Course:FRST370/Land claims and land uses on the Blood 148 First Nation's Reserve in Alberta, Canada

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Flag of the Blood Tribe

The Blackfoot people are an Indigenous group whose traditional territories span across the countries now called Canada and the United States. Traditionally, the Blackfoot Confederacy shaped their landscape through ceremony, fire, cultivating, gathering, and medicine[1]. There are four tribes within the Blackfoot Confederacy: Siksika, Kainai, Aamsskaapipiikani, and Piikani. The Blood 148 reserve, located in what is known as the province of Alberta, is a jurisdiction of government allocated lands specifically for the Kainai Nation. This particular reservation community is the focal point of this case study; therefore, the history, land management strategies, natural resource sectors, tenure arrangements, and social actors of Blood 148 will be discussed and examined.


The Blood 148 reserve borders the municipalities of Lethbridge, Cardston, and Fort MacLeod, and was established under the Treaty 7 documentation and provisions. It is one of the largest reservations in Canada, with approximately 13,000 registered band members[2]. The natural resources located within Blood 148 reserve lands include fresh water sources, forests, and fossil fuels. In terms of traditional land and resource management, the Blood Tribe have utilized controlled burning to foster ecological stability and prosperity across their traditional territories since time immemorial. Additionally, the Blackfoot people controlled hunting of the bison herds across these lands, by predicting and knowing which water sources the bison were dependent upon[3]. Despite the traditional ecological practices and environmental values that the Blackfoot people possess, the devastating effects of colonization have prevented the Blood Tribe from maintaining autonomy and proper stewardship of the land. Some of these effects include the extinction of the bison herds due to overhunting by settlers, historical restrictions and bans put on Indigenous cultural practices and language, as well as the ongoing impacts of industry and climate change on the landscape. Moreover, assimilatory and racist policies, including the Indian Act, continue to subject the Blood 148 reserve community to socio-economic pressures and barriers[4].

Tenure arrangements

There are four main treaties and policies which have impacted the Blackfoot people and their traditional territories, including the Blood 148 Reserve: The Royal Proclamation Act (1763), the British North America Act (1867), the Indian Act (1876), and Treaty 7 (1877)[2]. The Royal Proclamation Act established the groundwork for how British colonizers would control Indigenous communities following the Seven Years’ War. The British North America Act became the foundation of Canada’s Constitution, in which the Indian Act would later be included. The Indian Act is federal policy in which certain Indigenous communities are federally recognized by the Canadian government. The intentions of the Indian Act were to assimilate and strip Indigenous peoples of their autonomy, by suppressing Indigenous self-governance, cultural practices, and land rights and tenure[2]. Like many Indigenous peoples, the Blackfoot people had their own systems and structures of governance prior to colonization. The Blood Tribe was not exempt from this, and treaties were made between the Kainai Nation and other Indigenous tribes long before the creation of the Indian Act[5]. Treaties in Kainai tradition involve a spiritually binding accord, in which sacred agreements are made between people and groups. In addition to this, land cannot be owned by any group or individual in Kainai tradition; land can only be shared[5].

Chief Mountain from a Belly River Tributary in the Blood Reserve Timber Limits (Blood 148a)

These treaty practices and traditions of land management were not recognized by colonizers, and on September 22, 1877 the Treaty 7 document initiated a federally recognized relationship between the Canadian government and three tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy, including the Blood Tribe[6]. This treaty forcibly displaced the Kainai Nation from the extent of their traditional territories and documented the provisions of the Blood 148 Reserve by binding the Blood Tribe as subjects of the Crown. Multiple breaches of the Indian Act occurred during the creation and implementation of the Treaty 7 documents, which have arguably led to the illegitimacy of these provisions and land claims. One example of a breach that occurred was the Canadian government’s unauthorized possession of the Bow River and the subsequent reduction of the Blood 148 Reserve boundaries, neither of which were approved or voted on by the Blood Tribe[6]. Therefore, the obligations of the Indian Act to prevent exploitative or coercive bargains was breached by the Canadian government. Similarly, the provisions of Treaty 7 required the Blood Tribe to establish a democratically elected Chief and Council, who decide on how resources from the Crown are utilized and allocated. This system of governance is not inclusive of Kainai tradition, and resembles the colonial structures that exist in Canadian municipal and provincial arms of government. Despite this, the Treaty 7 documents and the Indian Act still dictate the distribution of resources, from the Federal Government, down to the Blood Tribe’s elected Chief and Council, and finally to families and individuals of the Blood Tribe (Treaty No. 7 Document, 5)[7].

