Native chief's remains return to Sask. century after his death

More than 120 years after the death of Chief One Arrow, an archeological team is exhuming his body from a Winnipeg cemetery and returning it to his descendants from the Batoche area of Saskatchewan.

Body of Chief One Arrow, convicted in Riel Rebellion, being exhumed in Winnipeg

More than 120 years after the death of Chief One Arrow, an archeological team is exhuming his body from a Winnipeg cemetery and returning it to his descendants from the Batoche area of Saskatchewan.

Chief One Arrow was laid to rest so far from his home because of his involvement in the Riel Rebellion of 1885, in which Louis Riel led an uprising in a fight for aboriginal rights.
An archeological team is helping exhume the body of Chief One Arrow from a cemetery in the St. Boniface area of Winnipeg. ((CBC))

One Arrow was convicted of treason, taken from his home in the Batoche area and imprisoned in Manitoba, where he later died of old age.

"Twelve years ago, we found the grave, but for a time span there, the elders told us to leave it alone," Richard John, a descendant of Chief One Arrow, told CBC News.

"About two years ago, the spirit of One Arrow was showing up in the sweat lodges out there, and that's when we did a shaking tent ceremony for him and that's when his spirit told us that he wanted to come home."

Archeologists are helping recover One Arrow's body from its grave just metres away from Riel's. But it's slow, complicated work, because there are other coffins close by.

"In the process of exposing Chief One Arrow's grave, we've exposed parts of four other graves that we can't disturb, of course, and so now we have to work in and about those, so it's quite a delicate process," said Butch Amundson, an archeologist on the project.

'Do not mistreat my people'

To this day, One Arrow's role in the rebellion is unclear.

"He was regarded as essentially one of the minor players," said Philippe Mailhot, a historian with the St. Boniface Museum.

"People like Big Bear and Poundmaker were regarded as far more dangerous by the Canadian government, their role was considered far more important. But One Arrow was, of course, one of the chiefs whose bands participated in the Northwest Rebellion."
Chief One Arrow's final words to the Canadian government: "Do not mistreat my people," are inscribed on his tombstone in Winnipeg. (CBC)

Back home in Saskatchewan, however, Chief One Arrow is regarded as a hero, a champion of his people's rights.

His final words to the Canadian government, "Do not mistreat my people," are inscribed on his tombstone, and John said those words still hold meaning for people on the reserve that shares his name, about 80 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.

"We're still struggling with the government, trying to get decent lives for the band members back there," he said.

A funeral service and burial for Chief One Arrow is planned forTuesday on the One Arrow Cree Nation.