Friday, 17 August 2012

Poundmaker on the way to CYM

In Cutknife, in West Central Saskatchewan, a museum and campground are laid out like an early settler town honouring homesteaders of more than a century ago. There is no mention of the historic site 17 km North of Cutknife, overlooking the Battle River. There, a deserted building and some attractive but sparse signage are connected by weedy, unkempt walkways. Here you can find the graves of Chief Poundmaker and one of the warriors who fought for their people and their land in 1885.

In March of that year, Chief Poundmaker with others approached the Fort at Battleford begging for food for their families. The buffalo had been relentlessly slaughtered, their hunting grounds privatized and parcelled out to homesteaders and their people were starving to death. Their request was refused.

Several weeks later, a group of young men raided the Fort supplies and invaded some homes of settlers – killing no one. Lt Col. Otter at Battleford gathered a militia with guns, ammunition and the early version of an machine gun, the “Gatling gun” to attack the Indians.

Chief Poundmaker's tribe was out-numbered and out-armed but they knew the land. Although the army surprised the Cree by attacking in the early morning, the soldiers were in retreat six hours later. Chief Poundmaker prevented his warriors from following the soldiers and thus a wholesale slaughter.

For defending his starving people and showing mercy, the Chief was sentenced to three years in Stony Mountain Prison. After his release, he walked to visit Chief Crowfoot in Alberta – where he died a year later at the age of 44.

Nothing about this story is fair. Nothing is just. The children of children of children of settlers now repeat a mantra of pride in the land - “our farm” through five generations, The children of children of children of the Cree are crowded onto a tract of land – beautiful, but far from enough land to sustain a community even if all could enter today's deformed notion of an economy.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is only a part of the way back for the settler and First Nation relationship. They offer a debriefing to those who suffered under the residential school system but do nothing to alter the settler sense of entitlement.

For thousands of years, people lived on this land and did not deplete its resources. While entire civilizations in Europe and Asia razed their forests, polluted the atmosphere and dirtied their rivers, the people of Turtle Island maintained stewardship and sustainability. The settlers called them “savages” but the land they claimed from them was still virgin.

The Conservative government's last onslaught on Indigenous populations has been to cut funding for housing on reserves; having never provided adequate housing for those from whom the land was stolen, the next step is privatization of the reserves.

Overlooking a vast valley of rich river bottom, Poundmaker's legacy is uncertain. The settler populations have polluted it with pesticides and herbicides, and cut down its trees. Mother Earth is being attacked, her blood and bones extracted, the excrement discharged into the atmosphere. On a continent where much was “commons” as recent as one hundred and fifty years ago, today, even our water is threatened.

A sad state of misplaced values.