Administrative arrangements

The Blood 148 Reserve is one of the largest First Nations reservations in Canada, and contains approximately 142,000 hectares of natural resources[8]. It has been recently assessed that there are 823 acres containing valuable timber in Blood 148A, with an allowable annual cut of up to 10 acres[9]. The natural resources sector on the Blood 148 Reserve is primarily managed by Kainaiwa Resources Incorporated and Blood Tribe Land Management, both of which are under the jurisdiction of the Blood Tribe First Nation. Kainaiwa Resources Inc. began operating in 1997 and has since opened over 90 natural gas and oil wells[8]. This corporation owned by the Blood Tribe has generated an annual $7 million revenue and employs 400 band members[8]. Approximately half of the lands within the Blood 148 Reserve are currently leased to two oil and natural gas companies, which has led to further economic self-determination for the Blood Tribe[8].

Despite this, the Blood Tribe faces many barriers and obstacles, including the boom and bust nature of a resource based economy, increased socioeconomic challenges, as well as environmental concerns. Increased flooding and drought due to climate change have adversely impacted agriculture, irrigation, homes, and drinking water in this community, and have resulted in severe economic losses[3]. This poses a major risk to the Blood Tribe, and it is predicted that approximately 500 homes within the Blood 148 Reserve will need to be relocated in the future due to projected flooding[3]. In terms of the socioeconomic challenges, a Statistics Canada survey from 2008 reported that 8% of the labour force within the Blood Tribe have a university education, compared to the wider province of Alberta which reports 21% for its labour force[3]. The lack of job diversity and options for employment on the Blood 148 Reserve poses a risk for the future economic prosperity and development of the Blood Tribe First Nation.

Affected Stakeholders

Social actors (stakeholders, user groups) who are affected stakeholders, their main relevant objectives, and their relative power

Major Stakeholders:

  • Blood Tribe Administration
    • Chief and Council

The Chief and Council of the Blood Tribe have final authority on decisions made by Blood Tribe Land Management, and decisions regarding oil and gas projects are necessarily made by Chief and Council.

    • Blood Tribe Land Management (BTLM)

BTLM is operated by band members under the authority of Chief and Council and serve a variety of functions including Land Registry, geospatial mapping and ground truthing, and mitigation of environmental damage[10].

The Blood Tribe Environmental Protection Division of BTLM and the Kainai Ecosystem Protection Association (KEPA), are both very active in engaging with communities both within and beyond the Blood Tribe. BTLM and KEPA are involved in many projects including, inter alia, plans for bison reintroduction[11], grassland restoration[12]. The Environmental Protection Division is partnered with South West Invasive Managers (SWIM) to control invasive weeds[13].

  • Blood Tribe Agricultural Project (BTAP)
    • Aohkii (2018) Ltd. (Administration and management role for BTAP irrigation system.)

Incorporated in 1991[14], the Blood Tribe Agricultural Project (BTAP) is an independent business entity of the Blood Tribe that operates and maintains agricultural infrastructure. BTAP and Aohkii are partly owned by the Blood Tribe Agri-Business Trust (BTAP Trust), which is run by trustees with the Blood Tribe as its beneficiary[15]. BTAP Trust is contractually responsible to maintain a “5 year rolling average net profit of [1 million dollars per year]” and to pay its beneficiary for the lease of land and 10% of the rolling average from a minimum of two-hundred-thousand dollars per year[15].

