Nio’kskatapi in Siksiká (Blackfoot) means “Three-Persons” in English. It was a name of honour given to the explorer, outcast and infamously known homosexual, Jean L’Heureux. Born around 1830 near Montreal, L’Heureux had ambitions of becoming a Catholic priest but was kicked out of seminary “for serious misconduct.”
He fled west ending up in St. Albert where he affiliated himself with the Oblates’ mission there. Caught in the act of sodomy he was cast out of the precinct. He made his way to Montana where he found Jesuits engaged in the building of a mission. Successfully impersonating a priest for a time, he was eventually busted and sent away. L’Heureux found sanctuary with the Blackfoot who, unlike the settlers and missionaries, were comfortable with his sexual preferences.
He became fluent in Blackfoot and a trusted friend and advisor to the First Nations in the region. L’Heureux preferred the company of indigenous peoples to other settlers he encountered. He also had a conflicted relationship with the Catholic clergy who were proselytising in the territory. The missionaries widely condemned his homosexuality as well as his clerical appropriations. Yet, after saving the life of one stricken Father Albert Lacombe and nursing him back to health in 1865, his status improved amongst the Catholic brethren.
Living and travelling in the Siksiká camps, L’Heureux preached that the First Nations spiritual beliefs were similar to his own: the primary difference being that the Christian God was composed of three persons in one. An amusing concept for the Siksiká, L’Heureux was forever renamed “Three-Persons.”
Jean L’Heureux’s hand-drawn 1873 map of the Hudson’s Bay Company Fort at Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. Source: National Archives of Canada via the Glenbow Archives.
In the 1870s, L’Heureux wrote and mapped a geography of Blackfoot lands as well as created a Blackfoot-English dictionary which was used by traders at Fort Calgary. Leading up to the Treaty 7 negotiations, the Lieutenant Governor of the North-West Territories, David Laird, wished for L’Heureux to act as interpreter for the Crown. However, L’Heureux declined as he already had committed to translate for Isapo-muxika (Crowfoot), the Siksiká head chief who was his personal friend.
The Treaty 7 negotiations took place on September 22, 1877. L’Heureux was the official spokesperson for the Siksiká leaders with the Government representatives. During the negotiations, he explained the terms of the treaty to the Blackfoot delegates and provided them with advice. One observer commented that L’Heureux “stood unswervingly with the Indians as an Indian.” When the negotiations concluded, L’Heureux inscribed the names of the Chiefs on the treaty document, validated each of their marks and signed it himself, as a witness. Through L’Heureux, the Chiefs thanked the representatives of the Government of Canada.
Jean L’Heureux with Blackfoot Confederacy Members: (L to R) One Spot, Blood; Red Crow, Blood; North Axe, Peigan; circa the 1880s. Source: Glenbow Archives.