First Nations cradleboards: understanding their significance and versatility

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour

Cradleboards are still an integral part of the cultural practices of First Nations peoples. I experienced using a cradleboard for my family when we received one from my mother-in-law. It was not new, the paint was flaking off and its footrest was wobbly. An antique restorer stabilized the paint and repaired the footrest. I selected a floral printed fabric to make a pad and embroidered a long sash of denim with multiple colours. I bundled my infant daughter in a thin flannel blanket, placed her on the cradleboard and wrapped the sash snugly around her. She was content when on the cradleboard and would usually fall asleep within minutes. I used it to bring her to local community events. Unfortunately, she outgrew it in about a month.

The cradleboard now decorates my home and is a reminder of those first few months of her life—it brings back cherished memories. Only later did I become aware of its cultural and historical significance while reading a book on First Nations cultural materials. The features of our cradleboard matched one that was over a hundred years old. Early First Nations cradleboards are in museums or private collections, as anthropologists and antique collectors visited communities and approached families directly to purchase and collect them.

A black-and-white photograph of nine people facing the camera. A man is holding a baby in a cradleboard.

Caughnawaga [Kahnawake] reserve near Montréal [left to right: Kahentinetha Horn (née Delisle), Joseph Assenaienton Horn, Peter Ronaiakarakete Horn (Senior) holding Peter Horn (Junior), Theresa Deer (née Horn), Lilie Meloche (née Horn), unknown, Andrew Horn, unknown], ca. 1910 (e010859891)

From the East Coast to the West Coast, the design and materials for cradleboards correspond to the culture of each First Nation. Generally, cradleboards are used by the Algonquin, Haudenosaunee (Six Nations/Iroquois), Plains and West Coast First Nations. Cradleboards are different from other infant carrier–type baskets, bags, slings, carrying hoods and dugout-trough-style cradles.

A black-and-white photograph of three children. The youngest child is in a cradleboard that is embroidered with a pattern of flowers.

Two young girls standing on a wooden porch beside a boy in a cradleboard, Temagami First Nation, probably Lake Temagami, Ontario, unknown date (e011156793)

The construction of a cradleboard starts with a flat plank of wood to which functional components are added. The handle or canopy is at the top end and provides protection for the head. This part may be a bar of curved wood or a canopy of arched bark. A flat piece of wood or bark rail is attached close to the bottom of the board as a footrest and keeps the infant in place when the board is placed in an upright position. Materials that are used for the cradleboard may include wood, leather, bark, cord, plant fibres, woven fabrics or a combination of these. Cradleboards can be stylized by carving, shaping, painting or adding decoration to the different components. Since a newborn grows quickly, a second, larger board may be used to accommodate a growth spurt. Boards may be shared between families, with a new mother borrowing one when needed. Cradleboards can be commissioned ahead of the arrival of an infant and range from a simple utilitarian style to more artistic creations.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman and two children in a canoe. One of the children is sleeping in a cradleboard.

Atikamekw woman, infant on a cradleboard and young girl in a canoe, Sanmaur, Quebec, ca. 1928 (a044224)

A cradleboard enables a mother to return to her daily activities more easily after birth, while keeping her newborn close by her. The infant can be carried safely, while being comforted by the stimulation of being swaddled. Swaddling is done by bundling the newborn and securing its arms in a thin blanket with light pressure. This is thought to be good for the infant’s posture, as the back is flat on the board and the spine can be kept straight. When the cradleboard is placed horizontally, a cross bar attached under the board on the top end raises the head slightly higher than the bottom end. Using gravity, the infant’s blood circulation is enhanced. Of course, not all of the infant’s early life is spent on the cradleboard, as it is used as occasions warrant.

A black-and-white photograph of eight people, including a baby in a cradleboard in a forest. There is a canoe in the foreground.

First Nations family, Ishkaugua portage, [Newton Island, Ontario], 1905 (a059502)

Once the infant is wrapped in the swaddling material, it is placed on the cradleboard on a thinly padded cushion and secured by wrapping the sash several times around the child and board. Another technique is to place the infant in a leather or cloth bunting bag (also known as a moss bag) that is easily placed on or removed from the cradleboard. The bag is then attached to the cradleboard, the infant is placed in it and then secured with leather or cord laces. Sashes and extra covers may be made by the mother, relatives or friends and could include unique embroidery, beadwork and ribbon work designs. Designs featured may represent clans, traditional symbols, or motifs of plants, animals and nature.

