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Sweet Grass (Wikaskokiseyin)

“Our country is getting ruined of fur-bearing animals, hitherto our sole support… We have had great starvation the past winter, and the small-pox took away many of our people, the old, young, and children. We want you to stop the Americans from coming to trade on our lands, and giving fire water, ammunition and arms to our enemies, the Blackfeet.”
— Sweet Grass, Plains Cree Chief

Sweet Grass (Wikaskokiseyin) was a prominent chief of the Plains Cree people of the Northwest Territories. His mother, a member of the Crow people of the Missouri area, gave birth to Sweet Grass in a Cree Camp, having been kidnapped earlier during a war with the Cree.

Growing up, Sweet Grass was known as Little Chief (Apistchi-koimas). As a young man, however, he undertook a bold exploit to prove himself courageous and brave. He snuck onto Blackfoot territory alone, killing one of his enemies and capturing over forty of their horses. He returned to his people, shouting in triumph and holding up a tuft of grass dipped in the blood of his slain enemy. The whole camp began crying out “Sweet Grass!” Sweet Grass, thus became his adult name.

By 1870 Sweet Grass was the principal chief of the central prairies, and in the same year he was converted to Roman Catholicism. Father Albert Lacombe, who in 1865 had founded the mission of Saint-Paul-des-Cris, baptized him with the Christian name Abraham. As early as 1871, Sweet Grass was named “The Chief of the Country” by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

After the alarming changes to prairie life following the purchase of the Northwest Territories by the Dominion of Canada in 1870, Sweet Grass grew deeply worried about the state of his people. In 1871, he related his concern for the condition of his people to Lieutenant-Governor Adams George Archibald at Upper Fort Garry, in what is now Winnipeg. He requested that the Queen’s representatives be sent to negotiate treaties with the Cree and stressed the need for government assistance.

A powerful voice for his people, Sweet Grass along with Father Lacombe was instrumental in achieving peace between the Crees and their long-time enemies – the Blackfoot. Sweet Grass was a leading First Nations spokesman at the Treaty 6 negotiations and was the treaty’s first signatory at Fort Pitt on September 9, 1876.

Sweet Grass believed his people’s only hope to preserve the rapidly disappearing bison stocks, was to put their trust in the Queen’s government. Sweet Grass never lived to see the results of Treaty 6. In 1877, within a year of the treaty signing, he was killed in a hunting accident on the plains.


Sources:
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            For more on the making of treaty 6, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.
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