On May 23, 2019, Justin Trudeau exonerated Chief Poundmaker, a chief of the Plains Cree. Poundmaker went into battle with his nation fighting against the government in 1885 leading to a charged of felony-treason. Trudeau also apologized to the Cree Nation.
Pîhtokahanapiwiyin, better known as Chief Poundmaker, obtained this title because the Cree nation felt he was gifted by the spirits for his unique ability in attracting buffalo into the pounds. The buffalo pound was credited with feeding their nation and saving them from starvation.
In 1885, the Northwest Rebellion started as an uprising of the Métis people of Saskatchewan, under Louis Riel, against the Government of Canada. This was a time of great change in Western Canada. The Métis had believed that the government failed to communicate the protection of their rights, land and survival. The Métis were unsuccessful in their charge against the government which ended in the hanging of Louis Riel, after one of the most infamous trials in Canadian history.
After the Rebellion ended and Riel was put on trial, Poundmaker surrendered. He was charged with treason and sentenced to the Stony Mountain Penitentiary for three years.
At his trial, Poundmaker is reported to have said, “Everything that is bad has been laid against me this summer, there is nothing of it true had I wanted war, I would not be here now. I should be on the prairie. You did not catch me. I gave myself up. You have got me because I wanted justice.” Poundmaker’s adopted father, Crowfoot, had political contacts, leading him to only having to serve seven months. Unfortunately, throughout these months it ruined his health which led to his death from a lung hemorrhage in 1886, at the age of 44. He was buried near Gleichen, Alberta but was reburied on the Poundmaker Reserve in Saskatchewan in 1967.
Justin Trudeau exonerated Chief Poundmaker at Cut Knife Hill, where Poundmaker was reburied. Trudeau entered the ceremony with drumming, dancing and singing. Many came to celebrate; including leaders of tribes, Indigenous war veterans and politicians. Trudeau began his exoneration speech, “ Our government acknowledges that Chief Poundmaker was peacemaker who never stopped fighting for peace. A leader who, time and time again, sought to prevent further loss of life in the growing conflict in the Prairies.” After the given speech at the exoneration, Trudeau placed a pouch of tobacco on Poundmaker’s grave as a sign of respect. Many people who were born on the Poundmaker Reserve never thought that they would witness this day. Roxanne Tootoosis, who was born and raised on the Poundmaker reserve said, “It’s exciting, yet emotional, it’s something I didn’t feel I would witness in my life.” The exoneration of Poundmaker will also make great stories for generations to come.
In a time where it was very common to fight over disagreements, Chief Poundmaker had the vision to think about the safety of his people and felt these conflicts could be resolved in another manner. He chose to make a stance on war and worked for peace for his nation despite what the government and the Métis wanted. His actions can still be considered a great lesson for all today who stand for peace.
Image: REGINA LEADER-POST/THE CANADIAN PRESS