Role of Chief Poundwater in History of the Cree Community


Chief Poundmaker (Pitikwahanapiwiyin) was a chief among the Cree people between 1876 and 1886 who gained his peculiar name from his special skill at attraction Bison to ponds during hunting. Chief Poundmaker was born in 1842 near Battleford, Ruperts Island British North America and died in 1886 while in his forties and was buried at the Blackfoot crossing in July after he succumbed to a lung haemorrhage. Chief Poundmaker has long been labelled a rebel among by historians but recent efforts have been made to correct his image and give him the well-deserved credit if being a peaceful leader and defender of the Cree people. In fact, In May 2019, the Canadian Prime Minister exonerated Chief Poundmaker of the charges of treason that have been levelled against him in the 19th century and presented an apology to the Cree nation.

Chief Poundmaker’s parents died when he and his siblings were very young and his mother’s Cree community took up the responsibility of raising them. Once Pitikwahanapiwiyin attained adulthood, he was adopted by the Chief of the Blackfoot community who the Cree’s traditional enemy. When he returned to his own community he brought back an incredible amount of wealth which earned him prominence in the Cree community and by the time the Treaty 6 negotiations were reaching what is now considered central Saskatchewan, Pitikwahanapiwiyin was already a minor chief a band belonging to Pihew-kamihkosit’s within the Cree community (Tobias & John, 1983). Pitikwahanapiwiyin was not averse to the idea of the treaty rather, he wanted a guarantee that the government would fulfil the promises that it was making to the Cree people before they gave up their lands to foreigners. Moreover, Pitikwahanapiwiyin wanted the government to assure the First nations that they would provide farming instruction for the current inhabitants of the lands and their future generations in order to guarantee that they did not suffer starvation. Pitikwahanapiwiyin insisted that the land belonged to the Fist nations, given to them by the creator, and the government had no right to divide their sacred heritage. Between the years of 1876 and 79 Pitikwahanapiwiyin refuse to sign Treaty 6 and his band continued to hunt for bison. However, in 1879 Pitikwahanapiwiyin agreed to sign the treaty after he realized that the European and Euro-Canadian immigration would continue and the First Nations could do nothing but learn how to get along with the settlers. After he signed the treaty Pitikwahanapiwiyin established a Cree reserve on the land that formed the confluence between Battle River and Cut Knife Creek in the outskirts if Battleford.

A few years later, the availability of bison for hunting decreased and the Cree suffered extreme starvation, drought and disease. Moreover, the government had broken its promise to provide food rations to the First Nations as per the conditions of the treaty. In 1884, his band hosted scared thirst dance where a thousand Cree members and their leaders were in attendance. The leadership discussed the failure of the government to honour the conditions of the treaty and the current state of famine in the land. There was some slight disturbance during the course of the dance when the North West Mounted Police force attempted to arrest a warrior who had assaulted a farming instructor who was not an Aboriginal. Pitikwahanapiwiyin tried to prevent the arrest of the warrior by offering himself up to be arrested himself. This act of benevolence was one of the many that exemplified his leadership among the Cree community.

In spite of his disapproval, the police insisted on arresting the warrior and he had to relent and allow them to take carry out their orders. In the meantime, the disgruntled feelings among the Cree and other First Nation communities were rising. There was a growing section of warriors in Pitikwahanapiwiyin band who named themselves the Rattler’s society. This section of warriors was responding to the calls of the Nakota community who had been influenced by the Meti community to initiate war against the settlers. Pitikwahanapiwiyin band was slowly being taken over by his warriors and he could do very little to control their willfulness. After the Meti victory against the North Western Mounted Police, the Rattler’s society thought this would be the perfect opportunity to launch their first attack. In spite of their incessant appeal to Pitikwahanapiwiyin, he did not wish to take part in the kind of violence and needless violence they were suggesting (Robertson, Heather, 2005). Instead, he organized his band to march to Fort Battleford to plead for food rations from the government even though they were entitled to these rations as part of the incentives they were given while signing the treaties. Pitikwahanapiwiyin sent a letter to the Indian agent in Battleford stating the peaceful nature of the march and the intent behind it which was driven by the massive starvation that his people were facing (Stonechild et al, 1997).

When the people of Battleford heard that a large number of Cree was marching toward the town, they started leaving the town to seek safety in the North West Mounted Police Fort in Battleford. When the Cree under the leadership of their chief Pitikwahanapiwiyin arrived in Battleford, they found the town almost completely deserted and the government officials barricaded inside the Battleford fort (Tobias & John, 1983). The Indian agent refused to come outside and meet them and they had to wait for three days. Those inside the fort believed that the march was a direct attack and did not wish to come out. In spite of this feigned ignorance, it has been reported that one official actually came outside and ascertained that Pitikwahanapiwiyin and his people did not have any violent intentions. However, while the town remained abandoned, some of Pitikwahanapiwiyin’s people, whites, as well as members of the Nakota community, took advantage of the situation to loot the abandoned houses in the town. There were many diverging reports as to who exactly did most of the looting but most reports concede that Pitikwahanapiwiyin did his best to stop the looting. Upon realizing that he had failed in his mission, Poundmaker mobilized his people and left the town. The events in the town led to the mobilization of 332 Canadian troops led by Lieutenant Colon William Diltonto attack Pitikwahanapiwiyin camp in their reserve near Cut knife hill (Estlin, 1975).

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The Cree warriors responded to these troops in a battle that was fought for seven hours and led to the defeat of the government troops (Estlin, 1975). The soldiers had to retreat from Cut Knife Creek and Pitikwahanapiwiyin had to plead with his warriors not to execute the fleeing soldiers and cause needless bloodshed. After the Battle of Cut Knife Hill, the chief tried to run away from the reserve so he did not have to take part in bloodshed and violence. He later sent his adopted father to General Middleton to negotiate a peace treaty. General Middleton demanded that the Cree surrender to the government unconditionally and the Chief did so. However, while he was surrendering, the government forces arrested him and charged him with treason (Estlin, 1975). Pitikwahanapiwiyin insisted throughout his trial that the government had not captured him, he had intended to surrender. Pitikwahanapiwiyin was tried for treason in Regina and was sentenced to three years in Stony Mountain Penitentiary. Due to the influence of his adopted father, Poundmaker only served seven months of his sentence and was not forced to cut his hair. However, by the time he was released, the extraneous conditions in the prison had had adverse effects on his health. Chief Poundmaker suffered a Lung Hemorrhage shortly after his release from prison, died and was buried in Blackfoot Crossing.

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Despite his untimely demise, his legacy still lives on to date. The Cree community can still be found living near Cut Knife and his immediate generation has been fundamental in forming the leadership of this community to this day. Chief Poundwater will be remembered for providing exemplary wisdom to the Cree community through the events of Treaty 6, the subsequent farming and through the resistance. Through his advocacy for peaceful resolution of conflict, his aversion towards brutality bloodshed and violence, chief Poundwater created a legacy for himself that is inimitable and will be present for many years to come. Moreover, his exoneration from the baseless accusations of treason as well as the formal apology issued by the prime minister will restore his image as the iconic leader he was to present generations and others to come

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