At the eponymously named First Nation where Pihtokahanapiwiyin, or Chief Poundmaker is buried, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized Thursday for the Cree leader’s wrongful treason conviction and imprisonment in 1885.
“Today our government acknowledges that Chief Poundmaker was a peacemaker who never stopped fighting for peace,” said Trudeau eliciting cheers from those assembled at Poundmaker Cree Nation near Cut Knife Saskatchewan.
“(He) time and time again sought to prevent further loss of life in the growing conflict in the prairies.”
Following the North-West Rebellion of 1885 and the government’s decisive victory over Métis forces at Batoche, Chief Poundmaker surrendered to Canadian authorities at Battleford Saskatchewan on May 26th of that year.
Accused of fomenting violence at an earlier engagement with North-West Mounted Police at the Battle of Cut Knife Hill and for being in cahoots with Métis leader Louis Riel, Poundmaker was charged with treason; charges the chief repudiated.
“Put on trial in Regina in July 1885, Pitikwahanapiwiyin protested his innocence, telling the court that he did ‘everything [he] could do… to stop bloodshed,’” reads the Canadian Encyclopedia’s account of Poundmaker’s prosecution.
Nevertheless, the court found Poundmaker guilty and sentenced him to three years in prison. While the Cree leader would serve less than a year at Stoney Mountain Penitentiary in Manitoba, he died shortly after his release in 1886, at the age of 44.
Today’s apology, more than 130 years after Poundmaker’s death, was described by the prime minister as an essential part of the Canadian government’s reconciliation with the nation’s indigenous people.
“The government of Canada recognizes that Chief Poundmaker was not a criminal, but someone who worked tirelessly to ensure the survival of his people,” said Trudeau. “We recognize the unjust conviction of Chief Poundmaker had, and continues to have a profound impact on the Poundmaker Cree Nation.”