Most of the buffalo were killed off, so the Natives became hungry, and many were starving. The White man offered treaties in which the Natives could agree to give up most of the land in exchange for promises of food, treaty money, reserves to live on, and help with farming.
Two thousand Cree gathered for negotiations. During the negotiations, Poundmaker objected to the idea of reserves and their small size. He stated, "This is our land! It isn't a piece of pemmican to be cut off and given in little pieces back to us." But, there seemed to be no choice for the Natives. One Chief stated, "Can we stop the power of the white man from spreading over the land like the grasshoppers that cloud the sky . . . ? I think not."
The Natives wanted help during the transition to farming, so it was agreed to add a clause to the treaty. It said that if the Natives experienced famine, they would receive enough assistance "to relieve the Indians" from their condition. Unfortunately, this clause was vague, so it proved to be a major weakness in the treaty. Before reluctantly signing the treaty, Poundmaker complained, "I cannot understand how I shall be able to clothe my children and feed them as long as the sun shines and the water runs."
So, Poundmaker had been the leading voice among those who argued that the treaty was not good enough. In time, Poundmaker gained power and respect because it became evident that the concerns he had expressed during the negotiations were justified.
However, Big Bear had been out on the plains and the negotiations and signing had been completed before he arrived. Big Bear was given a chance to speak to the group. But the government refused to renegotiate the treaty, so when their talks ended Big Bear had not come to an agreement.
A few years after signing the treaty, many Natives became upset because they had experienced a difficult winter in which some had starved. Even though the government had promised in the Treaty to provide assistance they had not.
The size of Big Bear's camp and his influence was rising because many of the chiefs remained unhappy with the government. It had been slow in providing the farming instruction, equipment, and cattle which had been promised in the treaties. Also, when things were provided, they were inadequate. As more Natives became critical of the treaty, they moved from their reserves and joined Big Bear's large camp.
The settlement at Battleford, where there were a couple of hundred White people, was now experiencing a lot of unnecessary fear. Big Bear's nearby camp had grown to a threatening size of about two thousand.
Soon after the signing of Treaty Six, Poundmaker became a chief. In 1879 he agreed to settle with his 182 followers on a reserve which was located west of Fort Battleford and the Battleford settlement.
Poundmaker knew that the buffalo were gone, so in time he realized that the only hope for the Cree was to make farming work on the reserves. Poundmaker (whose mother was Metis) worked hard at farming and was a good example for other Natives to follow. However, Poundmaker could see that the Natives needed more help, and a number of times he told the chief administrator this, but nothing was done.
It was difficult for the Natives to change their lifestyle and learn new ways. Even White farmers who had experience, knowledge, and equipment struggled in their efforts to live by farming. On Poundmaker's reserve, there was widespread hunger that lasted for years. As well, they had to tolerate uncaring Government administrators who did not treat the Natives with fairness or respect.
Many White people had hardened beliefs. They believed there was nothing wrong with taking over Native land, it was just progress, part of a trend in Western Civilization. They believed that the Natives should be forced to change by giving them a simple choice: a choice between farming and starvation. The White people failed to find a better way to deal with the situation.
Unfortunately, the economy was not good and the building of the national railway was costing a lot of money, so the Canadian government was making cut backs. They cut back on what the Natives had been promised in the treaties.
to next part: uniting and conflict.