By Rory MacLean
“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.
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 warpath...to 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."