Smaller versions of cradleboards are made for the children. These provide the opportunity for young girls to practice their nurturing skills while at play and prepares them for motherhood or caregiving. A cloth or corn-husk doll or a bundle of sage or other dried plant material is usually placed on the board

A black-and-white photograph of 7 women, a teenager and children on the shore of a lake. Two babies are in cradleboards.

Cree women and children at Little Grand Rapids, Manitoba, 1925 (a019995)

Eastern area

Haudenosaunee (Six Nations/Iroquois) and Algonquin-style cradleboards start with a flat plank of wood. On the backs of older Haudenosaunee boards, there are usually low-relief carved images of animals, flowers and leaves painted in basic colours of red, black, green, yellow and blue. There may be additional carving on the top end of the board, handle, footboard and wood bar. In rare examples, silver or metal inlays have been inserted on the wood bar.

A colour photograph of a man in a purple and white shirt sitting at a table and speaking into a microphone. In front of him is a baby in a cradleboard with red and white fabric.

Kenneth Atsenienton (“the fire still burns”) Deer and grandson Shakowennenhawi (“he is carrying the words”) Deer at the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Kahnawake, Quebec, May 1993 (e011207022)

Some of the wooden structural elements were attached with wood pegs. Handles were reinforced with leather strips, gut or cord. The curves on the wood handles were hardwood that had been steamed and bent. Haudenosaunee wood handles were straight across, while the Algonquin boards had a bowed wood handle. A cover can be draped over the handle to provide a quiet space or shield the infant from the elements. Objects might be hung from the handle for the child to look at, such as beaded strings, charms or possibly a baby rattle. Some Algonquin cradleboards had a one-piece rail attached to the board, which would go up each side, curving at the bottom and serving as a footrest.

A cradleboard could be carried on a person’s back by attaching straps or a tumpline to the cradleboard; these then went around the chest or forehead and left the hands free.

A watercolour painting of two women and a man. One of the women has a pipe in her hand and a baby in a cradleboard on her back. The man has a rifle in his hand.

This watercolour painting shows a woman carrying a baby in a cradleboard, ca. 1825–1826 (e008299398)

Western area

First Nations in the Plains region would cover the leather or fabric used for the cradleboard with their traditional beadwork styles. The infant was placed in an enveloping enclosure attached to the cradleboard.

Northwest Coast First Nations had more than one type of cradleboard, as well as a dugout-trough cradle. Cradleboards were made of woven plant fibres, cedar boards and hollowed-out logs.

The tradition of making new cradleboards is carried on today by First Nations carvers and craftspeople. In celebration of the birth of new generations, they may incorporate past knowledge in new designs including personalized elements and stylistic representations of present culture.

Visit the Flickr album for more images of cradleboards.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour is a project archivist in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Tom Cogwagee Longboat’s life and legacy

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.By Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour

Tom Cogwagee Longboat’s name is associated with speed, athleticism, determination, courage and perseverance. His Onondaga name, “Cogwagee,” translates as “all” or “everything.” Facts, stories and photographs of his life have been collected, published and examined over the past century, in an attempt to capture, recreate and demystify his life.

Thomas Charles Cogwagee Longboat was born to George Longboat and Elizabeth Skye on July 4, 1886 (some sources have June 4, 1887). He was Wolf Clan of the Onondaga Nation from Six Nations Territory and lived a traditional life of the Haudenosaunee (Longhouse). At the age of 12 or 13, Longboat was forcibly sent to the Mohawk Institute Residential School, an Anglican denominational and English-language school, which operated from 1823 and closed in 1970. This experience did not go well for him and his fellow First Nations students, who were forced to abandon their language and beliefs to speak English and practice Christianity. Longboat reacted by escaping the school and running home. He was caught and punished, but then escaped a second time, with the foresight to run to his uncle’s farm, where he would be harder to find. This proved successful and marked the end of Longboat’s formal education. He worked as a farm labourer in various locations, which involved travelling great distances on foot.

