hide You are viewing an archived web page collected at the request of University of Alberta using Archive-It. This page was captured on 16:34:38 Dec 08, 2010, and is part of the HCF Alberta Online Encyclopedia collection. The information on this web page may be out of date. See All versions of this archived page. Loading media information
Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia

The 1884 Thirst and Hunger Dances

Fort Pitt, Saskatchewan, 1885 Several meetings were held near Battleford in an attempt to unite the First Nations people of the northwest. The largest of these gatherings occurred in June of 1884, when over two thousand people joined in Big Bear (Mistahimaskwa)'s Thirst Dance on Poundmaker (Pitikwahanapiwiyin)’s reserve.

The Thirst Dance (also known as the Sun Dance or the Rain Dance) was held in an effort to unite the bands, and to request that the government renegotiate the terms of Treaty 6. It was hoped that by joining together in protest, famine relief would be granted and their goal of creating one, large, continuous reserve could be achieved. Some ventured into the settlement of Battleford to stage a Hunger Dance, and the local citizenry — numbering a couple of hundred settlers — responded with donations of food. As punishment for leaving their reserves without permission, the government Indian agent fined them the loss of six days' worth of rations.

The event nearly erupted into violence when one Aboriginal man asked a government farm instructor for food and was forcibly pushed out of the storehouse. In response, he hit the instructor on the arm with an axe handle. Reacting to the incident, about ninety North West Mounted Police were sent to the reserve. Two hundred armed Aboriginals gathered around the accused man, refusing to turn him over to the police. In all the noise and confusion, Big Bear, Poundmaker and Little Pine (Minahikosis) worked to prevent violence, shouting, “Peace, Peace!”

While the people continued to shout and threaten the police, they managed to apprehend both the accused and his brother, dragging the two men back to Fort Battleford. The commotion around the fort continued until finally government policy was ignored, and bacon and flour were distributed. The hungry people calmed quickly and lined up for the food.

If a shot had been fired, it likely would have started a war in which all the discontented Aboriginal people of the northwest would have joined in. Through the efforts of the North West Mounted Police and the leadership of Big Bear, Poundmaker and Little Pine, peace and stability were maintained.

The incident, however, distracted the people from the initial purpose of the gathering, and Big Bear failed to unite them into acting with one voice against the government.

Albertasource.ca | Contact Us | Partnerships
            For more on the making of treaty 6, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.
Copyright © Heritage Community Foundation All Rights Reserved