Big Bear (1825-1888) was a Plains Cree chief in Saskatchewan at a time when aboriginals were confronted with the disappearance of the buffalo and waves of European settlers that seemed destined to destroy the Indian way of life. In 1876 he refused to sign Treaty No. 6, until 1882, when his people were starving. Big Bear advocated negotiation over violence, but when the federal government refused to negotiate with aboriginal leaders, some of his followers killed 9 people at Frog Lake in 1885. Big Bear himself was arrested and imprisoned. Rudy Wiebe, author of a Governor General's Award-winning novel about Big Bear, revisits the life of the eloquent statesman, one of Canada's most important aboriginal leaders.
river and meeting those new “treaty-promise chiefs” camped beside Pitt. Sweetgrass was out on the prairie near us just eight days ago. Simpson said, Morris himself sent for Sweetgrass. And the chief met Morris in his ceremonial suit, took him in his arms, and kissed him on both cheeks. What! The other chiefs did that too, and the councillors. Kiss the governor? Like Christians after their feast ceremony.… Priests call it drinking the blood and eating the flesh of Jesus, but Methodists say
and then what Mista-wasis and Ahtah-kakoop advised, why they would sign. And then Sweetgrass said to this council, “I consider those chiefs far wiser than I am. If they have accepted this treaty for their people, after many days of talk and careful thought, then I am ready to accept it for my people.” Big Bear murmured, Many days of talk. The good Sweetgrass, he’s almost all Abraham now. Simpson nodded, Pakan too. He praised Little Hunter and Erasmus by saying, “They would never tell us
buried the five warriors shot at Loon Lake and aged Sitting-At-The-Door, who, in terror, had hanged herself. The fleeing Cree heard that two huge riverboats full of soldiers had arrived at Fort Pitt from Battleford, that whole battalions were searching for them from three directions. They knew a thousand People could not continue in flight together, and small groups broke away, trekking toward Fort Pitt to surrender. Woods Cree with the McLeans and Simpsons disappeared across the Beaver River,
hiding in the woods, paralyzed with terror. Cannot this court send them a pardon? My own children! Perhaps they are starving and outcast, too afraid to show themselves in the big light of day. If the government does not help them before winter, my band will surely perish. “‘But I have too much confidence in the Great Grandmother to fear that starvation will be allowed to overtake my people. The time will come when the Indians of the North-West will be of much service to the Great Grandmother. I
Great Spirit, who had given his People the whole Earth and everything good for life with it—that was more than enough for him. As was the ecstatic, dangerous joy of Blackfoot raids: stealthy approach, retreat, silent stalk and circle, counter-raid, attack, and night herds of horses galloping. One spring young Big Bear with his companions ran west to haunt Blackfoot camps all summer. They captured scores of horses, and Big Bear sent all his horses back to Black Powder while staying on the prairie