiers fired at will from the ridges and then charged into the camp, slicing the lodge coverings open with butcher knives and shooting the unarmed women, children and elderly Piegan inside. One of the soldiers from Company K boasted that they “killed some with axes” and “gave them an awful massacreing (sic).” When the killing was over, they tore down the teepees and set them afire, many with wounded people still inside.

In the end, 173 Blackfoot were killed in the camp while 140 survived – as well as the able-bodied men who were away hunting. It was one of the three worst massacres of the U.S. Indian Wars, notes author George Black in Empire of Shadows: The Epic Story of Yellowstone, which includes a detailed section on the episode. Black also notes this minor irony: in this instance it was the American commander, Baker, who was utterly intoxicated with whiskey at the time of the attack. In the aftermath, although many Montanans were relieved that the ostensible threat posed by the Blackfeet had been eliminated, the atrocity became a national scandal and sickened much of American society.

As for the original target, Mountain Chief, upon learning of the attack he escaped to the Canadian side where he had been born beside the Oldman River somewhere around 1848. He was now on British soil under the protection of the British Crown. Still, the Blackfoot had no way of knowing what might happen next. As Scollen would write, “Although they are externally so friendly to the Police and other strangers who now inhabit their country, yet underneath this friendship remains hidden some of that dread which they have always had of the white man’s intention to cheat them.”

Cementing the Friendship and Making Treaties 

The NWMP and the Government of Canada clearly still had work to do. The government’s main goal was to gain the Blackfoot’s explicit recognition of Canada’s authority by negotiating a formal treaty, something that had been completed with the other Indigenous peoples of the Prairies.

Just four years after the NWMP arrived, the treaty negotiations with the Blackfoot commenced, and Treaty 7 was signed on September 22, 1877, at the Blackfoot Crossing of the Bow River, about 110 kilometres east of present-day Calgary. Here’s how the Northwest Territories’ new Lieutenant-Governor, David Laird, described the 580-kilometre westward ride from Government House at Battleford, Saskatchewan, through the new Treaty 6 territory: “The Crees appeared friendly, but were not so demonstrative as the Blackfeet who always rode up at once with a smile on their countenances and shook hands with us. They knew the uniform of the Mounted Police at a distance and at once recognized and approached them as friends.”

“You will always find the Police on your side if you keep the Queen’s laws”: Lieutenant-Governor David Laird (top left) praised the chiefs for their cooperation and good faith during the 1877 signing of Treaty 7. Depicted at bottom, an 1881 pow-wow at Blackfoot Crossing showing Chief Crowfoot with his arm raised. (Sources of photos: (top left) Saskatchewan Archives Board R-A1; (top right) Glenbow Archives NA-1237 – Glenbow Foundation, Calgary, Alberta)

A detailed and often near-verbatim account of the negotiations at the Blackfoot Crossing are provided in Manitoba Lieut.-Gov. Morris’s 1880 book, The Treaties of Canada with the Indians. As recounted in the book, this is how a newspaper reporter from the Toronto Globe described the scene: “Nearly all of the Chiefs and minor Chiefs of the Blackfeet, Blood, Piegan, Stony, and Sarcee tribes were seated directly in front of the Council House; and forming a semicircle of about one-third of a mile beyond the Chiefs, about four thousand men, women and children were squatted on the grass, watching with keen interest the commencement of the proceedings.”

Laird opened his pitch to the assembled chiefs as follows: “When bad white men brought you whiskey, robbed you, and made you poor, and, through whiskey, quarrel amongst yourselves, [Queen Victoria] sent the Police to put an end to it. You know how they stopped this and punished the offenders, and how much good this has done.” Laird praised the chiefs for their sincere cooperation with the NWMP and their good faith in obeying the laws of the fledgling Dominion of Canada. Pointedly, Laird promised: “You will always find the Police on your side if you keep the Queen’s laws.”

