Treaty 6 Negotiations


At the treaty talks at Fort Pitt, Chief Big Bear (Mistahimaskwa) indicated that he could not sign the treaty because many of the people he represented were not present at the treaty discussions. He used a metaphor to describe his predicament, one that would be commonly understood by Indigenous people at the time. By stating "save me from what I most dread . . . the rope to be about my neck", he was indicating that he did not want to lose his freedom, as a wild horse does when he/she is captured (by a rope around his/her neck). The word which had been used by Chief Big Bear (which meant "lead by the neck" in Cree) was mistranslated by the interpreter, who instead said "hang by the neck" (in English). Lieutenant-Governor Morris and other Canadian delegates, not understanding either Cree or the cultural context from which Chief Big Bear spoke, took this statement to mean that Chief Big Bear did not want to die by hanging. Thus, they feared the future actions which might lead him to such an end, and viewed his words as a threat. From this point forward, Chief Big Bear was mislabelled as a trouble-maker by the federal government.

This mistranslation changed the perceptions of government agents as it relates to Chief Big Bear, influencing how he was treated in the following years, most notably following the North-West Resistance in 1885. Following the North-West Resistance Big Bear would be wrongfully tried for treason as his actions would be both misinterpreted and misconstrued by the Crown, incidentally Big Bear would serve half of his term in prison and be released in 1887.
Sub Event
Big Bear Declines Treaty