Chief Poundmaker exoneration spurs calls for more historical corrections

Trisha Sutherland says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was right to apologize for the 1885 conviction of Chief Poundmaker, but that it can't stop there.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized for 1885 conviction of Chief Poundmaker Thursday

Chief Poundmaker (right), along with Chief Big Bear (left) and Chief One Arrow were all convicted of treason-felony in 1885. Big Bear and Poundmaker were incarcerated in Stony Mountain penitentiary. Both died shortly after their release. (Manitoba Archives/ Big Bear collection/ 3/ N16092)

Trisha Sutherland says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was right to apologize for the 1885 conviction of Chief Poundmaker, but that it can't stop there.

Sutherland, chief of the One Arrow First Nation in central Saskatchewan, said her community's namesake was also wrongly convicted.

That stain must be wiped away, she said. The government must also exonerate Chief One Arrow.

"It's false history. I believe our story needs to be told," Sutherland said in an interview Friday.

Chiefs One Arrow, Big Bear and Poundmaker were all convicted of the crime of "treason-felony."

A growing list of leaders and academics say all three convictions were false. First Nations University professor and author Blair Stonechild called the convictions "totally bogus."

"I think it's the government's responsibility to provide the resources to correct that whole story, and to show what the real story is," Stonechild told CBC News earlier this week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets youth ahead of exonerating Chief Poundmaker on Thursday. (Jason Warick/CBC News)

Stonechild said the government of the day was looking for an excuse to silence First Nations leaders who were pressing for the treaties to be honoured.

More exonerations a 'natural process'

After the chiefs were convicted, the government reneged on promises of famine relief and other treaty promises. A pass system was implemented, confining First Nations people to their reserves and limiting their ability to hunt, fish or sell their produce.

Chief Poundmaker Museum curator Floyd Favel, one of those who worked on the Poundmaker exoneration, agreed Big Bear and One Arrow deserve exoneration.

"I think it's a natural process. We must correct mistakes," Favel said.

Sutherland remembers going to school in a town near One Arrow. They learned history from the settler perspective. The rare mentions of Indigenous people were almost completely negative, she said.

"The message was that we were heathens, savages," she said.

One Arrow now has its own school to teach its children their history. An exoneration would help the rest of Canada to see the true picture, she said.

There are calls to exonerate other Chiefs convicted of treason-felony after Chief Poundmaker was exonerated publicly by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Saskatchewan on Thursday. (Oliver Buell/Library and Archives Canada)

'Necessary step'

Sutherland said they're assembling written and oral evidence, and getting advice from those who organized Poundmaker's exoneration. After that's complete, they plan to make the formal request to government.

"This is a necessary step in reconciliation. I'm hopeful it will happen," she said.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said the federal government wants to correct any historic injustices.

Bennett said they'll consider such requests on an individual basis.

In a written statement Friday, government officials said they "look forward to more meaningful conversations on this issue in the future. We know there are many more injustices in our country's past that need to be addressed."


Jason Warick


Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.