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Sweetgrass: Negotiator And Patriot

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      FALL 1987      p17  
Sweetgrass: Negotiator and Patriot There was a war between the Crees and the Atsina (Pawistikwiyiniwak). The Crees captured a promising young boy, and a man whose child of the same age had died recently, begged the captor, "my friend that looks like my child; give him to me." So he received the boy and brought him back to the Cree camp.

When the people gathered to greet the warriors, a widow who had lost a boy ran up and said, "This boy looks like my last son. Give him to me and I will rear him like my own child." So the boy was given to her. He became known as "Okimasis" (Little Chief) and "He-Who-Has-No-Name".

As he grew older, he remained small. When he was a youth he said to his mother, "Mother, we are very poor, others have horses, I have none. I am going to steal horses from the Blackfoot. Make me some moccasins and I will make a rope." And so they did.

He started at night alone, because he had no friends. He was despised and taunted by his peers for being short. The warriors would have nothing to do with him. He went far on foot, running and walking alternately to the south country. He slept by day and travelled by night.

One morning he went to the top of a hill to select a place to hide, and he saw below him a narrow valley and on the other side a small clump of bushes. He thought that would be a good place. The morning was foggy. As he stood looking around he saw a herd of horses grazing. He knew he was close to a camp and in danger, but no other concealment than the thicket was in sight. He went forward and just as he was going to creep in, he saw projecting above the tips of tipi poles. Quickly he crept into the bushes.

A man approached and it seemed that he was discovered. He notched an arrow and crouched there, pointing an arrow at the man who was now very close, and passed a few feet without seeing him. When the man had passed by, the young man released his arrow. It struck the Blackfoot on the back and he fell without uttering a sound. The youth crept out and scalped him, took his gun and clothing and ran to the herd of horses. He caught a fine bay stallion by its trailing rope, mounted and drove off the entire herd. The horse was a good one and he made speed.

The Blackfoot were left with a few stray animals and unable to overtake him. Four times that day he looked back and saw his pursuers in the distance.

It was early the next morning when he arrived home with three hundred horses (according to Father LaCombe he returned with forty-two ponies). To his mother he gave five horses and told her to go about the camp and send in all the poor people who had no horses but none for those who had as many as three. Among them he gave away all the remaining horses except his stallion.

That morning an old man had left the camp, upon returning, during the afternoon he heard what had happened. His friends laughed at his misfortune. However, he went to see the youth thinking that there might be a horse for him. "Grandson", he said, "I am sorry I was not here this morning to receive one of your horses The boy replied, "my grandfather, this is my best horse, take him, and here is something for you." He gave the old man the scalp which he had stuffed with sweetgrass; he did not have time to stretch it properly on a hoop.

The old man was very grateful for being so honored and opened the little bundle. He looked at the contents and said, "Grandson, you have no name, but I will name you. Hereafter you shall be Wikaskokiseyin (Kind Sweetgrass Person) and you will be known by that name. And more than that you are a Chief, a great Chief."

With that, the old man leading the stallion and swinging the bundles, called out the name of Wikaskokiseyin about the camp and declared that he should be Chief. The former Chief made no objections for the youth's deed could not be surpassed.

By 1870, he was the principal Chief in a large area of the central part of the prairies (Saskatchewan and Alberta). And in that year, he confessed to Father Albert LaCombe how he had become Chief, but all his life he was haunted by the thought of killing an

Sweetgrass: Negotiator And Patriot

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      FALL 1987      p18  
aged councillor, an unoffending man, when the act of worshipping the Great Spirit he shot him. Sweetgrass was baptized with the Christian name, Abraham, a few days after his confession.

After the acquisition of the Hudson Bay Company territory by Canada in 1870, Wikaskokiseyin told Governor Adams George Archibald at Upper Fort Garry, how concerned he was for his people; he said "our country is getting ruined of fur bearing animals, which was our main support. We have had great starvation this past winter, and the small pox took away many of our people, the old, young and children. We want you to stop the Americans from coming to trade on our land, and giving fire-water, ammunition and arms to our enemies, the Blackfoot." He requested that representatives be sent to treat with the Crees and that they receive assistance from the government.

Wikaskokiseyin was one of the leading spokesmen for the Plains people in the negotiations of Treaty Number Six at Fort Pitt.

We roamed the vast prairie regions of western Canada, and lived like we were meant to live. Until one day our great Chief Sweetgrass, the Chief of many tribes of Prairie People [Indians] was invited by the whites to travel east where a meeting was to take place. Our Chief Sweetgrass was told through an interpreter that the Great White Queen, who ruled over all this land, had long arms and would therefore take care of all her children and make sure that none of them ever went hungry. Chief Sweetgrass signed the treaty and was given a beautiful gun.

Upon his return to the Frog Lake area and his tribe, Sweetgrass was killed by his brother-in-law. Several reasons why, were expounded around our campfires, however, the best explanation of this unfortunate incident is that this was a way in which some of the prairie people could voice their protest against Sweetgrass and the deal he made. It must be further explained that the Prairie Indians were not consulted before this treaty was signed. Therefore, it is obvious that our people resented being sold out of land which rightly belonged to us all."

Thus, the Little Chief Pawscikwiyinis died for what he thought was right for his adopted people.