Big Bear

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For the town and ski resort in San Bernardino County, California, see Big Bear City.
Missing image
Chief Mistahimaskwa, 1885

Big Bear or Mistahimaskwa (c.182517 January 1888) was born in the Canadian Northwest, and became Chief of the Plains Cree First Nation during the latter half of the nineteenth century. He is most notable for his resistance against the Canadian government.

During that time, the Canadian government began negotiating a series of numbered treaties for the return of land to the native peoples. Big Bear, one of the Chief negotiators during Treaty 6, refused to sign, believing that the treaty was unfair and biased towards Canadian settlers. He campaigned against the Canadian government, preaching to other Native bands that the treaties were unfair.

Big Bear initially attempted to make alliances with other Natives, so that when the treaties were signed, they could all take their reserve land next to each other, effectively creating a First Nations country within Canadian borders. When the Canadian government heard of this plan, they immediately disallowed it, even though the treaties had previously stated that the Natives could take the reserve land wherever they wished. Big Bear was quoted as saying, "We want none of the Queen's presents! When we set a fox trap, we scatter pieces of meat all around but when the fox gets into the trap we knock him on the head. We want no baits! Let your Chiefs come like men and talk to us!" To further his cause, Big Bear even formed an uneasy alliance with his long time rival, Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfoot people.

Despite Big Bear's efforts, Treaty 6 was signed and with the dwindling of the buffalo herds, the Cree were decimated and starving in less than a decade, receiving only minimal assistance from the Canadian government. When the Métis initiated the North-West Rebellion of 1885 under Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, Big Bear and his supporters played a minimal role in the uprising, but were punished severely for it. When 6,000 troops were sent to Batoche, Saskatchewan to smash the Métis resistance, the Canadian government used it as an excuse to put down the Cree as well. Big Bear was given three years in jail, and he died shortly afterward.

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