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It was a beautiful spring morning, May 26,1885, when Poundmaker and the Warrior Society, along with some of the women, made their way to Battleford. They had come from the foot of Eagle Hills to meet General Middleton and find out what was to become of them since their victory at the battle at Cutknife Hill. They were the warriors and must never show cowardice in warrior in peace. They had said, "Let them know that we are not afraid to meet the Chief Soldier."
Poundmaker had been planning to move in a southwesterly direction with some of his followers, but the warriors persuaded him to meet with General Middleton. After all, he was the spokesman for the Assiniboines and the Crees. This was the day Poundmaker promised to meet the Chief Soldier (Middleton).
This was the most crucial moment in the life of Poundmaker. He knew well what awaited him, but he had no choice but to perform before his people and their allies. They had been under pressure and they needed hope and release from tension. They had won the battle on Cutknife Hill. This was a fact. They had to discover what it meant.
They knew they were not understood by the Invaders. The plains people, dignified and unconcerned with the great array of civilians and soldiers observing them, went their way, led by Poundmaker and the Warrior Society Leaders. They seated themselves in a semi-circle before the tent of the Chief-Soldier. The General came out and seated himself in the opening. Poundmaker rose and came forward, holding out his hand, but the General waved it aside, saying he did not shake hands with rebels. (There is no Cree word for rebel). The General began to reprimand Poundmaker who then stood up and began to speak. "From the beginning, the Great Spirit created the Indians. He created the white persons. He put them on separate countries. He provided us with buffalo. He provided you with cows and sheep. We lived in contentment. We were well off. The whole country was ours. From the place of the rising sun, to the place of the setting sun, the buffalo roamed in great numbers.
We did not covet your land, neither did my father. But the white persons seemed unhappy. They left their land. They came across the great waters.
When you came, we treated you well. What did you do in return? You stole our land. You shared a little food with us. And you said you paid for it. You killed off our buffalo for no useful purpose for you. We did not destroy the buffalo. We know they are useful. Everything we needed came from them. What will you destroy next?
When I was a young man, I often went on a war party. We rode all day. And all day we passed through herds of buffalo. The plains were black as far as one could see with herds of buffalo. We killed one only for food.
After the whites came, the buffalo became fewer and fewer. We all know that. We began to hate the white persons. They were robbing us of our birthright. We became very poor. We wandered to the south. The buffalo were not coming back. We were told, "the land is not yours anymore. We were to stay only on our small patches of land that were leftover (iskonikana). Our grandfathers travelled on these great plains and called it their own.
Why do I have to live on a small patch like the white persons? I only want my freedom.
Lately there has been a lot of talk. Messengers came from other tribes. Aniyen (Riel) told us that the halfbreeds are very restless. They are discontented; they would take back their country, and drive out the white persons. The buffalo would come back, the Crees would be a great people once more.
I was slow in thought (doubted). I have seen many winters. I know the whites to be numerous. I know their strength. But I could not control my young men. It was useless; they were hostile. I was very anxious for the women and the children.
For that, I tried to hold back the young men. The young men were strong headed. They wanted war." Poundmaker said this to justify himself. He turned around and back to face the general and then continued.
"When it became spring, grass was up green for the ponies. There was no holding back the young men. You must realize that the people did not massacre. * This was a gentle war.
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They could have massacred your soldiers. I held them back at Cutknife Hill, as your soldiers withdrew to the fork (Battleford). We treated the prisoners well; they could have been killed too. That is why I call it a gentle war. Many persons could have been killed. My men could have rushed forward and clubbed your soldiers. That was their plan, but I argued and urged them to be gentle.
Now I urge you to be gentle, ** as I have advocated with my men. Let all be 'given back' (forgiven). Let the tribes (Cree and Assiniboine) be reinstated upon their reserves. Rations and payments be continued. That is all I have to say."
As Poundmaker turned around to face his people his wife said, "I also must speak for the women and children."
"Ahaw, tapwe!" was expressed by the warriors. General Middleton, somewhat disconcerted, replied to Poundmaker, "You are speaking for all your people."
A quick reply came from the crowd, "You always tell us that the Great White Queen speaks at the Supreme Council. Why should not a woman speak?" added Poundmaker.
The general laughed and said, "She does not speak in her Parliament. Her men do all this for her. This is a war conference and we will listen only to warriors."
Poundmaker's wife was very disappointed at this decision, and there was much muttering and grumbling. She was not going to speak only for the women and children but on behalf of a certain mother whose son was taken prisoner though he was innocent. This caused much anxiety and consternation among the relatives, but the general ignored it.
The general's reply to Poundmaker's speech was that the Indians had defied the government by taking up arms; that their members had killed farmer instructors and Indian agents. "These men must be given and tried and punished." Poundmaker, as chief, would be taken hostage and remain a prisoner for the good behaviour of his people.
Poundmaker and three others were marched off under escort. To show their bravery, the rest of the warriors carried on as if it was not serious. Before riding off, they sold their beaded moccasins, tobacco pouches, lariats and saddlery ornaments to the soldiers from the east, who were eager to take mementoes home.
The Plains people road south to Eagle Hills symbolic of grief stricken persons who would walk to the South Wind, Sawan, to release their grief and pray for healing.
* A light engagement or leniency was shown when the white soldiers were spared.
** To be lenient, compassionate, befitting a person of high rank.