Longboat began racing as an amateur in 1905. He won the Boston Marathon on April 19, 1907, in two hours, 24 minutes and 24 seconds, shaving nearly five minutes off the previous record for the world’s most prestigious annual running event. With this incredible race, he brought tremendous pride and inspiration to Indigenous peoples and Canadians. The following article was published the day after he won the marathon:

“The thousands of persons who lined the streets from Ashland to the B.A.A. were well repaid for the hours of waiting in the rain and chilly winter weather, for they saw in Tom Longboat the most marvelous runner who has ever sped over our roads. With a smile for everyone, he raced along and at the finish he looked anything but like a youth who had covered more miles in a couple of hours than the average man walks in a week. Gaining speed with each stride, encouraged by the wild shouts of the multitude, the bronze-colored youth with jet black hair and eyes, long, lithe body and spindle legs, swept toward the goal.

Amid the wildest din heard in years, Longboat shot across the line, breaking the tape as the timers stopped their watches, simultaneously with the clicking of a dozen cameras, winner of the greatest of all modern Marathon runs. Arms were stretched out to grasp the winner, but he needed no assistance.

Waving aside those who would hold him, he looked around and acknowledged the greetings he received on every side. Many pressed forward to grasp his hand, and but for the fact that the police had strong ropes there to keep all except the officials in check, he would have been hugged and squeezed mightily. Then he strode into the club, strong and sturdily.” (The Boston Globe, April 20, 1907)

A year after winning that race, Longboat competed in the marathon at the 1908 Olympics in London, England. He collapsed and dropped out at 32 kilometres, unable to finish the 42.2 km race. He then turned to professional running, and in 1909 received the title of Professional Champion of the World at a Madison Square Garden race in New York City.

A black-and-white page from the 1911 Canadian census with entries for each of 38 columns. The columns include such information as name and residence, personal description, place of birth, occupation and citizenship, and language and education.

A page from the 1911 census listing Thomas C. Longboat and his wife Loretta [Lauretta], in York County, Ontario. His profession is listed as “runner.” (e002039395)

A black-and-white photograph of two men in First World War military uniforms smiling and buying a newspaper from a young boy. The man on the right is accepting a newspaper from the boy and giving him money in exchange.

Private Tom Longboat, the Onondaga long-distance runner, buying a newspaper from a French boy, June 1917. (a001479)

In 1916, Longboat went overseas as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight in the First World War. He employed his natural talent and served as a dispatch runner. Longboat was mistakenly declared dead in the battlefields of Belgium, after being buried in rubble as a result of heavy shelling. His wife, Lauretta Maracle, a Kanienkenha:ka (Mohawk) woman, whom he had married in 1908, believed him to be deceased and remarried. Longboat subsequently married Martha Silversmith, an Onondaga woman, with whom he had four children. He continued his military career, serving as a member of the Veterans Guard in the Second World War while stationed at a military camp near Brantford, Ontario. The Longboat family settled in Toronto. Upon his retirement from employment with the City of Toronto, Longboat moved back to Six Nations. He passed away on January 9, 1949.

In 1951, he received posthumous recognition with the establishment of the prestigious Tom Longboat Trophy. The trophy is awarded annually to Indigenous athletes who exemplify the hard work and determination they put forth in their chosen endeavours. The original trophy remains at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in Calgary, with a travelling replica held by the Aboriginal Sports Circle in Ottawa. In 1955, he was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Indian Hall of Fame.

A red rectangle plaque with gold writing, with the crest of Canada and “Tom Longboat 1886–1949” at the top.

A Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque honouring Tom Longboat, located at 4th Line Road, Six Nations Grand River Reserve, Ohsweken, Ontario. (Photo courtesy of Parks Canada)

Tributes in recognition of Longboat’s achievements continue today in many forms. A Government of Canada plaque was erected in his honour in 1976 at 4th Line Road, Six Nations, Ohsweken, Ontario. In 1999, Maclean’s magazine recognized him as the top Canadian athlete of the 20th century. Canada Post issued a stamp in 2000 commemorating his winning time. In Ontario, the Tom Longboat Day Act, 2008 designated June 4 as “Tom Longboat Day.” Tom Longboat Corner in Six Nations, a Tom Longboat Trail in Brantford, Ontario, a Tom Longboat Lane in Toronto, and a Tom Longboat Junior Public School in Scarborough, Ontario. There is also a Longboat Hall at 1087 Queen Street West in Toronto, the location of the YMCA where he trained. A statue of Longboat entitled “Challenge and Triumph,” created by David General, and an exhibit about him are on display at the Woodland Cultural Centre at Six Nations. Most recently, a children’s book about his life called Meet Tom Longboat was published in 2019.

