Piikani Nation elder Jim Swag and Piikani Nation council member Barnaby Provost attend a meeting of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council in which the Piikani Nation was accepted into the U.S.-based organization. Photo: Alter-Native Media

Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council welcomes First Nation to group

The Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council has welcomed a new member from the north.

The organization has long represented the interests of tribes in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. But, in a first, the Piikani Nation from neighboring Canada, has joined the fold.

"We are humbled by this honor,” Chief Stanley Grier said after being accepted at the organization's annual board meeting last week. “For the Piikani people, this is a momentous occasion."

The Piikani Nation, which is based in Alberta, has political, legal and cultural ties to tribes on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. The Piikani people are part of the historic Blackfoot Confederacy, which includes the Blackfeet Nation in present-day Montana.

The Blackfeet Nation was a signatory to the 1855 Lame Bull Treaty, along with Blackfoot Confederacy representatives whose governments are now based in Canada. Some of those representatives, such as Heavy Shield, Medicine Calf and Father of Many Children, went on to sign a treaty with the Canadian government in 1877.

The U.S., however, only maintains a formal relationship with the Blackfeet Nation. Grier hopes the situation changes with its involvement in the Rocky Mountain group.

"With our relatives and allies in the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, the Piikani Nation will be able to contribute for the betterment of all tribal people in the region, an opportunity that has not fully existed for us since 1855,” Grier said.

Even before the Piikani Nation joined the organization, tribal leaders on both sides of the border have been working together on common issues, including fighting the Keystone XL Pipeline, whose crude oil originates from Alberta, as well as the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The Piikani Nation also was instrumental in the development of the grizzly bear treaty, which calls for stronger protections for the iconic species. Some 170 tribes have joined the agreement.

Another area of concern, Grief said, is missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Though Canada has established an inquiry into the issue, it's been beset by organizational problems, staff resignations and complaints from families of victims.

In the U.S., the government has joined efforts to address the issue. But it has not formally acknowledged the extent of the problem due to lack of data, inadequate resources and jurisdictional entanglements.

“The US-Canadian border continues to impede any substantial progress on the murdered and missing indigenous women tragedy,” Grier said. “A lack of effective cooperation exists not only between law enforcement agencies, but also between our tribal nations, due to the status-quo of jurisdictional paralysis. We must campaign to rectify significant jurisdictional issues that undermine our ability as tribal leaders and governments to act effectively. The trust and confidence of Native communities in law enforcement must be addressed and improved.”

Native leaders on both sides of the border are also working on an update to the North American Free Trade Agreement. They are calling on Canada, Mexico and the United States to include an indigenous chapter, since tribes and First Nations were left out of the original deal.

“We’ve been engaged in trade agreements long before the U.S. or Canada came into existence,” ‪Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations said at the winter session of the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C., on February 14

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