August 16, 2010

Siege re-enactment is unfair

‘It’s not right’:  Chief’s descendant protests siege re-enactment

By Rory MacLeanCree oral history teaches that Poundmaker brought his people to Fort Battleford to ask for food rations. They were starving after the disappearance of the buffalo, and wanted to ask for assistance promised in Treaty 6, said Tootoosis, a performer and amateur historian.

“The buffalo were gone. In summer, the land, it looked like winter, like snow was still on the ground and that was from the bleached bones of the bison. There was a treaty promise that we would be assisted in times of famine. That was only nine years after the treaty,” he said.

But when the Cree people approached the fort, the Battleford residents were fearful after hearing of the Metis attack on Duck Lake.

“The residents of Fort Battleford were indeed frightened when they heard what happened at Duck Lake. They weren’t sure of the intentions of First Nations. Poundmaker saw this as an opportunity to get extra food as they were promised,” said Bill Waiser, a western Canadian historian at the University of Saskatchewan.

“The people in the fort felt they were being besieged,” he said.

With the people of Battleford holed up inside the fort refusing to meet and Poundmaker’s people starving outside, it’s no wonder the Cree eventually looted the village, Waiser said.
Comment:  I hadn't heard about this siege before. Let's examine it a minute.

Most of the white settlers probably didn't know anything about an Indian treaty. The government told them they could settle there, so they did. They expected the Indians to be gone or pacified. When they appeared at the fort, angry and demanding, the settlers cried, "Savages...on the massacre us!"

This is about how stories of Indian attacks got told and retold. They got retold so many times that they became part of our national mythology. Now, more than a century later, we teach this mythology to our children in schools. We re-enact it at historical sites as if it were the reality.

The other side

Now look at it from the Indians' untold point of view. They gave up their land and freedom for promises of assistance. When it didn't come, their choice apparently was to pillage a village or starve.

They made a proper and moral choice. They were doing what Canada wouldn't do: enforcing the treaty. When someone cheats you out of your livelihood, you have a right to compensation.

If there had been an impartial higher authority, I suspect it would've sided with the Indians. They were equal partners in the treaty and could enforce it as well as the Canadians. Pillaging the village was their way of levying a tax or fine on the recalcitrant white man.

The settlers shouldn't have blamed the Indians. They should've blamed the government officials who didn't keep their promises. Or themselves for not knowing the situation before they moved there. And for voting the liars and cheaters into office.

"Renegade" = hungry Indian

Whenever you read about "renegade" Indians going "off the reservation," something like this may have been going on. These Indians weren't the equivalent of juvenile delinquents who were joyriding for the hell of it. They were frustrated and angry because they were stuck on an inhospitable reservation waiting for the white man's treaty payments.

After exhausting other possible remedies, they were forced to take drastic measures. If pillaging was the only way to keep their people alive, so be it.

For more on how white men and Indians justified their actions, see:

Indians in Christian textbooks
Custer just a product of his time?
Disease = invisible bullets?
Rob hypocritical about genocide?

Below:  "Don't try to defend yourself," said Uncle Sam, "or I'll tell everyone you attacked me first."


Patrick Jonas Fletcher said...

Settlers did know about the treaty system - it was scattered throughout all of the press. And it was a visible process, too. Your observations about the untold Cree side of the story are interesting; but I'm sticking with the historians when it comes everything else. This issue is well covered in Canadian history. Don't be presumptuous. You should read a bit instead.

Rob said...

The settlers knew about the peace treaties but settled on Indian land anyway? So they were greedy bastards rather than ignorant idiots? Okay, if you say so.

How many people read newspapers from across the country in the 19th century? How many people were even literate then? I doubt the average American or Canadian settler knew much about Indian affairs before heading west.

Rob said...

I've read tons of Native history, thanks. I have about 100 Native books on my shelves.

But if you know something I don't, feel free to provide the details. Be sure to cite and quote your sources.

Meanwhile, here's a posting that supports my speculation about what the settlers thought:

Settlers Flee to Fort Battleford

As the aboriginals made their way to Battleford, the shopkeepers and settlers panicked, taking refuge in the NWMP Fort Battleford. They had heard reports of aboriginals attacking and killing farm inspectors and farmers over rationed food. With 500 people inside the fort, rumours were rife, creating a hysterical state as intelligence gathered from outside via the telegraph indicated that an uprising was in the works.

Poundmaker and Little Pine, Chief of the Stoneys, were unable to restrain their hungry followers from looting the abandoned offices and houses. It was this action that set the minds of those inside the fort that Battleford was under siege. It was nothing of the sort [as] Poundmaker’s departure clearly illustrated.

Patrick Jonas Fletcher said...

You are so arrogant (which is partly why I like this blog so much). Look, I have no problem with the Battlefort interpretation (that much is up for grabs, surely). But the blind and illiterate settler community you concoct for your readers is utterly imaginary. More problematically, your "natives' side of view" is an ethically hazardous one to communicate - for what gives you the right to invent other peoples' narratives?

I do enjoy your gloating, though. "I've read tons of Native history, thanks. I have about 100 Native books on my shelves." Might those be books, or comics, by chance?

Rob said...

I was referring to books, not comic books. Comics aren't a good source for historical knowledge.

My Native resources include a couple hundred movies and documentaries plus tens of thousands of newspaper articles and websites. As well as the aforementioned books.

Nice of you not to address any of my points or provide any of your own evidence. What's left is that you don't like my position. So noted.

Fortunately, the Canadian government has agreed with me. For more on the subject, see Cree Win Fort Battleford Battle.

The following quote suggests the settlers concocted the "siege" out of thin air. Presumably because they didn't know the local history and didn't understand what was going on.

"Many settlers left accounts of their experience. One of the West's first reporters, P.G. Laurie, filed regular dispatches from inside the stockade.

"Parks Canada has used that material to create 15 vignettes acted out to convey the settler's isolation and fear."

Again, if you disagree, feel free to provide evidence to support your claim of superior knowledge. You haven't done it yet.