A Great Canadian Chief Pitikwahanapiwiyin Poundmaker

Pitikwahanapiwiyin, more commonly known as Poundmaker, was born in 1842 to an Assiniboine medicine man and his part Cree wife in the Battleford, Saskatchewan area. After his parents died, he, his younger brother and sister were raised by his mother’s Plains Cree band (known as the Red Pheasant Band). His name was inherited from his grandfather, who was notorious for being able to bring buffalo into pounds, or corrals made by walls with thick bushes. Pitikwahanapiwiyin means “The One Who Sits at the Pound”.

Chief Pitikwahanapiwiyin is best known for his ability as a peacemaker and protector of his people. He was not opposed to treaties, but to the failures of the government to keep it’s promises in the treaties. In 1876, he became renowned during the time of the 1876 Treaty 6 deliberations at Fort Carlton. At the time, he was headman of the River People bands. He ensured that Treaty 6 included a “famine clause”. He still did not want to accept because of his concerns with some of the other issues in the treaty. He only agreed to sign it because most of the band favored it.

Three years later, now Chief, he chose to separate from the band and accepted a reserve with only about 182 followers. The reserve was about 48 square km by the Battle River about 64 km west of Battleford.

His influence became more prominent when Isapo-Muxika (Crowfoot), chief of the Blackfoot First Nation, adopted Pitikwahanapiwiyin, to replace one of Isapo-Muxika’s sons who was killed in battle.This was a common practice for the Plains people. Some reports have the date as 1873, others have it as 1876, regardless of the date, it boosted his influence as a spokesperson.

Chief Pitikwahanapiwiyin become more involved in the First Nations politics, after becoming extremely frustrated by the lack of the government’s promise in keeping the treaty agreements. He was an active spokesperson and represented the Cree in multi band meetings and with the government. He also was a guide and interpreter when Governor-General Lord Lorne traveled from Battleford to Calgary.

The band was hungry and in need of food, even though Chief Pitikwahanapiwiyin tried many times to negotiate with the Indian Agent in Battleford.

In 1885, the band camp was attack by Lieutenant-Colonel Otter but after 7 hours of fighting, the Lieutenant was forced to withdraw his men. Chief Pitikwahanapiwiyin stopped the Cree men from following suit to continue the fight.

Often, Chief Pitikwahanapiwiyin, averted bloodshed between the R.C.M.P. and the band. Unfortunately, there were a few times that the Cree warriors from the Chief’s band did not have the same idea of peace that he did. Plains Cree tradition is that once a warrior’s/soldier’s lodge is set up in camp, they are in control of the camp, not the Chief, even though he is the political leader. Soon after the attack by the Lieutenant, the soldiers highjacked a supply wagon train slated to go to Lieutenant-Colonel Otter’s troops. Again, Pitikwahanapiwiyin intervened and the 21 teamsters were taken as prisoners instead of killed.

A few days later, the Metis were defeated at Batoche, Saskatchewan, in the historical Battle of Batoche, which had lasted from May 9-12, 1885. When Pitikwahanapiwiyin and his band heard the news, he sent Father Louis Cochin to the same major who defeated the Metis, Major-General Fredrick Middleton, asking for peace terms.

May 26, 1885, Chief Pitikwahanapiwiyin and his followers, laid down their arms at Fort Battleford. Pitikwahanapiwiyin was arrested on the spot. He was imprisoned and sentenced for treason-felony for 3 years in the Stony Mountain Penitentiary (Manitoba). He was only able to serve 1 year because of his health. He succumbed to a lung hemorrhage in 1886, when visiting his adopted father Isapo-Muxika on the Blackfoot reserve.

Chief Pitikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker) was called a traitor, and some even considered him a weak man, others idolized him. In the end, he did his best to protect those he was responsible for and even tried to protect those who he wasn’t.