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Poundmaker, "Pitikwahanapiwiyin", was Plains Cree in both culture and appearance, even though his mother was of French descent. He was born into a prominent family from the House Band around 1842 and had a typical childhood. He learnt the ways of the hunt and joined in on tribal wars when he was old enough. However, in 1873 his life took a dramatic turn when he encountered Crowfoot, head chief of the Blackfoot tribe. Even though the Cree and the Blackfoot were rival tribes, Crowfoot was immediately struck by the resemblance of Poundmaker to his dead son, who had been killed during a raid on a Cree camp. Crowfoot invited Poundmaker to stay with the Blackfoot at Blackfoot Crossing as his adopted son. Upon his return to his own Cree people, his influence with the chief of the Blackfoot tribe earned him great respect and status.

In 1876, Poundmaker was headman of one of the River People bands and was influential enough to speak at the Treaty 6 negotiations held at Fort Carlton, Manitoba. Much like his adoptive father Crowfoot, Poundmaker was a skilled diplomat and arbiter of peace. However, he did not share Crowfoot’s optimism toward, or his trust in, government officials. He was very skeptical of government intentions and therefore critical of the treaty. Despite his concerns he agreed to sign the treaty, accepting a reserve along the Battle River.

By 1880, Poundmaker was a chief and had become very active inAboriginal politics. He represented the Cree at inter-band meetings, was a spokesperson with the government, even acting as a guide and interpreter for government officials on occasion. Despite all his efforts, life for his people on the reserve remained difficult. From early on, the government had failed to fulfill their treaty promises. In 1883 they cut their rations to the Aboriginal populations and delays in the delivery of supplies began to feed fears that the government was trying to starve them deliberately. When, in June 1884, a Thirst Dance was held on the Poundmaker reserve to discuss the escalating situation, nearly 2000 people showed up. The North-West Mounted Police were nervous, and peace was maintained only through the efforts of Poundmaker and his fellow Cree Chief, Big Bear ("Mistahimaskwa").

Tensions, however, remained high. The Métis success at Duck Lake had instilled fear within the government. When Poundmaker attempted to negotiate for supplies in March 1885,  negotiations failed and Cree and Stoneys began looting homes in the Battleford area. Despite Poundmaker’s attempts to quell such disturbances, the Cree were inspired by the victories of the Métis. Tensions came to a head at Cutknife Hill in May 1885 when government officials attacked Poundmaker’s camp, initiating a seven hour battle. Five days later the government defeated the Métis at Batoche. Poundmaker was imprisoned, despite his continued efforts to prevent the bloodshed. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment but served only one year, being released early due to poor health. Four months later, while visiting his adoptive father Crowfoot on the Blackfoot reserve, he suffered a severe lung haemorrhage and died.

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