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Little Pine (Minahikosis)

Little Pine (Minahikosis) was born around 1830 in the Fort Pitt region of present-day Saskatchewan, to a Blackfoot mother and a Plains Cree warrior father. He lived at Fort Pitt and Battleford for most of his life. Little Pine rose to fame as a warrior in the 1860s during the armed migration of Plains Cree into Blackfoot territory in search of the last of the bison. In 1870, Little Pine was a leader in the Battle of Belly River near Lethbridge in present-day Alberta; it was the final battle against the Blackfoot for control of the surrounding territory. By the end of the decade, Little Pine was the chief of a band of around three hundred people.

In 1876, Little Pine refused to go with other First Nations leaders of the Saskatchewan River district to Fort Carlton to negotiate Treaty 6 with the Dominion government. Along with Big Bear and Poundmaker, Little Pine felt that the treaties did not do enough to ensure the livelihood of the Aboriginal people. These chiefs felt that the treaty lacked any guarantees against the imposition of foreign laws; a concern that grew after the arrival of the North West Mounted Police.

Determined to preserve their traditional lifestyle, Little Pine continued to resist treaty-making for three years. He finally adhered to Treaty 6 in 1879 at Fort Walsh, and then, only as a means of obtaining government rations for his starving people. Even after signing the treaty, Little Pine and his people continued to roam the prairies in search of bison, moving to the Cypress Hills area to be close to the last herds in the United States.

From 1879 to 1883 Little Pine worked to befriend the Blackfoot, the Cree’s traditional enemies, and especially their leader Crowfoot, who had also come to the Cypress Hills in search of bison. Along with other dissatisfied plains chiefs, Little Pine asked the government to establish one large, continuous reserve in the region. The government refused the request, insisting that the numerous bands in the Cypress Hills area return to the districts where they had lived before Treaty 6. By withholding famine assistance until the bands complied, the government was able to force them to leave. Little Pine and his band moved to the Battleford area in 1883 and set up camp next to Poundmaker‘s reserve. The government pressed Little Pine to settle on a small reserve, but he refused.

Along with Poundmaker and Big Bear, Little Pine planned a council at Battleford to discuss the idea of one large reserve for all Plains Cree. At the 1884 Thirst and Hunger Dances which preceded the council at Battleford, a crisis developed that could easily have resulted in a massacre of North West Mounted Police. Little Pine, Poundmaker and Big Bear were able to prevent bloodshed by appealing for peace. To avert further trouble, the council was disbanded before the reserve issue could be discussed.

Nevertheless, Little Pine persisted in his efforts to create a large First Nations territory. Twice, he requested reserves adjacent to existing ones near Battleford, but was refused. At a council held at Duck Lake in August 1884, plans were made for a meeting of all Plains Cree during the summer. Little Pine even secured Crowfoot’s pledge that the Blackfoot would attend the council.

By March of 1885, Little Pine’s followers were again suffering from starvation. He led them to Battleford to appeal for aid along with Poundmaker and his people. When they found the town deserted they began to loot it for food, despite Little Pine and Poundmaker’s efforts to stop them (see The Sacking of Fort Battleford).

After months of ill health, Little Pine passed away on Poundmaker’s reserve on March 26, 1885, just as the Battle of Duck Lake broke out. Following Little Pine’s death, his band participated in the Battle of Cut Knife Hill. Unfortunately the Cree would never see their dream of a unified territory come to fruition.

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