A Look at Pitikwahanapiwiyin (or Poundmaker)
All of the people of the Plains hunted the buffalo.
Buffalo hunting required great organization, with a large group of men riding swiftly on their horses under the direction of their skilled leaders to drive the buffalo certain ways to cut the best animals from the herd – riding around and bunching them up – shooting the finest bulls down one-by-one.
However, during the winter months when the prairies were covered with snow, a different method needed to be used: poundmaking!
Poundmaking is a way to hunt buffalo by impounding, or driving the herd into an enclosure. Early fur traders provided accounts of the Plains-Cree and Assiniboine using this method and they claimed that they were the best at driving buffalo into these “pounds” and quite possibly were the ones who showed the other Plains tribes how to do it. The reason behind this is that the woodland Cree from the east (around Hudson Bay) use a similar method for trapping deer. It seems likely that they brought the knowledge with them as they pushed west.
Born in about 1842 near Battleford in central Saskatchewan, Pitikwahanapiwiyin (or Poundmaker) was the son of Sikakwayan, a Stoney shaman, and his Métis wife. He gained his name for his special ability to attract buffalo into pounds. It was said that Pîhtokahanapiwiyin was gifted by spirit helpers to use a special song to lure in the buffalo to the pounds. As he sang, he used a drum. The song enticed the lead buffalo cow to bring her herd into the pound so the people could harvest them.
Poundmaker grew up with his Plains Cree relatives under the influence of his maternal uncle Mistawasis (Big Child), a leading figure in the Eagle Hill (Alberta) area. In 1873 Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfoot, following a Plains Indian custom, adopted Poundmaker to replace one of his own sons who had been killed in battle.
In August 1876, Poundmaker served as the headman of one of the River People bands and was influential enough to speak at the Treaty 6 negotiations at Fort Carlton. He emerged as one of the leaders of a group critical of the treaty because it did not include a 'famine clause'. He finally agreed to sign the treaty on August 23rd only because the majority of his band favored it.
Poundmaker was chief and accepted a reserve and settled with 182 followers on 30 square miles along the Battle River about 40 miles west of Battleford. However, in the autumn of 1879, frustrated by the government's failure to fulfill their treaty promises, Poundmaker became active in resistance against the policies of the settler government. In June 1884, a Thirst Dance was held on his reserve and the men gathered to discuss the worsening situation of the Indians. By the middle of the month over 2,000 people had gathered, but the Thirst Dance celebration was disrupted by the North-West Mounted Police.
Poundmaker and his band participated in the 1885 Metis rebellions and he was imprisoned for his part in the outbreak. While in prison, the government wanted to cut his hair, but the influence of some of the other native leaders saved him from suffering that indignity. He served only seven months in prison, but his stay there devastated his health and led to his death (from a lung hemorrhage) in 1886, at the age of 44. He was buried at Blackfoot Crossing near Gleichen, Alberta, but his remains were exhumed in 1967, and reburied on the Poundmaker Reservation in Saskatchewan.