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.