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Biographies » Poundmaker
Poundmaker, "Pitikwahanapiwiyin", was Plains Cree in both culture and
appearance, even though his mother was of French descent. He was born into a prominent family from the House Band around 1842
and had a typical childhood. He learnt the ways of the
hunt and joined in on tribal wars when he was old enough. However, in
life took a dramatic turn when he encountered Crowfoot, head
chief of the Blackfoot tribe. Even though the Cree and the Blackfoot
were rival tribes, Crowfoot was immediately struck by the resemblance of Poundmaker to his dead son, who had been killed during a raid on a Cree
camp. Crowfoot invited Poundmaker to stay with the Blackfoot at
Blackfoot Crossing as his adopted son. Upon his return to his own Cree
people, his influence with the chief of the Blackfoot tribe earned him
great respect and status.
In 1876, Poundmaker was headman of one
of the River People bands and was influential enough to speak at the
Treaty 6 negotiations held at Fort Carlton, Manitoba. Much like his
adoptive father Crowfoot, Poundmaker was a skilled diplomat and arbiter
of peace. However, he did not share Crowfoot’s optimism toward, or his
trust in, government officials. He was very skeptical of
government intentions and therefore critical of the treaty.
Despite his concerns he agreed to sign the treaty, accepting a reserve
along the Battle River.
By 1880, Poundmaker was a chief and had become very active inAboriginal
politics. He represented the Cree at inter-band meetings, was a
spokesperson with the government, even acting as a guide and
interpreter for government officials on occasion. Despite all his
for his people on the reserve remained difficult. From early on, the
government had failed to fulfill their treaty promises. In 1883 they cut
their rations to the Aboriginal populations and delays in the delivery of
supplies began to feed fears that the
government was trying to starve them deliberately. When, in June 1884, a Thirst Dance
was held on the Poundmaker reserve to discuss the escalating situation, nearly 2000 people showed up.
The North-West Mounted
Police were nervous, and peace was maintained only through the efforts of Poundmaker and his fellow Cree Chief, Big Bear ("Mistahimaskwa").
Tensions, however, remained high. The Métis success at Duck Lake had
instilled fear within the government. When Poundmaker
attempted to negotiate for supplies in March 1885, negotiations failed and Cree and Stoneys began looting homes in
the Battleford area. Despite Poundmaker’s attempts to quell such
disturbances, the Cree were inspired
by the victories of the Métis. Tensions came to a head at Cutknife
Hill in May 1885 when government officials attacked Poundmaker’s camp,
initiating a seven hour battle. Five days later the government defeated
the Métis at Batoche. Poundmaker was imprisoned, despite his
continued efforts to prevent the bloodshed. He was sentenced to three
years imprisonment but served only one year, being released
early due to poor health. Four months later, while visiting his adoptive
father Crowfoot on the Blackfoot reserve, he suffered a severe lung haemorrhage and died.