Tom Cogwagee Longboat’s life and accomplishments are both fascinating and inspiring. To learn more about him, listen to our podcast, “Tom Longboat is Cogwagee is Everything,” which includes additional information.  Also check out the Tom Longboat Flickr album.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour is a project archivist in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

2019 Indigenous acquisitions: books for kids!

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By Sarah Potts

Here are a few titles to add to the holiday wish lists of budding readers

At Library and Archives Canada, we love books! Around the holidays, we often share ideas about gifts for our loved ones. Choosing good reads for our kids (or children at heart) can be tricky. This librarian’s solution? Check out our recent acquisitions of works by Indigenous authors or featuring Indigenous stories. I hope this list inspires you to grow your young (and older) readers’ collections!

Colour photograph of four books placed in a stack.

A sample of the variety of books held in the Library and Archives Canada collection. Photo credit: Tom Thompson

For younger readers

Nokum Is My Teacher, by David Bouchard, illustrated by Allen Sapp, music by Northern Cree Singers. OCLC 1080218454

Nokum Is My Teacher tells the story of a conversation between a boy and his Nokum (grandmother) about why he should learn to read. His Nokum knows the power of reading, but she also reminds him to respect his traditional knowledge. The story is in English and Cree, and it comes with downloadable music.

Una Huna: What Is This?, by Susan Aglukark, illustrated by Amanda Sandland and Danny Christopher. OCLC 1122616081

Ukpik loves to go camping in the North! One day, a captain comes to trade with her father, and she worries that everything is going to change. Ukpik speaks with her grandmother, who reminds her that while some things change, her love for family and camping never will.

You Hold Me Up, by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Danielle Daniel. OCLC 973043772

You Hold Me Up teaches children and their guardians about the importance of empathy and why we should consider the feelings of others in our everyday actions. It will help your littlest ones to develop an understanding of respect and empathy.

Nibi’s Water Song, by Sunshine Tenasco, illustrated by Chief Lady Bird. OCLC 1080643036 (French translation by Hélène Rioux: Nibi a soif, très soif, OCLC 1083095552)

In a child-friendly way, Nibi explains why it is so important for everyone to have clean water. Through beautiful illustrations, an unlikely character—her hair—explains Nibi’s feelings and journey! As the communities learn to listen and communicate with each other, they come together to ensure that all Canadians have access to clean, healthy water.

Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox, by Danielle Daniel. OCLC 1022939643 (French translation: Parfois je suis un renard, OCLC 989789937)

A beautiful introduction to the Anishinaabe tradition of totem animals. Children explain in their own words why they feel connected to certain animals. For each chosen animal, there is an adorable illustrated image of the child as his or her totem animal.

A Children’s Guide to Arctic Butterflies, by Mia Pelletier, illustrated by Danny Christopher. OCLC 1004529871

If you thought that only polar bears and rabbits lived above the treeline, think again! Arctic butterflies are real, unlike mythical North American “house hippos.” This book is a fact-filled, beautifully illustrated journey into the world of the resilient butterflies of the North.

Colour photograph of six books placed in a stack.

A sample of the variety of books held in the Library and Archives Canada collection. Photo credit: Tom Thompson

The Gathering, by Theresa Meuse-Dallien, illustrated by Arthur Stevens. OCLC 966404621

Alex has never attended a spiritual gathering (mawiomi) and is feeling overwhelmed. Once she begins meeting Elders, she becomes more at ease; eventually, and most importantly, she finds her voice in a talking circle.

Mokatek et l’étoile disparue, by Dave Jenniss, illustrated by Claudie Côté Bergeron. (In French) OCLC 1080217733

Each night, to fall asleep, Mokatek loves to speak with the stars. He really enjoys telling his stories to the best and brightest star in the sky, the North Star! One day, his favourite star disappears, and he has to find it. In this book, the youngest of readers join Mokatek on a journey with his animal friends to find the brightest star and bring it back home.

Dragonfly Kites, by Thomson Highway, illustrated by Julie Flett. OCLC 1055555884

Dragonfly Kites is the second book in a magical trilogy by iconic author and playwright Thomson Highway. This bilingual book (English and Cree) is about two brothers who fly their kites during the day, but fly at night in their dreams. The brothers remind us about the beauty of using our imaginations!