Kainai Forage is involved in harvest, but its role is largely based in the storing, processing, and shipping of hay from the Blood Reserve[15]. Kainai Forage’s ownership is shared 51% and 49% between the BTAP and Indigena, respectively. The investment by Indigena provided about 10 million dollars for expansion of Kainai Forage’s storage and processing capacity[15].

  • Blood Tribe Community Organizations
    • Kainai Ecosystem Protection Association (KEPA)

KEPA is a non-profit community organization with a fair amount of overlap with the Environmental Protection Division of BTLM in the projects that they take part in. KEPA promotes environmental stewardship and economic and environmental sustainability[16].

  • South West Invasive Managers (SWIM)

The Government of Alberta, Nature Conservancy Canada, Parks Canada, and the Alberta Invasive Species Council are also SWIM partners, but the partners most affected by the invasive weeds that the organization combats are the Blood Tribe, Cardston County, Waterton Lakes National Park, Crowsnest Pass, and the Municipal Districts of Pincher Creek, Ranchland, and Willow Creek[13]. The latter entities are geographically defined and share a contiguous border, so uncontrolled spread of invasive weeds in one region can easily roll into the others and impact both agricultural production and ecosystem health.

  • Waterton Lakes National Park

As its bounds are within the area of the Big Claim Waterton Lakes National Park[17] may see some changes, but as it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site[18] it will most certainly remain operational.

Minor Stakeholders:

  • Band members

From Ninastako (Chief Mountain) to the buffalo jumps, from the willows of sweat lodges to the trees that helped Charcoal hide from the NWMP[19], Blackfoot stories and culture are tied to their land and resources. The decisions that are made by Chief and Council, the federal government, and all those that own land on Blackfoot traditional territory impact band members in both their connection to the land and the availability of resources for them to use and make a living and survive. Even band members who are not involved in any sort of resource management activities are affected by these decisions, as receive benefits from entities such as the Blood Tribe Agri-Business Trust (BTAP Trust) through Chief and Council[15].

    • Farmers & Ranchers

Although much of the cultivated land on the reserve is done so by non-native farmers, there are also many Blackfoot farmers and ranchers who rely on BTLM, Chief and Council, and the federal government to make appropriate management decisions on the broader scale so that they can successfully manage their land on the smaller scale.

    • Hunters

The Blackfoot have a right to hunt at any time of the year and anywhere on the reserve[20], so wildlife management practices have a major impact on their ability to provide for themselves and their families, and some small businesses, such as Alberta Big Game Outfitters take advantage of the experience they have gained using this right. Although they are so free to hunt there are some limitations to this right, as out of respect many hunters will only hunt if they have permission from those who hold they land they are hunting on, which mainly limits the time of year in which they can hunt on most of the reserve because of the risk of damage to crops. The related costs like fuel can also be restrictive.

  • Blood Tribe Community Organizations
    • Niitsitapi Water Protectors

Niitsitapi (the real people) water protectors are a community organization opposing the Grassy Mountain Coal Project, which is likely to have negative impacts on Southern Alberta’s water, and will irrevocably damage areas within their traditional territory[21].

  • Residents of lands disputed in the Big Claim

The decision on how restitution will occur in regard to the Big Claim is yet to be made with no clear indication as to when this phase of the trial will occur[22]. There is uncertainty for most living within the 162.5 square miles of land involved in the claim[22], as if the decision is to repatriate the land then the farmers will likely have to decide on whether to try to find new land or farms to work on or to move to a town or city. Planning for this decision in advance is also likely quite difficult as they will not know how they will be paid for the land until the method of restitution is decided. Cardston residents may also have to move, but this is less likely as the settlers that formed the town were at least accepted by the Blackfoot at the time[23].

Interested Outside Stakeholders

Social actors (stakeholders, user groups) who are interested stakeholders, outside the community, their main relevant objectives, and their relative power

Old house being used as shelter for by horses on the Blood Reserve

Major Stakeholders:

Major Actors

  • Indigena Capital

In addition to its co-ownership of Kainai Forage, Indigena has been partnered with the Blood Reserve since 2012. In 2018, for example Indigena partnered with the Blood Tribe off reserve in supporting EDF Renewables’ Cypress Wind Project on Blackfoot traditional territory in Cypress County, Alberta[24].

