A day on the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve

On May 3rd, 2017, I was fortunate enough to accompany Hal Eagletail on a tour of the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve. Hal is a well respected cultural leader of the Tsuut’ina, and the Lakeview Community Association’s Tsuut’ina Nation Relations Committee had invited him to speak to residents about the history and culture of the Nation. Hal wanted to show certain areas of the reserve in his presentation, and as chairman of the committee, I was asked if I was interested in seeing more of the land and to take photos. I was treated to an incredible day, listening to some of the stories and walking the land of the Tsuut’ina Nation.

Any mistakes in the stories recounted in this post are mine and not Hal’s. While the post below covers some of what was presented in Hal’s talk, I recommend watching the video of the presentation, which is shown at the end of this post.

DSC_0931 Da ni t'a da

‘Danit’ada’ is the traditional Tsuut’ina greeting.

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Rock Cairn

On the signing of Treaty 7 in 1877, the Tsuut’ina Nation was allocated a reserve adjacent to the Siksika Nation, near what is now Bassano, Alberta. After negotiating with the Federal Government for their own land, the area around Fish Creek (known as Wolf Creek to the Tsuut’ina) was selected by Tsuut’ina scouts. The scouts created a pile of rocks on a hill overlooking the creek in order to mark the land, and in 1883 when the new reserve was established, Chief Bullhead placed a rock on the pile and told all of his people to place their own rock. To this day, every Nation member continues to place a rock on the pile when they come of age, and as the Nation grows, so to does the pile.

A marker stone telling the story of the cairn was unveiled by Prince Charles in 1977.

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New Tsuut’ina Museum

Near the rock cairn is the new Tsuut’ina Nation museum. The previous museum was established in the early 1980s, and was located in the old Seven Chiefs sportsplex building. When the sportplex was torn down a few years ago to make way for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road, the museum’s collection was put into storage to await a new home. The new museum is located just south of Chief Bullhead’s old house (built in 1909) is slated to open on Treaty Day, June 28 2017.

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Indian Agent’s House

For decades, Federal employees known as Indian Agents were sent to oversee nearly every aspect of a First Nation’s business. The agent would typically live on the reserve they were sent to manage, in a house provided by the Government. This hundred-year-old Agent’s house, with its three fireplaces, was considerably larger than any other residence on the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve including the Chief’s house.

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Residential School Site

The lone spruce tree just to the right of the centre of the photograph above grows on the site of the old Tsuut’ina Nation reserve residential school (the Anglican St. Barnabas School). In the foreground is a thicket of yellow lilac bushes planted by the children who lived at the school.

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Anglican Church

Pictured is the third Anglican Church built on the reserve. The foundations of the second church lie to the left of the church in this photograph. The first church, established in the late 1880s, was a sod building.

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Southwest Calgary Ring Road Corridor

This view, looking north, shows the new Southwest Calgary Ring Road corridor along the eastern edge of the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve. The Wolf Creek/Fish Creek valley is in the foreground, and the fence-line to the right of centre of this photo denotes the previous boundary of the reserve, adjacent to 37th street SW and the community of Woodbine. The Nation’s Administration building is visible at the left of the photo.

Hal recounted that in the 1800s a man named Eaglerib had a vision: that the land chosen for the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve would one day be surrounded by boxes, and that these boxes would allow the Nation to prosper. Over a hundred years later, the houses of Calgarians will soon surround the reserve on three sides. With the new ring road being built to provide access to future commercial developments, the growth and proximity of the City of Calgary is seen to be fulfilling Eaglerib’s vision of a coming prosperity for the Nation.

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Spotted Elk Centre

Several families who lived on land required for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road had to be relocated to different parts of the reserve. Built on some of this ‘replacement’ land by an affected family is the Spotted Elk and Brown Bear Woman centre: a new facility that’s open for bookings by Calgarians, including meeting space and authentic First Nations camping experiences for team-building etc.

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Tsuut’ina Nation Administration Building

The Nation’s Administration building is located on Bullhead Road, near Anderson Road at 37th street SW. The main portion of the building, seen above, is designed to resemble a beaver dam, while the circular Council chamber on the west side resembles the beaver’s lodge. From above, the building and roads are laid out to look like an eagle with spread wings.

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Tsuut’ina Nation Council Chamber

The Tsuut’ina Nation Council Chamber, also called Veteran’s Hall, is where the Nation’s Chief and 12 Councillors conduct the business of the Nation. A smudge plate is set into the floor at the centre of the room where traditional medicines are burned before meetings, to keep proceedings honest and productive.

