This Week in History
Misto-ha-a-Musqua: Last Chief of the Free Plains Cree
For the week of Monday January 17, 2011
On January 17, 1888, Misto-ha-a-Musqua (otherwise known as Big Bear) died. Born around 1825 into a Plains Cree band living in southern Saskatchewan, Big Bear was known to be an even tempered, thoughtful man who was a devastating warrior, skilled hunter and an influential leader. A pacifist in his struggle against the Canadian government, he became the champion of the last band of non-treaty First Nations of the Canadian prairies to settle on a reserve.
By 1879, Big Bear was at the height of his influence but, with few options, other chiefs continued to sign Treaty No. 6. In 1882, when starvation struck hardest, he too signed on behalf of his band. According to the treaty, each band was free to choose the location of their reserve. However, when Big Bear and other chiefs requested their reserves be located next to each other in the Cypress Hills area, the government refused. Consequently, in 1884, he organized a “thirst dance,” a traditional gathering that had been banned by the government. There, he persuaded other Treaty No. 6 chiefs to recognize him as their spokesman on treaty grievances and resolved to petition Ottawa directly.
Big Bear was designated a person of national historical significance in 1971, Frog Lake a National Historic Site in 1923, and Treaty No. 6 a National Historic Event in 1927.
For more information regarding Big Bear and the North-West Rebellion/Resistance, please read past This Week in History stories The Battle of Frenchman Butte and The North-West Mounted Police Retreat from Fort Pitt, and visit Fort Battleford National Historic Site.
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