Missionaries as Interpreters: An Examination of Oblate Father Léon Doucet’s Account of the Treaty 7 Negotiations at Blackfoot Crossing in 1877
University of Toronto
In September 1877, the Canadian government and the Indigenous peoples of the southern portion of Alberta met at Blackfoot Crossing to negotiate the agreement known as Treaty 7. Contemporary descriptions of this meeting are of great historical, legal and socio-political significance. The recent publication of the journal of Father Léon Doucet, a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate who laboured in Alberta between 1868 and 1939, has brought to light the missionary's little-known account of the Treaty 7 talks. Doucet's version of events differs from both oral histories and eye-witness statements in one important way: it recognizes Oblate Father Constantine Scollen as the chief interpreter at the negotiations. This paper will compare Doucet's version to both oral and written accounts and will suggest that Doucet's description of the Treaty 7 negotiations was influenced by his history with Father Scollen. Moreover, in 1908, Doucet began editing his notes and compiling them into a journal which was to be exhibited in a museum commemorating the Oblates. Doucet's exaggeration of Scollen's interpreter role at the Treaty 7 talks, as well as the numerous examples in the journal of the relationships fostered by the Oblates' desire to learn Indigenous languages, suggest that, in Doucet's mind, language was central to the Oblates' mission to western Canada.