Meanwhile, from 1878 to 1880 Big Bear traveled through the Canadian Northwest and Montana talking to the Natives and trying to unite their bands. He knew that if they were all united, there was a greater chance they could force concessions from the government.
In the 1880s Big Bear wanted to locate the reserves in one area, so they could create a Native territory which would have greater influence. The government refused to grant adjacent reserves.
Big Bear took his band to the United States for awhile, but later they returned to Canada. During these years, he had lost many of his followers, so his following had now dwindled to 114 people.
By December Big Bear saw that his band faced destitution and starvation. He was forced to sign an adhesion to the treaty. When he heard what was in the treaty, he complained that "half the sweet things were taken out and lots of sour things left in."
Big Bear visited reserves where many Natives were hungry and some were starving. He convinced many chiefs that they must work together in their struggles against the government. He was able to get 2,000 Natives to meet for a thirst dance.
They held the thirst dance at Poundmaker's reserve. While it was in progress, back at a storehouse, a Farm Instructor refused to give food to a hungry Native and his brother. The Farm Instructor then pushed them out of the storehouse. In response, the Native became angry and hit the Instructor on the arm with an axe handle. The police were called.
The law had to be maintained, so about 90 police assembled and then went out to the reserve to arrest the Native.
Two hundred armed Natives brought the accused to the police, but then stayed in the distance and would not turn him over. The police advanced and were soon surrounded by a lot of extremely excited Natives. In all the noise and confusion, Big Bear shouted: "Peace, Peace."
The accused came forward and claimed he needed the food because he and his child had been sick. The Superintendent grabbed for him and missed. The accused retreated into the crowd with four police after him. In all the commotion, some Natives cried out, "Now is the time to shoot," while others yelled, "Don't fire the first shot."
The four police got both the accused and his brother. While the Natives continued to shout and threaten, the police were able to drag both of them back to a makeshift fort. At this point, it was decided to break government policy and hand out bacon and flour. The Natives settled down and quickly lined up for food.
Luckily, in spite of all that had happened, nobody had fired a shot. It was believed that one shot would have started a war in which all the unhappy, hungry Natives in the Northwest would have joined in.
It turned out that the incident distracted the Natives from the purpose of their gathering. As a result, Big Bear and Poundmaker failed in their efforts to get agreement to act with one voice.
The Canadian government decided to maintain a hard line policy. They believed that the voters in Ontario and Quebec would not tolerate increased expenditures in the Northwest. So nothing much changed until March of 1885 when the Metis fought a battle at Duck Lake.
to next part: first half of the Rebellion.