  • Government of Canada

Under treaty 7 and the Indian Act the Government of Canada is the highest-level sovereign entity over the Blood Reserve. The Government of Canada acted as the defendant in the court case for the Big Claim[25].

  • Government of Alberta

Government of Alberta entities like Alberta Environment and Parks provide funding to the Blood Tribe and its organizations, for example BTAP receives funding for environmental assessments, and safety reviews[15].

Minor Stakeholders:

  • Olds Agtech

Partnered with BTAP to market hay[15].

  • Earthwatch Institute

In 2016 the Earthwatch Institute began to form a partnership with Kainai Ecosystem Protection Association (KEPA) to conduct research on the ecological condition of the Blood Reserve; primarily its timber limits (Blood 148A). In 2017 the Earthwatch Institute reached an agreement with the Blood Tribe for their research. The Blood Tribe co-owns the data collected for this research, and some Blood Tribe members received jobs and training in data collection[26].

  • Non-native ranchers and farmers

About 40-50 non-native farmers and ranchers operate on 38,465 parcels of land on the Blood Reserve[27].

  • Kainaiwa Resources

Major oil and gas company which opened in 1997.


Millions of wild bison used to roam North America.

The wild bison population was decimated by Europeans when they arrived in the late 1800s [28]. Bison populations in Canada plummeted near extinction due to over hunting by Europeans (Blood Tribe Land Management, 2020). Bison, while critical to tribes such as the Blood Tribe, are also crucial to a balanced ecosystem in grasslands. They play a crucial role in trampling aspen, preventing forest growth and promoting grasslands [28]. In 2015, a treaty was signed jointly between 10 groups of First Nations and tribes in both Canada and the US. One of these tribes was the Blood Tribe. The treaty called for an international call for restoring the bison population, as well as to strengthen and renew “ancient cultural and spiritual relationships with bison and grasslands in the northern Great Plains” [29]. This treaty, the “Northern Tribes Buffalo Treaty” was the first treaty of its kind to be signed among tribes in recent years. The tribes have decided to partner with organizations such as conservationists, scientists, park rangers, and volunteers to reintroduce the bison onto the Blood Timber Limit. The tribe, among the 9 other tribes, is collaborating through allowing these organizations to extend their field sites onto the tribal lands, which they have historically not allowed[28]. Their cooperation and knowledge of the animal and the ecosystem as a whole is critical to the reintroduction of bison onto their traditional lands as well as western Canada as a whole. This community project is also aiming to develop programs in order to educate younger generations on the importance of the buffalo to the Blood tribe and other first nations, spiritually, economically, and ecologically.

Aims/intentions of making more grasslands

When grasslands are converted into agricultural grounds, they lose approximately half of their stored carbon [30].In a grassland where two hectares can provide a home to over 100 species as well as endangered species, they have an enormous potential in mitigating climate change [30]. Due to the carbon storage potential of these plants’ roots, which extend meters down into the ground, grasslands have become one of the most resilient ecosystems to climate change. The importance of grasslands further is shown because when grasslands catch on fire, the majority of the carbon remains underground, whereas in forest fires the carbon is released into the atmosphere. However, Canada has eradicated up to 90% of its grasslands for the purpose of agriculture and development [30].Members of the Blood Tribe Land Management (BTLM) council have begun to take things into their own hands in order to preserve the remaining native grasslands and save damaged land from further damage. Because Canada has historically encouraged cultivation of grasslands rather than preservation through things like the 1872 Dominion Lands Act, which encouraged settlement in the prairies for free as long as settlers agreed to cultivate at least a quarter of the land. Consequently, the majority of remaining grasslands are privately owned with little government protection or involvement.

Between 75 and 90 percent of Canada's grasslands have been converted for agriculture and development.

