Web published: August 1, 1999
http://www.tcel.com/~brownb/tidbits.htm and transfered on
Jan. 10, 2001 to http://www.alittlehistory.com/tidbit.htm
latest revision: March 9/01.
One band led by a chief named Piapot was badly off because his reserve site had been poorly chosen. During the winter, many had died. According to the Native custom, the bodies of the dead were strung up in trees. They believed it was important to respect the spirits of the dead by looking after their dead bodies. It was believed that the spirits would not want to see their bodies left on the ground where they would be torn apart and eaten by animals.
"Spring found some fifty or more ghastly corpses dangling from limbs of trees surrounding the teepees of the remaining members of the band." (from Prairie Fire, p.88)
While writing the account of the Native side of the Rebellion, I became aware that in many books, important parts of their history had been poorly presented. Many Canadians remain unaware that the Natives of the Western plains have many great historical figures that we can all be proud of.
As I worked on the details of some fascinating characters, I sensed that maybe their beliefs about spirits are true. I had the feeling that their spirits were watching me work; and that they have been very restless for the past 115 years. Hopefully, some day, the Natives and their spirits will get the respect they deserve.
Soon after writing my account, a two part television film on Big Bear was broadcast nationally.
Chief Piapot was the main leader of the south Cree bands. He was known as a great leader, hunter, warrior, and orator.
Before Piapot died in 1908 at the age of 92, he said that he must not be burried in the earth. His preference was to have his body lashed to a tree top, but at this time the White man's law would not allow it. A coffin was made from the wood of a wagon box. It was made two feet high so he could be burried in a traditional way with his legs drawn up.
When he was burried, he was taken in his coffin to the top of a hill near where he had lived. Here, they opened a grave about six inches deep. Around the coffin and over it they piled stones, and then marked out a large circle beyond it with field stones. This is where his body was left, on the point of a hill overlooking the valley.
How Chief Piapot got his name:
When Piapot was a very young Cree child, a Sioux hunting party attacked and took him and his grandmother prisoner. Piapot then grew up as a Sioux, speaking their language and learning their way of being a hunter and warrior. However, when Piapot was 14 years of age, the Sioux were attacked by Cree. Piapot's Grandmother was able to tell the Cree that they were Cree, so Piapot and his Grandmother were saved. After returning with the Cree, Piapot was soon able to teach the skills of the two cultures. This is why he was given the name "the Sioux Cree" or Nehiyawapot. The White people translated this into English as Piapot.
It was decided to use railway boxcars to move Piapot's band from the Cypress Hills to his new reserve near Qu'Applelle. At Maple Creek, about 800 of Piapot's band were loaded into boxcars, and the doors locked. Unfortunately, on the journey, one of the box cars came off the track and rolled down an embankment. The boxcar ended up on its side with doors blocked. Its ends had to be broken open to free the Natives.
There were no serious injuries, but the Natives were upset. The White people had treated them badly, so it is not surprising that some of the Natives thought the accident was part of a plan by the White people to kill them all. They turned their anger towards the brakeman, drew their knives, and chased him down the tracks. The Natives who had been in the overturned car decided to walk to Qu'Appelle, while the rest finished the journey in the train.
False Assumptions About The Natives
According to reports, in the past many White people saw the Natives as cowards. Some believed they were "uncivilized," and labeled them "savages." However, the account at this site includes many examples where the natives acted reasonably: with courage, restraint, and dignity.
More sad news about the Native experience
When the Natives turned to violence in 1885, they probably felt that things could not get worse. But afterwards things did get worse. It is unfortunate that for decades after the Rebellion, the Natives in the Northwest struggled so much in an effort to just live that it was believed by many White people that the Natives were going to all die off. As well, there was a deliberate White policy to stop them from being Indian. Abusive Residential schools were used in an effort to take the Indian out of them, to make them like the White man.
Questions? Suggestions? Comments.