Colour photograph of four books placed in a stack.

A sample of the variety of books held in the Library and Archives Canada collection. Photo credit: Tom Thompson

For pre-teens and teens

A Two-Spirit Journey: the Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder, by Ma-Nee Chacaby with Mary Louisa Plummer. OCLC 927382779 (French translation by Sophie M. Lavoie: Un parcours bispirituel : récit d’une aînée ojibwé-crie lesbienne, OCLC 1035313410) (Content warning: homophobia and transphobia)

This selection is a story of resilience and self-discovery. Ma-Nee Chacaby brings you on a journey through her life with humour, kindness and a willingness to accept oneself.

Trickster Drift, by Eden Robinson. OCLC 1035334241 (Content warning: drug use)

In Trickster Drift, the second book in a planned trilogy, we follow Jared, who has a knack for attracting trouble and magic. He moves to Vancouver for high school and discovers that just because you leave the magic behind, the magic does not leave you, especially when you are the son of a Trickster!

Voices from the Skeena: an Illustrated Oral History, by Roy Henry Vickers and Robert Budd, illustrated by Roy Henry Vickers. OCLC 1107990291

Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good history book, and if the book has pictures, even better! Take a trip along the Skeena River to meet those who have known this river since time immemorial, and those who came after them. This is the perfect book for the budding West Coast historian.

I hope that I have inspired you to explore what is available from Indigenous authors and their worlds this holiday season!


Sarah Potts is an acquisitions librarian in the Legal Deposit section of the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

George Mully: moments in Indigenous communities

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.By Annabelle Schattmann

George Mully (1926–1999) was an American playwright and documentary film director. He began as a playwright, working on off-Broadway shows, travelling productions, and operas in the United States and Europe. Mully had various roles, including stagehand, stage manager, lighting designer, and director; he even worked as a puppeteer. After marrying and settling down in England with his wife Ann, Mully pivoted his career from the stage to audiovisual production. He started his own educational production studio, writing, directing, and producing stories on subjects and issues he was passionate about. By 1979, the family had immigrated to Canada and settled in Ottawa.

The George Mully collection, held at Library and Archives Canada, consists of personal and professional documentary photographs taken in the later part of Mully’s career. The images demonstrate his varied interests, including international development, the environment, history and socio-cultural topics, music, and art. In Canada, Mully worked closely with the National Film Board and museums in the capital region, directing many documentary films. Acid from Heaven (1981), a documentary film about acid rain, is a notable work included in his collection.

Colour photograph of a young girl staring into the camera.

An Inuk girl with yellow sunglasses, a red jacket, and multicolour mittens. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218259)

Of particular interest to the We Are Here: Sharing Stories initiative is a series of 363 photographs taken between 1978 and 1988. They depict First Nations people and Inuit from across Canada, as well as Diné (Navajo) and Inde (Apache) from the United States. Mully’s images document how Indigenous people lived and worked in the late 1970s and 1980s. Most of the photographs show people going about their daily lives, often while performing an activity. Sometimes it is a traditional activity, such as hunting, gathering, creating art, and making crafts, or a contemporary activity such as working in a modern industry. Occasionally, Mully captures crossover between traditional and contemporary life.

Colour photograph of four men sitting on wooden chairs surrounded by microphones and facing each other, singing and drumming.

Four unidentified First Nations drummers performing under a tent. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218157)

Mully’s interest in human rights is evident in a series of photographs taken in July 1979, when the Indian women’s rights march arrived in Ottawa. The march, led by Maliseet women Sandra Lovelace and Caroline Ennis, protested inequality and discrimination faced by First Nations women who lost their Indian status upon marrying non-status men. Bill C-31 amended the Indian Act in June 1985 by removing the relevant provisions and reinstating status for those affected, among other changes. The revisions to the Act have been critiqued for not adequately addressing the issue.

Colour photograph of a person sitting on green grass behind a sign that reads “Save our sisters.”