The “Great Benefactor”: Laird said Indigenous leaders praised the NWMP’s fairness and the “exclusion of intoxicants from the country”; Colonel James Farquharson Macleod, Commander of Fort Macleod, (shown) was held in particularly high regard. (Source of photo: RCMP)

The NWMP’s crucial role in securing the Prairies and providing safety for its Indigenous inhabitants again came up. “The leading Chiefs of the Blackfeet and kindred tribes, declared publicly at the treaty that, had it not been for the Mounted Police they would all have been dead ere this time,” Laird later reported. Laird spoke of the “kind manner” in which he personally observed the NWMP men “treat their Indian visitors.” It was clear that, in just four years, the new force had established a remarkable reputation for fairness to all.

And the Blackfoot appreciated it greatly. “The beneficial effects of this treatment, of the exclusion of intoxicants from the country, and of impartially administering justice to whites and Indians alike were apparent in all my interviews with the Indians,” Laird reported. “They always spoke of the officers of the Police in the highest terms and of the Commander of the Fort, Lieut-Col. McLeod (sic) especially as their great benefactor.”

The historical evidence indicates that the high regard and trust were mutual. According to the Toronto Globe reporter, who took copious notes of the proceedings, Button Chief said, “The Great Mother [Queen Victoria] sent Stamixotokon [Lieut.-Col. Macleod] and the Police put an end to the traffic in firewater. I can now sleep safely. Before the arrival of the Police, when I laid my head down at night, every sound frightened me. My sleep was broken. Now I can sleep sound and I am not afraid.”

Chief Crowfoot, principal spokesperson for the Blackfoot, was even more eloquent: “The Police have protected us as the feathers of the bird protect it from the frosts of winter. I wish them all good, and trust that all our hearts will increase in goodness from this time forward. I am satisfied. I will sign the treaty.”

After Crowfoot, Red Crow, principal chief of the Blood tribe, said: “Three years ago, when the police first came to the country, I met and shook hands with Stamixotokon at Pelly River. Since that time, he made me many promises. He kept them all. Not one of them was ever broken. Everything the police have done has been good. I entirely trust Stamixotokon and will leave everything to him. I will sign with Crowfoot.”

Chief Old Sun, after whom an Indian Residential School east of Calgary was later named, said: “Crowfoot speaks well. We were summoned to meet the Great Mother’s Chiefs here and we would not disappoint them. We have come and will sign the treaty. During the past Crowfoot has been called by us our Great father. The Great Mother’s Chief [Lieut.-Gov. Laird] will now be our Great Father.”

The negotiations also involved practical matters, such as the chiefs’ requests for critical goods – “cattle, money, tobacco, guns, and axes,” in Old Sun’s words – as well as their dread of some white men’s habit of using strychnine to poison unwanted animals like coyotes and wolves.

At the treaty signing, Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot (left) and Chief Red Crow of the Blood Tribe (right) both had high praise for the NWMP. “The Police have protected us as the feathers of the bird protect it from the frosts of winter,” said Crowfoot. (Sources of photos: (left) Provincial Archives of Alberta and Library and Archives Canada; (right) Native American Indian – Old Photos/Facebook)

Echoing Laird, Macleod reviewed the promises that had been made and the record to date. “The Chiefs all here know what I said to them three years ago, when the Police first came to the country – that nothing would be taken away from them without their own consent,” he noted. “You all see today that what I told you then was true. I also told you that the Mounted Police will continue to be your friends, and be always glad to see you.” The main thing he and the Crown asked in return was that the Blackfoot “keep the Queen’s laws.”

Similar negotiations had played out across the Prairies, including the future Saskatchewan, where the NWMP had also gone after whiskey traders and marauders. “In this country, now, no man need be afraid,” Morris declared when addressing the Cree and Saulteaux chiefs near Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, in September 1874. “If a white man does wrong to an Indian, the Queen will punish them. The other day at Fort Ellice, a white man, it is said, stole some furs from an Indian. The Queen’s policemen took him at once, sent him down to Red River [Winnipeg], and he is lying in jail now.” As Morris put it, “The red and white man must live together and be good friends and the Indians must live together like brothers with each other and the white man.”

