Nov. 27 hangings commemorated

Nov. 27 marked a solemn anniversary for area First Nations as the 134th anniversary of the hangings of eight Indigenous warriors at Fort Battleford in 1885.

At Fort Battleford on Thursday, elders and members of surrounding First Nations gathered to remember those who were hanged and the events of 1885. The hanging at Fort Battleford in 1885 was the largest mass hanging in Canadian history.

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The day began with a ceremony at Fort Battleford that included storytelling from a number of First Nations elders and members, who recounted stories of the hangings and the events of 1885, and the impacts on First Nations people from the nearby reserves, including stories of starvation.

Mayor Ames Leslie as well as Treaty Commissioner Mary Culbertson were among those who attended.

After the storytelling ceremonies, a ceremonial feast took place at 1 p.m. to also commemorate the eight individuals.

The event was organized on relatively short notice by the Battle River Historical Task Force, an advisory board involved with tourism connected to First Nations and their protocols. The group has been working closely with Parks Canada on the various ways to include the First Nations perspective in telling the stories of 1885.

According to Eric Tootoosis of Poundmaker First Nation, who also MCed the ceremonies, they had long thought about doing something on a larger scale to commemorate the Nov. 27 date.

Earlier in June, a number of First Nations leaders and elders took part in a ceremony and feast at the gravesite of the eight warriors in Battleford. It was around that time that the idea was discussed.

“At the last meeting, we agreed to meet with the rightful descendants to initiate for the future planning, and also for a bigger program, better program next year with various educational activities,” Tootoosis said.

The intention is for a much bigger event next year at the Fort, which would be the 135th anniversary of the hangings. The plan is for it to continue in future years as well.

There are other initiatives underway to bring First Nations history to the public’s attention. Poundmaker First Nation has been looking to set up either a renovated or brand-new museum of Indigenous history to display the history of the region. Poundmaker First Nation had partnered with Parks Canada towards that effort, and have reached out to other First Nations for their participation and input as well. 

Tootoosis paid tribute to Parks Canada and to civic officials as well as the RCMP for their support for the efforts at the Nov. 27 event.

“The people of the Battlefords, Indian and non-Indian, we have the most to offer the world in terms of awareness and what transpired here in the area, what took place in various parts in the area.”

As part of the ceremony at Fort Battleford, and as a show of reconciliation, Stan Fuller and his group from the prayer circle Lamb of God Ministries showed off a wheel with eight spokes that they had put together to commemorate those who were hanged.

It included names of seven of those hanged at Fort Battleford: Pahpah-Me-Kee-Sick (Walking the Sky), Manchoose (Bad Arrow), Kit-Ahwah-Ke-Ni (Miserable Man), Nahpase (Iron Body), A-Pis-Chas-Koos (Little Bear), Itka (Crooked Leg) and Waywahnitch (Man Without Blood).

One name was notably missing from the spokes: Wandering Spirit. A space on the wheel that would have contained his name was deliberately left blank. This reflected the belief by Indigenous historians that someone else approached Wandering Spirit and traded places with him on the day of the hanging, allowing Wandering Spirit to escape.

It was explained by Tootoosis that his advisory board is trying to find out the name of the individual who replaced Wandering Spirit, so they could properly add that name to the wheel.

The plan is for the wheel to stay with Lamb of God’s place of worship until that point in time when it can be moved to a more permanent location set up by Indigenous leaders and elders.

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