Members of the BTLM are working with private landowners in conservation efforts. The private landowners then work with the BTLM group to convert cultivated lands back to grasslands. In some instances, this looks like members of BTLM sharing their knowledge with private landowners of native plants and how to grow them. Further, other private landowners residing or farming on the Blood Reserve require three-year permits, in which they can farm parts of the reserve. However, they must apply for these permits and agree to the management practices set by the BTLM. The parameters they must follow include restrictions on herbicides and pesticides. They permit and the fees that landowners face are paid to the Federal government, which is then passed onto the tribal council. Further, the BTLM conducts yearly evaluations on the lands and how they have been managed by these non-tribal members.

Throughout history, First Nations have often lost much of their land and culture due to the government’s seizure of the land and mismanagement. One claim that was settled in 2019 was a big step in repaying debts and losses suffered by the Blood Tribe at the hands of the government. Incidences of mismanagement of cattle ranching occurring between 1894-1923 on Indigenous lands were settled through a payment of $150 million dollars from the government to the Blood Tribe as means of compensation [31]. This money is to go towards community development in the form of “expanding Red Crow College, building housing, and preserving traditions” [31]. Though this land claim ended up successful, many land claims and initiatives are still in progress in the preparation of return of traditional lands to Indigenous people.

Another claim, known as the “Big Claim” concerns thousands of acres of lands taken away from the Blood Tribe, which is still in the works of being settled. This claim is in its third phase of hearings to the Federal Court. As of 2019, the Federal Court has found the claim to be valid and does not plan to appeal the judgement. There has been no publicly announced further steps, however [32].

On a similar note, the Blood Tribe also has had conflicts arise due to miscommunication or lack of communications between the tribal council and the community members. This lack of communication between the member population of the tribe and the tribal council is often due to the corruption which exists within the council.

Murphy Oil Corporation has access to over 50% of the Blood Tribe’s land, in exchange for $50 million.

In 2012 an agreement was reached between the Blood Tribe Council and a mining company called Murphy oil, leasing the company 129 280 acres of tribal land for oil and gas exploration for a period of 5 years. This agreement was reached between the Blood Tribe Chief and council, and allows the company access to over 50% of the Blood Tribe’s land, in exchange for $50 million. The tribal council claims that they hoped this agreement would contribute to lowering the Blood Tribe’s high unemployment rate. Framed as economic development for Indigenous peoples, their resource-rich lands are often targeted by resource-development companies. However, these development companies often come bearing their own staff, and do not employ many Indigenous peoples. Oftentimes, the Indigenous people are instead left to clean up the mess left behind once the project is over. In the 2012 case of Murphy oil, the tribal members’ rights were violated, as “the Blood Tribe chief and council did not fulfill their obligation to obtain the free, prior, and informed consent of members of the Blood Tribe” [33]. In this case, the member population of the Blood Tribe have had their rights violated, and were not protected by Aboriginal Affairs or the Federal government, which “perpetuates the vicious cycle of nepotism and corruption within the band council” [33].


When researching about the community projects taking place on the Blood Tribe’s land, it was often difficult to find information regarding the specific roles and involvement that the tribal members had in decision making. In order to better understand and evaluate these community projects, more transparency is needed concerning the roles of the tribal population in comparison to other stakeholders.

Further, the Blood Tribe itself must improve their internal relations in order to avoid corruption, and to incorporate and value all community members’ say on what happens on their land. While the council is supposed to obtain the community’s consent and agreement prior to any deals, this is often not the case. A better approach to the community aspect of managing their lands would be like what was seen in Naidu. In Naidu, the decisions with the rules and plans of their lands were entirely community decided. While the Blood Tribe has the tribal council, in Naidu the entire community has a chance each year and meeting to have their voices and opinions heard. The exclusivity of the Blood Tribe Council seems to contribute to corruption, as was shown in the discussion about Murphy oil. While the relationship between the Blood Tribe and other stakeholders are important (such as the development companies, Provincial government, and Federal government) are crucial in making many decisions, there has to be better unity and transparency within the tribal council, in order for management of land and decisions to be truly “community” projects.


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