Unknown individual sitting on the lawn of Parliament Hill in Ottawa with a protest sign. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218140)

It is not initially clear why Mully captured particular images or what purpose they might have served. Some photographs might have been taken in preparation for a possible documentary or as part of research on a future project. The names of the people depicted, the locations, and the dates of the photographs are unknown; none of the images has a detailed caption, and few textual records accompany the collection. As such, a selection of over 300 photographs will be part of an upcoming Co-Lab challenge and Flickr album. If you recognize someone or a location, or know when an event took place, please go to the George Mully Co-Lab challenge and tag the photographs! Tagging the images with names, locations, and dates will allow others to find images of family members and their communities, and ensure that the people and places are remembered. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, and for your assistance in this endeavour.

Colour photograph of a man in dark blue clothing wearing sunglasses and sitting on a wooden bench carving a vase.

Unidentified Inuk artist at an arts event, working on a ceramic vase with an abstract design. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218140)

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Annabelle Schattmann is an archival assistant for We Are Here: Sharing Stories, an initiative to digitize Indigenous content at Library and Archives Canada.

 

Inuit soldiers of the First World War: Lance Corporal John Shiwak

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

by Heather Campbell

A black and white photograph of a young Inuk man in a military uniform staring towards the camera.

Lance Corporal John Shiwak, First Royal Newfoundland Regiment, c. 1915. Courtesy of Veteran’s Affairs Canada

As we remember the sacrifices of the soldiers who fought in the First and Second World Wars, many of us are aware of the First Nations and Métis soldiers who fought for our country. But only a few of us may know about the Inuit soldiers who also fought alongside Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. My great-great-uncle, Lance Corporal John Shiwak, was one of those men. Due to his skills as a hunter, he became a sniper—“one of the best in the British Army,” according to a fellow officer.

My uncle hailed from Nunatsiavut, the Inuit region in northern and central Labrador, which was part of the British Dominion of Newfoundland in 1914. When the call came for Newfoundland men to enlist, it also made its way up the north coast of Labrador to the Inuit men of these settlements. Inuit culture was, and still is, largely a non-confrontational culture. Many of these young Inuit men were encouraged to enlist by people in positions of authority, such as Dr. Harry Paddon, a physician for the International Grenfell Association. Regardless of their motivations, approximately fifteen Inuit men enlisted and set sail for England in the summer of 1915.

A black and white photograph of two Inuit women and an Inuit child standing beside a wooden house.

Hopedale, Newfoundland and Labrador, 1913. Credit: Edith S. Watson (e010791418)

What a culture shock it must have been for these men who, like my uncle, were all from tiny, isolated communities of a few hundred people at most. In addition to the size, hustle and bustle of European towns and cities, the worldview was very different. Although Inuit hunt for survival, we respect each life we take and are taught from a young age to not cause an animal pain or distress. When we take a shot, we want to be certain it is precise and effective. Especially during the early 20th century, when the cost and scarcity of ammunition meant that every bullet had to count. Sometimes that meant going home empty handed.

I imagine those Inuit soldiers felt exactly the same way when they discharged their firearms in war. It must have been a huge adjustment for them to fire in haste, knowing they may have wounded someone. However, they knew that the men on the other side of the trenches had to be stopped for others to live, just as animals in Labrador had to die for their families to live. I imagine it was the only way to reconcile themselves with the horrors of war.

A black and white photograph of trees and white houses with black roofs. In the background, there is a boat on the water.

Hudson’s Bay Company Buildings, Rigolet, Labrador, September 1926. Photo Credit: L.T. Burwash (a099501)

The story of my great-great-uncle Lance Corporal John Shiwak is unique because in addition to his traditional activities as a hunter, trapper and fisherman, he was also a writer, poet and artist. He wrote many letters from the front lines to his friend Lacey Amy, a journalist and author from Ontario. Mr. Amy wrote the article “An Eskimo Patriot” in the July 1918 issue of The Canadian Magazine, telling of their friendship and some of Uncle John’s feelings during the war.

The duration of the war was wearing on him. He had no close friends, none to keep warm the link with his distant home. In September he lamented: “I have no letters from home since July. There will be no more now till the ice breaks”. And in his last he longed again for the old hunting days. Labrador, that had never satisfied his ambitions, looked warm and friendly to him now… That was in mid-November. A month later an official envelope came to me. Inside was my last letter. On its face was the soulless stamp. “Deceased”.

Every year on Remembrance Day, our family would talk about Uncle John with a quiet reverence, remembering the deep grief experienced when he did not return home. I have yet to meet a Labradorian living elsewhere who does not long to return to Labrador. The connection that we have to the land is difficult to express. We see firsthand how the land provides us with everything that we need to survive. Many generations of history are embedded in not only the community, but also each fishing spot, trapline, woodcutting path, hunting ground and berry-picking spot. This creates a special bond between people and the land. To be away from Labrador is to be disconnected from a piece of ourselves.

