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Beardy (Kamiscowesit)

Stan Cuthand

Grass dancers
Grass Dancers at Beardy's Reserve - 1891

Kamiscowesit, better known as Beardy was a Chief of the Willow Crees of the Plains Cree. He was probably born in 1828 near Duck Lake and died on his reserve on April 16, 1889, after a short illness.

When Beardy was a young man he had experienced a vision and received from a spirit guardian instructions that he never revealed but he had medicine with spiritual power. For this revelation he had great influence which eventually helped him to become a Chief of the Willow Crees about 1870. Other followers who became members of his band were mixed bloods, descendants of George Sutherland an employee of the Hudson Bay Co.

It was in 1870 that the Plains people suffered terribly by a smallpox epidemic and is was estimated that twelve thousand people died. The movement of the Plains People began to be restricted by white settlement; plus the buffalo were diminishing; so that the Plains people were becoming very discontented and militant toward the newcomers.

By 1875 the people were very hard up and as a result Chief Beardy welcomed the proposed treaty to take place the following summer at Fort Carlton as reported to him by George McDougall, a methodist missionary.

In August 1876 the Treaty Commissioners led by Lieutenant Governor Morris arrived and entered the Willow Cree territory at Duck Lake, where Chief Beardy and his band were camped. The Chief met the Governor and wanted the treaty to be made "At the Hill Near the Lake", where he had a vision. It was, after all, proper for the Commissioner to accede to the hosts request. Governor Morris did not respect Beardy's request, because he was on his way to the appointed place to see Mistawasis and Starblanket who were upheld as the leading Chiefs by the English Missionaries and the Hudson Bay Co.

The Treaty was negotiated near Fort Carlton August 23, 1876; but Chief Beardy and his Councillors refused to attend, instead they sent a messenger to ask for the terms to the Treaty in advance; again Beardy was refused. The messenger was told to listen to the proceedings and report to the Chief.

Finally after Treaty Six was signed, the Commissioner received a message from the Willow Crees that they were now ready to meet the Kihcokimaw.

On August 28 a special meeting was held halfway between Fort Carlton and Beardy's camp. There after greetings were exchanged the Governor addressed the Willow Crees and Beardy made the following reply standing on his own turf (otaskihk):

"Today I am very happy and I hope we will all be prosperous. I am glad to see something that will help us. I hope this will benefit all of us. May all the things promised continue to be kept for our benefit. It is in our power to help each other. We should not be extravagant with things given to us by which we can make a living. My opinion is that some things are not sufficient for our needs. I do not want more than what has been promised but I want more than what has been promised but I want you to record this, that we should all get an equal share; it is due to the disappearance of the buffalo that I am anxious about, If this is to help us we will do well. Perhaps this is not the only time we will see each other. Now others may speak."

After this Seweskam spoke in support of Beardy's speech and then Beardy spoke again, re-affirming the Governor's acknowledgement of God, that those things God gave his children to nourish them may continue to be given to them, and where the truth is spoken in the Fathers' name be carried out. That the payment (Treaty) exist "As long as the sun shines and the river flows".

Beardy selected his reserve at a site surrounding Duck Lake. When agricultural equipment and animals promised in the treaty failed to arrive Beardy wrote to the Lieutenant Governor of the North West Territories, David Laird in September 1877. He continued to suggest changes in the Treaty so that his people would have sufficiency by receiving assistance from the Government, for he realized hard time ahead. He received no satisfaction from the local agent. He then wrote to the Governor-General of Canada, Lord Dufferin in January 1878. He argued that he was entitled to additional gifts and that his annuities and treaty goods should be brought to his reserve. The officials did come with provisions and annuities but Chief Beardy did not accept them; he expected food and gifts.

By December the Willow Crees were very hard up, and the Chief announced that he would take what the people needed from the local merchants. The North West Mounted Police were dispatched to Duck Lake and the Indians were allowed to purchase their needs to be paid from their Treaty money.

Buffalo herds were badly depleted by 1879 and many Indians were on the verge of starvation so the Indians were angry with the Governments' meager rations, often given grudgingly. For this reason Beardy believed that the Government was not honouring Treaty No. 6. Furthermore when the land allotted to the Band was surveyed parcels of the land were excluded, which were claimed by the Metis; when Beardy complained the Government threatened him with the loss of Treaty entitlement if he did not accept their exclusions.

Hunger continued to be the main problem and Beardy was arrested for killing Government cattle to feed his people. Cut-Nose and Chief One Arrow were also arrested but the three Chiefs were not convicted but released after a severe reprimand.

Chief Beardy
Chief Beardy ~ sitting on far right

When the Governor General Lorne visited the area in 1881, again Chief Beardy spoke for his people for a full implementation of Treaty No. 6, which meant more assistance. This appeal had absolutely no effect.

In 1884, Chief Beardy called a Council for the Carlton-Cree area, which began on July 31, at Duck Lake. All the Indians in the area came, the only outsiders were Lucky Man and Big Bear from the Battleford area. The Treaty was discussed and plans were made for future action if demands were ignored continually. The Chiefs were to have a meeting in 1885 but Rebellion broke out in March, 1885. However Beardy remained neutral although some of his members were implicated accidently; Assiyiwin one of the Chief Beardy's Headmen was shot by Joe MacKay a scout and interpreter on March 26. Assiyiwin reached out to shake hands with Superintendent Crozier, Joe MacKay shot him, thinking he was going to seize Croziers' rifle. This incident triggered the beginning of the rebellion. (Jacob Mesaskepiw).

After the rebellion, May 20, 1885 Chief Beardy sent word to the General at Prince Albert that he wanted provisions. He was told to surrender his rifles or be fed lead.

He and his Councillors soon came in and their medals and treaty money was taken from them. Captain Hague of the 90th Battalion gave Beardy $10.00 for his tobacco pouch and another officer gave him the same for his pipe. Beardy did not want to sell it; it belonged to his father." (R.K. Allan's "A Soldier's Diary")

Beardy and some members of his band had left the reserve during the rebellion in spite of a proclamation that such movements were not allowed, the entire bands was suspended from treaty. Beardy was stripped of his leadership by the Government, but his people continued to regard him as their Chief. He died in April 1899.

Beardy should not be dismissed as a nuisance and trouble maker. His foresight as to the fate of his people in those turbulent times was correct, that what they gave up was so great and what they received was very inadequate. For that reasons he tried to modify the treaty to provide aid to his fellow Crees. He joined other leaders to pressure an indifferent Government. Before achieving any form of strategy the events of the rebellion overtook them.