Saturday, October 13, 2012

Chief Poundmaker

Photo: The Canada Site

Pitkwahanapiwiyin, also known as Poundmaker, was born in the Battleford area of Saskatchewan around  1842. His father was a Stoney shaman and his mother Metis. In 1873, he was adopted by Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot. He became a head man and spoke at the Treaty 6 negotiations at Fort Carlton, and later when the government failed to honour treaty promises.

The Blackfoot people sold rights to collect firewood, travel through, and even build forts on their territory. Yet for them, like for other first nations peoples, private land ownership made no sense. Given by the creator, the land was meant to be shared.

At Cut Knife in 1882, Poundmaker and his band routed the Canadian militia. Yet this chief urged restraint upon his young warriors, and avoided a massacre like that of the Little Big Horn in the Montana territory in 1776.

Right: Painting of Chief Poundmaker by Edmund Morris, 1910, First Peoples of Canada

Poundmaker was one of the chiefs who negotiated Treaty 7 and eventually signed it, along with leaders of the Peigan, Blood, Sarcee and Stoney nations. According to First Peoples treaties, their willingness to make this treaty arose in part out of a sense of trust for the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, who, led by James McLeod, had kicked the American whiskey traders out of southern Alberta. The famine that followed the widespread slaughter of the buffalo and the fencing of the plains for settlers were additional motivators.

Like Big Bear, Chief Poundmaker was tried and sentenced after the Riel Rebellion and spent some time in prison. He died in 1885 from a lung haemorrhage at age 45.

His name lives on in the Poundmaker Trail, now known as Highway 14.  In Saskatchewan, a Cree first nation and reserve bear his name. A film called The Trial of Poundmaker was made in 2002 by Gil Cardinal and the National Film Board of Canada.

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