Petition to exonerate Chief Poundmaker gains support from AFN, Sask.'s FSIN

Poundmaker Cree Nation chief and council start petition to have chief Poundmaker exonerated from his 1885 conviction of treason felony

Chiefs Poundmaker, Big Bear and One Arrow were all convicted of treason felony in 1885

A petition to have Chief Poundmaker exonerated has been started by the Poundmaker Cree Nation's chief and council. Chief Poundmaker along with Chief Big Bear and Chief One Arrow were all convicted of treason felony in 1885. Big Bear, left, and Poundmaker were incarcerated in Stony Mountain penitentiary in Manitoba. Both died shortly after their release. (Manitoba Archives/ Big Bear collection/ 3/ N16092)

Leadership of the Poundmaker Cree Nation in Treaty 6 territory have started a petition to have Chief Poundmaker exonerated for his 1885 treason conviction.

Chief Poundmaker was charged and convicted for treason felony in what the Canadian government of 1885 said was his role in the Northwest Rebellion.

Poundmaker and his band members travelled to Battleford in 1885 to ask federal agents for food. When word spread of their impending arrival, terrified settlers and the Indian agent fled inside Fort Battleford. The town of Battleford was looted, although accounts differ on whether it was First Nations or settlers who did it.

To punish Poundmaker for the "siege" of the fort, federal troops led by Col. William Otter attacked Poundmaker's camp and were defeated. Poundmaker ordered his warriors not to pursue the 300 fleeing troops.

Poundmaker turned himself in to authorities to prevent further bloodshed and was convicted of treason. He was sentenced to three years in prison and died shortly after his release from TB complications.

'A lot of resistance'

Milton Tootoosis, headman of the Poundmaker Cree Nation west of Fort Battleford, said his father, Lawrence Weenie, was part of an attempt to have Chief Poundmaker exonerated more than two decades ago.

"That petition was flat out rejected by Canada," he said.

Tootoosis, who is in Ottawa this week for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Special Chief's Assembly, said a resolution in support of the campaign has already been passed by both the AFN and Saskatchewan's Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.

"Chief Poundmaker should be exonerated and his name cleared once and for all in Canada's history books," he said.

The former chief of Poundmaker Cree Nation, Blaine Favel, remembers the band's first attempt in calling for exoneration.

"They were very reluctant to do it back then," said Favel.

"We pushed for it, we weren't very successful. We had a lot of resistance but it was a very different time. It wasn't this … era of reconciliation."

Here is the letter on the first page of the website calling for the exoneration of Chief Poundmaker. The letter, signed by chief and council, states that Poundmaker was a peacemaker who sought to feed and protect his people. (Poundmaker Cree Nation/

Pardon or exoneration?

The call for a "pardon" has also created some confusion among the community on whether a pardon is the same as exoneration. According to Favel, who has a law degree from Queen's University, the point of the petition is to clear Poundmaker's name.

"We're not getting caught up in semantics," he said.

Favel said the committee also wants Poundmaker to be recognized as a Canadian peacemaker.

Two years ago the late Tyrone Tootoosis was also working on getting Poundmaker exonerated and approached historian Bill Waiser, among others, for a letter of support. Waiser has written extensively about the federal government's opposition to Poundmaker.

Waiser's letter spoke about Poundmaker as well as Big Bear and One Arrow, two other Cree chiefs who were convicted alongside Poundmaker for treason felony.

The petition as of Monday had just under 1,000 signatures but Favel was confident that number will grow. Tootoosis also said there are plans to have a museum in honour of Chief Poundmaker on reserve land in the near future and he hopes this call for exoneration will help the plans become a reality.


Brad Bellegarde

Reporter for CBC Indigenous based in Saskatchewan

Born and raised in Treaty 4 Territory, he holds an Indian Communication Arts Certificate from the First Nations University of Canada and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Regina. Follow him on Twitter @BBellegardeCBC