Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny.
….The white man may one day discover; our God is the same God…. We may be brothers and sisters after all; we shall see.
My brother Fred and his partner Haidee recently gave Francis and I three large framed photographs of Big Bear, Poundmaker and Crowfoot. These North American Indigenous leaders were pivotal in reducing the violence during Canada’s war against the Metis in 1885 – now known as the North-West Resistance.
Poundmaker is on the left, Big Bear is centre (longer hair removed while imprisoned), and Crowfoot is on the right.
Fred and Haidee inherited the photos from Fred’s sister-in-law Heather. Being too large for their small bungalow they felt they belonged with us in our lakeside cabin. Fred gave me a note explaining the back story of how Heather came to receive the pictures, which I typed out below. (Note Fred’s closing reference to Fr. Charles Brandt).
Background of the Protectors
When Heather left the University of British Columbia in the early 60’s with enough credits to teach she took a job teaching at Buffalo Creek near 100 Mile House, where she stayed for a year till the following summer when she hitchhiked to Calgary. There she worked at Glen Bow Museum and eventually met Alan her future husband.
During a time at the museum, she acquired quite a bit of Inuit Art at a time when it was gaining favour. Alan was a geologist so eventually was transferred to London, and when she left, the museum curator gifted her with framed photos of photos which were and still are a part of their collection. They had always appealed to her…
She hung them over her bed had and called them “her protectors.” Haidee also admired them and when she did so Heather said she wanted her to have them…
I think given yours and Frans interest in the struggles and people involved in the fight to maintain their rights – Big Bear, Poundmaker and Crowfoot belong with you and Fran. They shall now be your Protectors.
Love – Fred
As an aside, Heather had quite a lot of interesting and valuable art aside from the protectors. When a toilet tank broke while she was a way on vacation and a lot of water accumulated, she had Father Charles in to restore the art, and subsequently they had dinner together ( Heather’s cooking) on several occasions, one being the only time I met Father Charles.
Fr. Charles Brandt working in his art and book conservation lab – photo by Taylor Roades
Here is the photo of Chief Big Bear at Freds home on the day we picked it up, sitting alongside a bookcase he recently built. Though a off topic, you can see Fred is a master cabinet maker. He used douglas fir lumber milled by a local friend of mine.
To expand on the story of these First Nations leaders, the North-West Resistance Movement of 1885 was originally named the North-West Rebellion from the perspective of the white colonial conquerors. This 5 month period of escalated violence on the Canadian Prairies, was largely fought between the Metis Peoples and the North West Mounted Police (precursor’s to todays Royal Canadian Mounted Police or RCMP).
The Canadian Pacific railway was still under construction heading west. Under the iron hand of Canada’s first Prime Minister John A. McDonald, 3000 troops were sent from Ontario to Saskatchewan in just 11 days. This force quelled the resistance.
The Prime Minister also instituted in 1883 Canada’s terrible Indian Residential School system. Many First Nations children were forcibly taken from their elders and placed in boarding schools that were overseen by Canadian churches. This lasted for more than a hundred years. It has left a horrific legacy for all Canadians, most especially the Aboriginal peoples.
Emily Carr painting – Aboriginal Schoolhouse, Lytton, BC, 1910
Mural of Louis Riel (right) in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan – left, John A. McDonald
After the 1885 North-West Resistance there were numerous trials.
The great Metis leader Louis Riel (who was a founder of the province of Manitoba) was found guilty of treason against the fledgling nation of Canada, and he was sentenced to hang. Big Bear and Poundmaker were also tried and both served time in Canadian Penitentiaries – even though they had been instrumental in reducing the violence and saving many lives.
Big Bear, a Cree, had also resisted moving his people onto a reserve. The Canadian government cut off food rations to Big Bear’s Tribe causing starvation. This eventually forced Big Bear into signing Treaty 6.
Broken Treaty – mural of Treaty 6 in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan
Poundmaker was Cree and the adopted son of Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot Confederacy. After serving 7 months in prison Poundmaker was released in 1886. He died soon afterwards of tuberculosis at age 44.
In 2019 the Canadian government posthumously exonerated him of his 1885 wrongful conviction and imprisonment.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated, “we recognize that during his lifetime Chief Poundmaker was not treated justly nor showed the respect he deserved as a leader of his people. If we are to move forward together on the path of reconciliation, the Government of Canada must acknowledge the wrongs of the past.”
As for for Chief Crowfoots role during the North-West Resistance, he believed the fighting was futile and refused to have his people involved in the conflict. For this, William Van Horne of the Canadian Pacific Railway rewarded Crowfoot with a “lifetime railway pass”.
It stated, “good until otherwise ordered.” Crowfoot travelled by horse, like all plains Indians of the day.
How can you buy or sell the land? We do not own the freshness of the air or the sparkle of the water. How can you buy them from us? Every part of the earth is sacred to my people, holy in their memory and experience. We know the white man does not understand our ways. He is a stranger who comes in the night, and takes from the land whatever he needs. The Earth is not his friend, but his enemy, and when he’s conquered it, he moves on. He kidnaps the earth from his children. His appetite will devour the Earth and leave behind a desert. If all the beasts were gone, we would die from a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts soon happens also to us. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the Earth, befalls the children of the Earth.
Emily Carr Painting – an Indian group, Hazelton BC, 1912
Guyasdoms D’Sonoqua (Wild Woman of the Woods) – Emily Carr Painting, 1928
Peace and love
After reading this post my good friend Dave Stevenson shared with me this poem he had written previously… it relates, completely:
(1825 – 1888)
he does not smile for the camera
sits, obedient at last
defiance mixed with a sneer
tethered by a chain
for an image that will outlast him
the painter offers to render
him more justly with his palette
places him on a black horse against
an azure bright prairie July sky
the sound of hooves drumming the earth
cannot be heard
colours him in brown hues
against a yellow prairie grass
spotted with vermilion stains
of buffalo blood squirting out from
the accurate bullet hole placed just behind
the massive head, eyes shining
flashing out fear against
the sombre brown grass
colours his smile white against
a copper glow of beauty.
places the picture
in the museum of art
for all to see