Big Bear, Mistahimaskwa, Cree, 1825-1888

He was the head man of about 65 lodges in the 1870s, and was concerned with the disappearance of the buffalo, the increasing numbers of European settlers, and impossible treaty conditions that seemed to ensure perpetual poverty and the destruction of his people's way of life. In 1876 he refused to sign Treaty No 6 and maintained that position until 8 December 1882, when with the last buffalo gone, starvation was a reality. He wanted to take a reservation near Fort Pitt, but when he saw the poverty of his friends there, he worked to wring further concessions from the federal government. In an attempt to unite the Northern Cree, several meetings were held at Battleford, the largest in 1884 when over 2000 Natives joined in Big Bear's thirst dance at Poundmaker's reserve. The event nearly erupted into violence but, through the efforts of the North-West Mounted Police and Big Bear, peace was maintained. Big Bear always counselled peace, and due to the actions of some of his more extreme followers he was tried for treason-felony, found guilty and sentenced to a 3-year sentence at the Stony Mountain Penitentiary. A broken, sick man, Big Bear only served 2 years of the term and was released on 4 March 1887.

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