When the auction was over, Dylan stepped over to me and said, “Was the painting sold? I put my hand up.” I smiled at him…
…and then we began to talk.
Asked if I would paint his grandfather, Gordon Tootoosis and further back, Poundmaker, Dylan began to draw out his family tree in my journal. It’s such an amazing thing when I am so intensely involved with discovering my own family tree, to encounter Dylan’s family tree.
When I came home, I looked for a book on my shelf about Chief Poundmaker, but found nothing and so yesterday, I purchased this after sharing coffee with my sister friends, the only book on the Chapters book shelf with a chapter written about the great chief of the Cree/Stoney Nation. What was particularly unique about Pitikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker) was that he was adopted by his Blackfoot contemporary, Chief Crowfoot, at a great time of struggle for their people. A brief history may be read on Wikipedia.
It is important not to pull history out of a complete context, so I encourage my readers to explore the background of Treaty 6 and 7 and the Northwest Rebellion…but out of it, I want to pull a few words that touched me.
With the news of Louis Riel‘s actions and defeat at Batoche, Poundmaker went there to surrender. On the basis of a letter written by Louis Riel bearing his name, Poundmaker was convicted of treason in 1885 and sentenced to three years in Stony Mountain Penitentiary. He said to Riel “You did not catch me, I gave myself up. I wanted peace.”  At his trial, he is reported to have said:
- “Everything that is bad has been laid against me this summer, there is nothing of it true. … Had I wanted war, I would not be here now. I should be on the prairie. You did not catch me. I gave myself up. You have got me because I wanted justice.”
Because of the power of his adopted father, Crowfoot, Poundmaker’s hair was not cut in prison, and he served only seven months. Nonetheless, his stay there devastated his health and led to his death (from a lung hemorrhage) in 1886, at the age of 44. He was buried at Blackfoot Crossing near Gleichen, Alberta, but his remains were exhumed in 1967, and reburied on the Poundmaker Reservation (Cut Knife), Saskatchewan.
References also cited on Wikipedia:
- Poundmaker, The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan
- Poundmaker, Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan
- Stonechild, Readings in Canadian History, Volume 2, 66
- Robert Jefferson, Fifty Years on the Saskatchewan, 127
- Stonechild, Blair. “An Indian View of the 1885 Uprising” in “Sweet Promises: A Reader on Indian-White Relations in Canada”, J.R. Miller (ed)
- Mcleod, R.C. (Ed.) (1983). Reminiscenses of a Bungle by One of the Bunglers: and Two Other Northwest Rebellion Diaries Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press, 150.
- Light, Douglas W. Footprints in the Dust. Turner-Warwick Publications, 1987.
- Stonechild, Readings in Canadian History, Volume 2, 70
- Canada, Sessional Papers, 1886, No. 52, 336
- Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online (2000). “Poundmaker”. Retrieved January 8, 2007.
Chief Poundmaker’s older brother was Yellow Mud Blanket. He also had a young sister. Orphaned young, the three were adopted, likely by their mother’s Cree relations. Yellow Mud Blanket was the father to John Tootoosis and so the story goes. John’s son, John, founded and led the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians circa 1958. An excellent time line of events significant to the Cree Nation can be read here.
Continuing on the line, we find Gordon Tootoosis, Dylan’s Maternal Grandfather,who is known for his many roles in International film and for his strong presence in Canadian culture. Born in 1914, he just recently passed in 2011. From Wikipedia…
Gordon Tootoosis was a First Nations actor. He was of Cree and Stoney descent. Tootoosis was a descendant of Yellow Mud Blanket, brother of the famous Cree leader Pitikwahanapiwiyin. He was acclaimed for his commitment to preserving his culture and to telling his people’s stories. He served as a founding member of the board of directors of the Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company. Tootoosis offered encouragement, support and training to aspiring Aboriginal actors. He served as a leading Cree activist both as a social worker and as a band chief. In Open Season and Boog and Elliot’s Midnight Bun Run, Tootoosis was the voice of Sheriff Gordy.
It was a blessing to have time outside of the Gorilla House, Wednesday night, speaking with Dylan and having him share, in part, his family story. I am honoured to have the chance to paint Dylan’s grandfather and his ancestor, the great Chief Poundmaker. May their family be richly blessed, with well-being and peace.
To conclude, some Lakota words that my cousin shared with me today. Because she is such a true and beautiful sister-friend, I must also share a photograph that she captured as she was driving in to work at Stand Off this morning. We ARE truly blessed.
To the Creator, for the ultimate gift of life, I thank you.
To the mineral nation that has built and maintained my bones and all foundations of life experience, I thank you.
To the plant nation that sustains my organs and body and gives me healing herbs for sickness, I thank you.
To the animal nation that feeds me from your own flesh and offers your loyal companionship in this walk of life, I thank you.
To the human nation that shares my path as a soul upon the sacred wheel of Earthly life, I thank you.
To the Spirit nation that guides me invisibly through the ups and downs of life and for carrying the torch of light through the Ages, I thank you.
To the Four Winds of Change and Growth, I thank you.
You are all my relations, my relatives, without whom I would not live. We are in the circle of life together, co-existing, co-dependent, co-creating our destiny. One, not more important than the other. One nation evolving from the other and yet each dependent upon the one above and the one below. All of us a part of the Great Mystery.
Thank you for this Life.