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Poundmaker (c. 1842-86)

Saskatchewan Archives Board R-B8775

Chief Poundmaker (Pihtokahanapiwiyin) was born in the Battleford region around 1842 and raised by Cree relatives. As a young adult, he was adopted by Chief Crowfoot, a Blackfoot, thereby creating family ties between two nations. Poundmaker was proficient as a herbalist and a healer, an ability perhaps inherited from his father Sikakwayan, a well-known Assiniboine medicine man. Poundmaker’s mother was a mixed-blood Cree, sister of Chief Mistawasis. Poundmaker received his name because of his expertise in building and utilizing pounds for hunting buffalo. Shortly after signing Treaty 6 he became chief of 182 people, who settled on a reserve about forty miles west of Battleford. He quickly established himself as a fine orator, speaking out against the failure of the federal government to live up to treaty commitments. Poundmaker was not against the concept of the treaties, but he wanted a treaty that would make sense to his people. He wanted respect shown to his people, and provisions that they would need in times of famine. In 1885 Poundmaker, members of his band, and members from nearby bands traveled to Battleford to ask for rations. When they arrived at the village they found the community deserted and helped themselves to some supplies. In response, Lieutenant-Colonel William Otter and 325 troops were sent to Cut Knife Creek, where Poundmaker and his Cree followers were encamped. On May 2 a battle occurred, and Otter was forced to withdraw, with Poundmaker stepping in to prevent further bloodshed. When Poundmaker heard of Riel’s defeat at Batoche, he traveled there and surrendered his arms; he was immediately imprisoned. Poundmaker was tried and convicted of treason in Regina, and sentenced to serve three years at Stony Mountain Penitentiary (Manitoba). To avoid angering his powerful father, Chief Crowfoot, Poundmaker’s hair was not cut and he served only seven months of his sentence. Even though his prison time had been shortened, it destroyed his health, and while visiting Chief Crowfoot in 1886 (shortly after his release) he suffered a lung hemorrhage and died at the age of 44. On October 13, 1972, a plaque commemorating Poundmaker was unveiled by Jimmy Poundmaker, his grandson, at the Cut Knife battlefield site on the Poundmaker Reserve.

Christian Thompson

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Further Reading

Estlin Bingaman, S. 1975. “The Trials of Poundmaker and Big Bear, 1885,” Saskatchewan History 28 (3): 81-94.
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