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One Arrow (Kupeyakwuskonam)

“…during the entire affair and its aftermath, he gave the appearance of a tragic old man, destroyed by forces over which he had no control and which he could not understand.”
- Kenneth J. Tyler, University of Toronto/ Laval University

One Arrow (Kupeyakwuskonam) was born in 1815 in the Saskatchewan River valley and became the chief of a band of Willow Cree. Before the disappearance of the bison from the prairies in the 1870s, One Arrow’s band hunted a region stretching from Duck Lake in the north, to Little Manitou Lake in the southeast, and Goose Lake in the southwest. After a last desperate trek to the Cypress Hills in search of bison in 1879, most of the band settled permanently on a reserve by the South Saskatchewan River, behind the Métis settlement of Batoche.

One Arrow and the other Willow Cree chiefs Beardy and Cut Nose (Saswaypew), did not attend the Treaty 6 negotiations at Fort Carlton in 1876. Instead, at their request, Treaty Commissioner Alexander Morris met with them after the original negotiations had concluded. The Willow Cree attempted to gain more agricultural concessions than had been promised at Fort Carlton. Morris refused, but promised that the Governor-General and the Council of the Northwest Territories would examine the possibility of a law to help preserve the bison. Having received these assurances, One Arrow and the other two chiefs signed a treaty adhesion on August 28.

One Arrow’s band, like many First Nations bands in the troubled years after Treaty 6, struggled to feed themselves. In 1880, One Arrow, Beardy, and Cut Nose were temporarily arrested for allowing their followers to butcher government cattle. As late as 1884, One Arrow’s band had not received most of the implements, livestock, and instruction which had been promised to them by the government.

In 1884, One Arrow attended a large council on Beardy’s reserve along with Lucky Man (Papewes), Big Bear and Ahtahkakoop. There, the Cree compiled a list of grievances against the government, including the fact that One Arrow’s band had not received its promised government assistance. One Arrow agreed that the government had broken its promise that something had to be done, but he did not play a major role in the proceedings.

It was not until the outbreak of the Northwest Resistance in 1885 that One Arrow drew the attention of the government. There is much debate over the extent of One Arrow’s involvement in the conflict. His reserve was the closest to the Métis settlement at Batoche, and his warriors were therefore most susceptible to Métis influence. What is not clear is whether they were forced by the Métis to join the fighting. On 17 March 1885, Métis leader Gabriel Dumont invited One Arrow’s band to meet with him. The next day, however, One Arrow professed his loyalty to Indian Agent John Bean Lash. As Indian Agent Lash left the reserve, he was taken prisoner by Louis Riel and a mob of about forty armed Métis. One Arrow and his band most likely did not play any part in Lash’s capture.

The following day, under the guidance of their Métis farm instructor, Michel Dumas, One Arrow’s men butchered all of their cattle and joined the Métis. One Arrow and his men were consequently seen armed, and in the company of Riel and his Métis, immediately following the Battle of Duck Lake. It is unlikely that an old man like One Arrow could have taken an active part in the hostilities — as early as 1882 he had attempted to resign his chieftainship on grounds of old age and infirmity, but had been dissuaded from doing so by the Department of Indian Affairs. Nevertheless, One Arrow was charged with treason-felony and tried in Regina on 13 August 1885.

One Arrow spoke no English and the greater part of the evidence against him was not translated into Cree. His translator struggled over the long and complex set of charges, and the sole witness called to testify to his good character did not appear. Only after a verdict of guilty had been announced did One Arrow speak. He denied his participation in the Resistance, claiming that he had been coerced by Gabriel Dumont into leaving his reserve. He stated that he had shot no one and had never had any intention of doing so, but his explanations fell on deaf ears. One Arrow was sentenced to three years in Manitoba’s Stony Mountain Penitentiary. During his imprisonment, the Department of Indian Affairs tried in vain to starve his band into abandoning their reserve and moving to Duck Lake, where they would be under closer government supervision.

One Arrow, a feeble old man, became sick, and after seven months in jail he was released. He was so weak, however, that he was unable even to walk. While in prison his conversion to Roman Catholicism had brought him to the attention of Archbishop Alexandre-Antonin Taché at St Boniface, with whom he stayed for a fortnight before passing away in 1886. Among One Arrow’s last acts was a plea to Indian Commissioner Edgar Dewdney to stop the mistreatment of his band.

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