‘We’re finally hearing the First Nations perspective’: Chief Poundmaker art exhibit opens

Chief Poundmaker was convicted of treason in 1885, even though he prevented the slaughter of hundreds of federal troops.

Organizers of a new art exhibit on the Poundmaker Cree Nation hope it will set the historical record straight about their famous chief.

“We’re finally hearing the First Nations perspective, which has been missing for over a century,” Poundmaker Cree Nation headman (councillor) Milton Tootoosis said during a tour of the museum on the reserve, located 50 kilometres west of the Battlefords.

Poundmaker Cree Nation councillor Milton Tootoosis stands at the display case containing his famous chief’s gun and staff seized after Poundmaker’s treason conviction in 1885. The federal government has promised to exonerate Poundmaker. (Jason Warick/CBC)

The exhibit, which runs until May 9, was celebrated by dozens of people who attended a pipe ceremony and feast Wednesday. It includes the art of notable Poundmaker band members Henry Beaudry and Tyrone Tootoosis.

The centrepiece is Chief Poundmaker’s rifle, seized in 1885. Grainy photos and paintings also tell Poundmaker’s story.

This is very empowering for us … I hope this brings further awareness of treaty rights as advocated by Chief Poundmaker– Floyd Favel, curator of the Chief Poundmaker Museum

On May 2, 1885, federal troops attacked the band at Cut Knife Hill but were driven back. Poundmaker prevented his warriors from pursuing and slaughtering the federal troops.

Days later, Poundmaker traveled to meet federal officials. He wanted the government to honour treaty promises to supply agricultural tools and other materials after the demise of the buffalo herds.

Thunderchild First Nation Raven Whitstone and her exchange student guest Asana Khudabaksh of Toronto visited the Chief Poundmaker Museum Wednesday. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Instead, Poundmaker was arrested and convicted of treason. He was released from prison six months later after contracting what soon became a fatal respiratory disease.

Tootoosis hopes the museum exhibit will give Poundmaker members pride of their history, and help the general public to understand Poundmaker’s role as hero — not villain.

Former Poundmaker Chief Blaine Favel has researched the historical records. The federal troops spared in that battle have roughly 100,000 descendants alive today thanks to Chief Poundmaker’s decision.

Poundmaker Cree Nation councillor Milton Tootoosis explains the new museum exhibit focused on the famous chief to a group of visiting students. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Tootoosis said Canadians need to hear these stories, and the museum exhibit is part of that process. The federal government has also agreed, after years of lobbying and requests from Poundmaker members, to exonerate Poundmaker for his treason conviction. That is expected to happen in the coming weeks.

“We’ve been talking about it for years. I think it’s safe to say the community is very very excited,” he said.

Chief Poundmaker Museum curator Floyd Favel agreed.

“This is very empowering for us,” Favel said. “I hope this brings further awareness of treaty rights as advocated by Chief Poundmaker.”

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