Getting the various Indigenous peoples to “live together like brothers” was by no means guaranteed. David Mills, Canada’s Interior Minister, in 1877 noted the previously “constant occurrence” of Indigenous conflict on the Prairies, and how the NWMP and treaty process had brought about “the cessation of warfare between the various tribes.” Indeed, Sweet Grass, a baptized Catholic and principal chief of the Plains Cree, had previously beseeched the lieutenant-governor to stop the Americans from “giving firewater, ammunition and arms to our enemies the Blackfeet.” A recent peace agreement with the Blackfoot, Sweet Grass warned, “may not last long.”

Still, following the treaty process, Morris noted that an Ojibway trader had delightedly told him that now, “‘I can sleep in my tent anywhere, and have no fear. I can go to the Blackfeet, and Cree camps, and they treat me as a friend.’”

The Meaning of the Treaties

The treaties between the Crown and the Indigenous tribes of the Canadian Prairies were thought of as final agreements that involved the ceding of the vast majority of the lands, waters and resources to the new Dominion of Canada, in return for particular commitments and benefits. That is the very meaning of a treaty. They were not flexible, eternally evolving “land sharing” pledges requiring ever-greater compensation of Indigenous people by the government and society at large, as is constantly claimed today, and as activist judges are attempting to make the effective law of the land. Let alone did anyone think they meant that the various tribes retained “title” to the land, or that the territories were “unceded.” If they had, the treaties themselves would have been pointless.

“Cede, release, surrender and yield up”: Historical evidence is overwhelming that Indigenous leaders understood the treaties’ clear language to mean they were giving up their land forever in return for specified compensation; treaties were not open-ended, meaningless or merely intended as “land haring” arrangements, as is so often claimed today. (Sources of photos: (left) Manitoba Museum; (right) Dustin Quasar, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The historical evidence is clear that both sides understood what the treaties were. Commissioner William B. Robinson, for example, who negotiated a number of treaties in Ontario, said he drafted them on the basis of an upfront cash payment and an annual payment that was never to rise above a specific amount. The treaties signed by chiefs were “the immediate and final settlement of the matter.”

The numbered treaties on the Prairies were also intended and understood as contractual arrangements. All of the terms of each clearly worded treaty were carefully explained in each tribe’s own language, and there is no evidence of any attempt to mislead or deceive. The signing chiefs agreed – and knew they agreed – to “cede, release, surrender and yield up to Her Majesty the Queen and successors forever all the lands” described by each treaty document, in exchange for defined compensation and certain reserve lands.

When, in one important instance, certain previously described promises were omitted from the drafts of treaties 1 and 2 in Manitoba, causing in Morris’s words “misunderstanding” and “widespread dissatisfaction,” the Government of Canada instructed the Indian Commissioner to fulfill all of the promises that had been made, and inserted the missing promises into revised treaty drafts, which were then signed. The experience, Morris wrote, helped with subsequent treaties.

Before Treaty 3 was signed at Lake of the Woods, for example, James McKay, a mixed-blood Member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly who spoke several Indigenous languages and dialects, read the text to the Ojibway chiefs in their own language and explained the main points. Chief Mawendopenais, who along with Chief Powhassan had played the lead role in the negotiations, said:

“What has been done here today has been done openly before the Great Spirit, and before the nation, and I hope I may never hear any one say that this treaty has been done secretly. And so, in closing this Council, I take off my glove, and in giving you my hand, I deliver over my birthright and lands. And, in taking your hand, I hold fast all the promises you have made, and I hope they will last as long as the sun goes round and the water flows, as you have said.”

The overall result of the Government of Canada’s decision to form and dispatch the North-West Mounted Police and to charge it with a mission of not only bringing law and order to the Prairies but to deal fairly with everyone and, specifically, to protect the Indigenous tribes from the depredations of the whiskey trade, was about as far from genocidal as can be. The NWMP can be justifiably credited with saving the Blackfoot from, at minimum, a severely reduced and degraded existence, if not actual extinction. The NWMP also provided security to the other Indigenous peoples, helping them move beyond the recurring warfare that had characterized their relations. That is something of which the NWMP’s successor organization, the RCMP, and all Canadians can be forever proud.

Toronto-based author Robert MacBain was a consultant to the federal Department of Indian Affairs in the early 1970s and recently published Their Home and Native Land, a book based on interviews with more than 30 knowledgeable Ojibways, Mohawks and Crees plus original research and personal experience (

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