So often in Alberta and throughout Canada one hears the phrases, “the Indian way”, “the Indians”, ” the Indian language”, as if all the Indians of Alberta and Canada as a whole were of one culture. This is not so.
In fact there are forty-two separate Bands of Treaty Indians in the Province of Alberta alone. The forty-two Bands divide into at least a dozen distinctly different cultural groups within our Province. The following are some of the points of difference among these groups.
There are at least ten different North American Indian languages actually spoken by Treaty Indian groups in Alberta. These ten languages derive from three separate major families of languages, each as different from the other as the as the languages of Europe are from the languages of China.
These languages are:
A. Algonkian Language Family
2. and 3. Cree (at least two dialects)
4. Saulteau (Ojibway)
B. Athapaskan Language Family
C. Sioux Language Family
9. and 10. Stoney (two dialects)
also known as Assiniboine
Regional Economic Differences
There are at least three geographic and economic groupings of Treaty Indian people in Alberta. They are:
C. Foothills (a hybrid of the Plains and Woodlands groups, doing hunting, lumbering and tourism)
The differences between the various Treaty Indian groups of Alberta resulted from a number of factors: historical migrations, interactions with other Indian groups, contact with the white men under differing circumstances, and the signing of different treaties at different times (Treaties 6, 7 in 1877 and Treaty 8 in 1899 respectively.
The Indian groups of Alberta show cultural differences in a variety of life-style features: degree of group spirit, styles of dress and housing, art, farming methods, recreational and competitive dancing, measures of wealth and the “good” person all show distinct differences. In addition, the role of esoteric societies, kinship systems, and selection and operation of the authority structure within the society differ widely from group to group among the Treaty Indians of Alberta.
Religious and Educational Difference
The traditional education process varies from group to group, ranging from strongly heuristic (depending on observation) to mildly didactic (situation evaluation, telling of maxims, ethical exhortation) Discipline in enforcing the behavioral lessons ranges from the use of unreal fear (the owl) to physical punishment, depending on which group one is thinking of. In the area of religion, the Sun Dance ceremonies of the Plains groups are unknown among the more northern groups who in turn have their own forms of religious expression. Even with respect to the Sun Dance, there are differences among the Blackfoot, Sarcee, Stoney and Cree in the details of how they perform it.
These points of difference among the Treaty Indian groups of Alberta are not to be underestimated. In fact, they represent cultural differences as great as, or greater than, any that might exist among the European Cultural groups.
This country is the Indian’s cultural heritage. The Indian cultures are the most typical of our provinces’ cultural heritage. In times past the government policy led to the corrosion of some of the Indian cultural patterns. The results are obvious in the poor self-image of many of our Indian people. There is also an unfortunate tendency towards social disintegration on the reserves where the value and authority structures that were part of our heritage were nearly destroyed by non-Indians, but were never fully replaced by the non-Indians’ own value and authority structures. Today we see new hope for regaining our dignity and self-image.