In 1876 he refused to sign Treaty No 6 and maintained that position until 8 December 1882, when with the last buffalo gone, starvation was a reality.
Big BearBig Bear (Mistahimaskwa), Plains CREE chief (b near Fort Carlton, Sask 1825; d on the Poundmaker Reserve 17 Jan 1888). By the 1870s Big Bear had emerged as a head man of about 65 lodges. He was concerned with the disappearance of the buffalo, the increasing numbers of European settlers, and impossible treaty conditions that seemed to ensure perpetual poverty and the destruction of his people's way of life.
In 1876 he refused to sign Treaty No 6 and maintained that position until 8 December 1882, when with the last buffalo gone, starvation was a reality. He wanted to take a reservation near Fort Pitt, but when he saw the poverty of his friends there, he worked to wring further concessions from the federal government.
In an attempt to unite the Northern Cree, several meetings were held at Battleford, the largest in 1884 when over 2000 Natives joined in Big Bear's thirst dance at Poundmaker's reserve. The event nearly erupted into violence but, through the efforts of the North-West Mounted Police and Big Bear, peace was maintained.
As a result of the federal government's refusal to negotiate with Big Bear, he lost the support of his more extreme followers. By 1885 they had become dominant and, led by Little Bad Man (Ayimisis) and Wandering Spirit (Kapapamahchakwew), they killed 9 whites at Frog Lake, burned Fort Pitt, and were defeated at Loon Lake.
Big Bear, in the background at these events and always counselling peace, surrendered at Fort Carlton on 2 July 1885. He was tried for treason-felony, found guilty and sentenced to a 3-year sentence at the Stony Mountain Penitentiary. A broken, sick man, Big Bear only served 2 years of the term and was released on 4 March 1887.
See alsoNORTH-WEST REBELLION.