Published on March 3, 2011 by Carol
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Piapot in studio pose circa 1885 -
Piapot, (c.1816–1908) a Chief of First Nations people in southern Saskatchewan in the late 19th century. His name “Payepot” means Hole-in-the-Sioux. He became a well known leader, diplomat, warrior, horse thief, and spiritualist.
He was born to a Cree mother and an Assiniboine father in 1816. Shortly after his birth his parents died of smallpox. He then lived with his grandmother. They were captured by a party of the Sioux when he was a small boy. He and his grandmother lived among the Sioux until he was about 14 years old at which time they were freed by a Plains Cree war party.
The knowledge he gained from the Sioux helped him to become a Cree war chief. His obvious ability led him to the position of chief in 1830 being at that time age twenty-four. His role as a warrior came to an end in 1870. Piapot led his Cree warriors against the Blackfoot but were defeated near Fort Whoop-up in what was then the Northwest Territories, now known as southern Alberta. This engagement was the last major inter-tribal battle on the western plains of Canada.
Despite his status as a warrior chief, Piapot believed in peaceful negotiation. He was well known as a diplomat and visionary. He was fluent in five Native languages. His negotiation skills helped him to successfully divert many violent encounters with neighbouring groups. He was also known as a wise and knowledgeable speaker who had a sense of humour, quick wit, and a keen mind. He ultimately became known as a moderate voice in negotiations with other chiefs and bands.
In 1874 Piapot negotiated Treaty #4 for his people. In 1875 he finally signed Canadian Treaty No. 5 ceding lands in Qutappelle Valley, Manitoba. Having ceded the land in Manitoba he moved his band west to what is now Saskatchewan.
In 1883 Piapot led his band in an act of non-violent resistance against the railroad and the Europeans coming into Cree lands. They would pull up the survey stakes and place teepees in the path of the Canadian Pacific Railway track laying crews. He negotiated travel concessions for his people to end the standoff. The town of Piapot Saskatchewan is named in memory of that blockade.
Piapot, as a signatory of Treaty 4 and Treaty 5, felt that these were solemn commitments. Although he was encouraged to join the 1885 North-West Rebellion he refused to participate because of the treaty obligations and settlement.
As an aboriginal spiritualist he resisted the move by the government to restrain First Nations belief systems. His people continued to hold a Sun Dance which the Canadian Government had declared an unlawful act. Piapot was ousted as chief by Canadian government officials when he would not use his authority to stop these ceremonies. His people ignored the government edict and continued to abide by his authority. The Manitoba officials, in 1901, belatedly recognized his authority and gave official approval to his position as Chief.
Wayne Decoine, a student of Piapot’s life, wrote of him, “Piapot never gave up. He was peaceful in his negotiations, but determined to have the best for his people. His actions showed courage and strength, and how a great leader should behave.”