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Dr. Thomas Murray Medical Centre

Hal tells of his grandfather who attended the residential school on the reserve, and of one particular incident that his grandfather witnessed in the early 1920s. The children at the school were being fed porridge three times a day, while the Priests and Nuns would eat meals made with vegetables that grew in the gardens that the children tended. In the middle of lunch one day a short man with glasses burst into the lunch room; he was waving his arms angrily and made the adults stand up and switch meals with the children. That man was Thomas Murray, a medical doctor and the new Indian Agent for the Tsuut’ina Nation. Dr. Murray arrived unannounced that day to observe the school, and was appalled at the conditions he found; he immediately mandated better food, separated the sick children from the healthy ones, and started a vaccine program.

Dr. Murray’s efforts would go on to make a huge improvement to the health of Nation members, and his impact continues to be remembered and recognized by the Nation. When a community health centre was built in the 1990s, Hal lobbied his peers on Council to name it after the non-indigenous Dr. Murray.

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Calgary from the Tsuut’ina Nation Reserve

This view of Calgary is from a hill just south of the Elbow river valley. The area of the reserve we were standing in is a former artillery range, and is still under threat of unexploded ordnance (UXO) left by decades of use by the Canadian Military. The area of dense trees is the Weaselhead, and the disturbed soil near the foreground is the location of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road corridor.

Near the left side of the photo is the Grey Eagle casino, hotel and event centre. The bare land in the mid-ground (north of the Elbow river and adjacent to Lakeview) will be the location of some of the Nation’s future commercial developments.

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Passchendaele Movie Set

The former artillery range area of the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve is still contaminated with UXO, making it unsuitable for residential or agricultural use. One way that this land was still being used was for the filming of movie and television productions. The picture above shows the remains of the set used in the opening scenes of the 2008 movie Passchendaele, recreating a Belgian town square. Other productions filmed on the Tsuut’ina Nation reserve includes the Emmy-Award winning HBO miniseries Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, the first season of AMC’s Hell on Wheels, and the Stephen Spielberg-produced miniseries Into The West.

Filming has since been halted on this land as the Nation is in a legal dispute with the Federal Government over the clean up of the UXO contamination on this land.

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Homes in Springbank

Looking north to Springbank, you can see homes that were built adjacent to the reserve; developments that were reportedly built without consultation with the Nation. Just south of these homes is part of the old artillery range, which often sees trespassers walking and driving quads on reserve land despite the ongoing threat of UXO.

DSC_0968 Moose Mountain close
Moose Mountain

The mountain at the centre of the picture above is called Moose Mountain, named because of how the formation resembles the back and rump of a mother moose, and the body (with ribs) of a baby moose. The mountain is a sacred place for the Tsuut’ina, and has been used for centuries as the location of some of the Nation’s most important ceremonies.

Driving Through the Reserve

Driving through the back country of the reserve meant going off-road for a large portion of the tour. Although we got stuck in the mud for a while, even that experience was a positive one; the hours I had out on the land were spent talking with Hal and learning more about the Nation, and all of the people that came to our ‘rescue’ were incredibly welcoming and were happy to help us out.

Hal Eagletail Presenting
Audience at Hal Eagletail’s Presentation

Hal’s presentation took place on May 6 2017 in Lakeview, and was well attended by local residents, as well as a politician or two from the City and the Province. The stories Hal shared were equal-parts inspiring, surprising, funny, sad and informative. I think all of the attendees are richer for having been there; myself and my family included.


Matthew, Jesse and Oliver Salus with Hal Eagletail (L-R)

Calgary and the Tsuut’ina Nation are neighbours, and we always will be. I feel very strongly that on both an institutional level and on an individual level we need to build bridges between our communities; we need to spend time together and learn from one another. I believe that achieving a greater understanding will help us to build lasting positive relationships and to discover opportunities of mutual benefit.


The event was made possible by a Stepping Stones grant from the Calgary Foundation, by the generous use of the space by the Connect Charter School, and by the tireless efforts of Lakview’s Tsuut’ina Nation Relations Committee. Thank you to everyone who came out, and who made the day possible.

Finally, a huge thank you, ‘Siyisgaas’ in Tsuut’ina, to Hal Eagletail for his willingness to share some of the Nation’s history and culture with the residents of Lakeview. The presentation alone was fantastic, but the tour of the reserve was something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.


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