Indigenous Peoples

The Town of Banff was a service centre for tourism for about a hundred years before it was incorporated as a governing municipality in 1990. But the area has been a place where Canada’s first peoples lived and visited for more than 10,000 years.

The town is located on the Bow River. This river was used by Indigenous people for travel, hunting and fishing, long before European settlers arrived. The name “Bow” refers to the reeds that grew on the banks of the glacier-fed river, and were used by Indigenous peoples to make bows. In the Blackfoot language, the river is called Makhabn, which means “river where the bow reeds grow.”

Tunnel Mountain

This area from Banff stretching towards Calgary is now called the Bow Valley. Banff is located at the foot of a mountain that many First Nations peoples know as Sacred Buffalo Guardian Mountain by the Holy Springs. It has also been called Sleeping Buffalo Mountain. Today, maps refer to it as Tunnel Mountain, even though CP Rail eventually decided not to dig a railway tunnel through the mountain.

This community is located within the Treaty 7 region of Southern Alberta. The region of Treaty 7, which was signed in 1877, encompasses the traditional territory of:

  • The Blackfoot Confederacy… comprising the Siksika [Sik-see–gaa], Kainai [Gaa-Naw], and Piikani [Bee–gaa–knee] nations (also called Peigan)
  • The Tsuut'ina [Soots-in–naw] First Nations, 
  • The Stoney Nakoda Nations of Chiniki, Wesley and Bearspaw.

Before the drawing of provincial boundaries (Alberta was portioned from the Northwest Territories in 1882), there was an understanding by the Salmon People of the Columbia and the Buffalo People of the Plains that this valley is a shared space. 

An 1895 agreement involving the Ktunaxa (too-naa-xha), Stoney Nakoda, and the Secwepemc (sha-whep-mak, or Shuswap/Kinbasket Band), permiting Stoney hunting on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains, and affirming Ktunaxa rights to harvest on the eastern slopes.

This valley has long been important to the Mountain Cree clan of Peechee, and to the Dene of the far north and far south who have their rock art in the canyons here.

The Métis People have lived on both sides of the mountains for over two hundred years.

There were many agreements among First Nations peoples preceding the 1877 Treaty 7 signing, reflecting the changing nature of territories.  However, Treaty 7 involved the Canadian Crown as a signatory, and therefore obligates all current inhabitants of the region to honour this Treaty.

Residents of Banff are all Treaty people here and we have the opportunity and responsibility to understand that we honour the truth of the past, including the wrongs European settlers inflicted on Indigenous peoples, so that we can build a future on peace and friendship, as we work through our journey of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.  

An acknowledgement of Treaty 7 region is a commitment to thinking about the past and what our relationship to Indigenous Peoples means to us today. 

This is a journey that the Town of Banff is starting, with conversations and exploration of a heritage based in this special mountain area. The Town has much work ahead in terms of listening to First Nations in the region, forging relationships, nurturing cultural vibrancy, and learning from centuries of knowledge about community and this mountain region.

More information and important links:

Nakoda Banff Indian Days

Nakoda Banff Indian Days Photo by Michelle Macullo