Big Bear (mistahi-maskwa ), born around 1825 near Jackfish Lake, was recognized as a leader by the early 1860s and was the leading chief of the Prairie River People in 1871. Big Bear was present during the Treaty 6 (1876) negotiations, but refused to sign until destitution and starvation forced him to sign an adhesion on December 8, 1882. In the 1880s he attempted to create an Indian territory in the North-West by encouraging bands to choose reserves in an adjacent line; however, fearing the concentration of that many Indians in one area, the government refused to grant them contiguous reserves. According to official reports, Big Bear and his band arrived at Fort Pitt in August 1883 and promised to take a reserve; but they failed to do so, traveling instead to the Battleford district. In June 1884 Big Bear hosted a Thirst Dance (Sun Dance) on the Poundmaker Reserve; when the North-West Mounted Police arrived to disperse them, Big Bear and Poundmaker were barely able to avert violence. Big Bear began to lose influence over his band’s warrior society, and on April 2, 1885, his son Ayimâsis and a war chief named Kapapamahchakwew (Wandering Spirit) killed nine people at Frog Lake. Big Bear did not participate in the 1885 Resistance, but was held accountable for the actions of his band. He surrendered at Fort Carlton in July of that year; tried in Regina on September 11, he was sentenced to three years at the Stony Mountain Penitentiary. Upon his release he settled on the Poundmaker Reserve, where he died on January 17, 1888. Reports from 1886 reveal that Big Bear’s band had scattered following the Resistance, together with people from the Thunder Child, Poundmaker, and Little Pine Reserves (amongst others). The Big Bear Band has not been reconstituted.

Christian Thompson