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Star Blanket (Ahtahkakoop)

"For my part, I think that the Queen mother has offered us a new way and I have faith in the things my brother Mistawasis has told you... Surely we Indians can learn the ways of living that made the White man strong..."
- Star Blanket, Plains Cree Chief

Star Blanket Star Blanket (Ahtahkakoop) was born around 1815-16 and was a very successful Plains Cree chief in the Fort Carlton area. In his early years, Star Blanket provided bison meat to the Hudson’s Bay Company traders at Fort Carlton. He also worked on York boats, taking supplies and furs to York Factory. Star Blanket and his people eventually settled at Sandy Lake, where they began to farm in 1875.

At the Treaty 6 negotiations at Fort Carlton, Star Blanket was one of the strongest supporters of the Treaty, believing that it offered a new way for his people. The bison were disappearing and he knew that without them, the First Nations would die unless they found another way to survive. Star Blanket hoped that the tools and skills offered by the government would allow his community to make the transition from bison hunting to a settled, agricultural life. Star Blanket signed Treaty 6 on 23 August 1876. At the time, his band had 185 members.

Although Star Blanket believed in Treaty 6, he participated in a Cree council held at Duck Lake in 1884 to draw up a petition of grievances in relation to Treaty 6. Like many other Cree and Saulteaux (Plains Ojibwa) leaders, he wanted better treatment from the government. During his lifetime, Star Blanket lived through the creation of the Indian Act, the banning of the Sun Dance, and the forced removal of Aboriginal children to residential schools. His community suffered terrible hardship, disease and starvation; and the Department of Indian Affairs did not sufficiently fulfill its promise to help the community to support itself through agriculture.

Star Blanket possessed great foresight in his efforts to ensure that his people learned to farm, and that they gained a European-Canadian education from Reverend John Hines. Members of his reserve became the earliest and most successful First Nations farmers in the region, and the young people were consistently top scholars. At times, though, Star Blanket’s commitment to Christianity was to the detriment of some traditional Aboriginal spiritual practices. On one occasion, Star Blanket even asked the inspector of reserves for help in putting an end to traditional dances on his reserve.

During the Northwest Resistance, Star Blanket shared many of the grievances of those who joined the uprising, but he and his people refused to participate in the violence. This meant that he and his band were what the government considered “loyal.” In 1886, Star Blanket, along with Big Child, was invited to Ottawa to meet Prime Minister John A. Macdonald at the unveiling of a monument to the great Mohawk chief, Joseph Brant.

Star Blanket was a strong and strategic leader, highly respected by all. He died on 4 December 1896 at the age of 81.

Christensen, Deanna. Ahtahkakoop: The Epic Account of a Plains Cree Head Chief, His People, and Their Struggle for Survival, 1816-1896. Shell Lake: Ahtahkakoop Publishing, 2000.
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