When I first visited the Canadian War Museum, I was drawn to the recreation of a First World War trench. Visitors can walk through it and put themselves in the shoes of soldiers on the front lines. As I slowly made my way through the trench, it affected me deeply. Tears streamed down my face as I imagined Uncle John huddled in the mud, writing in his journal or sketching images of the land and animals, longing for the peace and solitude of his ancestral home. A home that he would never see again.

A black and white photograph of a cemetery behind a fence and small leafless trees near Cambrai, France. There is a house and a farm in the background.

Raillencourt British Cemetery near Cambrai. Shiwak was not buried in this cemetery, but was equally far from home. (a004409-v8)

During the battle of Cambrai on November 20, 1917, an exploding shell killed Uncle John and six other soldiers. Eighty-eight years later, in 2005, my cousin, Jason Sikoak (formerly written as Shiwak), took part in the Aboriginal Spiritual Journey. In this journey, a group of Indigenous people travelled to Europe to honour Indigenous soldiers. Jason told me that during this journey, Uncle John’s spirit visited him in a dream. We hope that he followed Jason back to the shores of Rigolet and that he is at peace.

A black and white photograph of ships in body of water. There are trees in the foreground of the photo.

A point of land seen from a distance with Hudson’s Bay Company buildings along the shoreline and boats anchored in the cove. Rigolet, c.1930. Photo credit: Fred. C. Sears (e010771588)

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Heather Campbell is an archivist in  the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Recognition and Remembrance: A Métis soldier in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1917–1918

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By David Horky

The Gabriel Dumont Institute (GDI) maintains a list of over 5,000 individuals whose names are engraved on the National Métis Veterans’ Memorial Monument in Batoche, Saskatchewan. Unveiled in 2014, the monument serves to recognize, remember and honour veterans from across the Métis Nation Homeland who have served Canada throughout history. The list of Métis veterans (PDF) provides the veteran’s name, service number, enlistment (the war or activity), and the location of their inscription on the monument (by column and row).

The GDI list has been invaluable for my own personal research about one of my distant relatives who fought and died in the First World War. I recently discovered Métis branches on my own family tree on the Métis Genealogy section of the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) website, and it was while doing this research that I found the digitized military service file of a distant relative, Private Arthur Carriere.

Searching the GDI list, I was proud to find an entry for a Private Arthur Carriere, confirming that he was indeed among the many names engraved on the National Métis Veterans’ Memorial Monument. I realized in the process that the service number on the GDI list—2293697—corresponded to the regimental number referring to the same soldier on the LAC website. This simple example demonstrates the great value of the GDI list to relatives and researchers interested in identifying Métis veterans from the 600,000 digitized service files in the Personnel Records of the First World War database.

Being able to access a digital copy of Arthur’s First World War service file—a tangible record of his involvement in the war—was a very personal way for me to pay my respects to one of my kin in remembrance of his service and sacrifice to our country. Despite the brevity of much of the information recorded on the various forms and documents in the file, they collectively provide a story, impressionistic to be sure, about Arthur’s brief and tragic wartime experience.

A typed page with the title, Particulars of Recruit, Drafted under Military Service Act, 1917. There are also stamps and handwriting on the page.

The Attestation Paper from Arthur Carriere’s digitized service file. (Library and Archives Canada, CEF 2293697)

Although there weren’t any explicit references to Arthur’s Métis heritage recorded in the file, I thought I could detect traces or clues in some of the records, especially the Attestation Paper, which provides basic information about his background at the time of his enlistment—age, occupation, residence, name and address of next of kin, etc. Born in 1893 in St. Adolphe, Manitoba, Arthur was 24 years old, single, and a farmer living in St. Vital, Manitoba at the time of his enlistment. His next of kin is his mother, A. (Angèle) Carriere, of Ste. Rose, Manitoba. The communities in particular struck my attention—all are Franco-Manitoban with strong and continuing Métis roots. The next of kin information is often very useful to trace Métis roots, as ethnic origin is not usually stated in the file.

The Attestation Paper also indicates the circumstances of Arthur’s enlistment—the most obvious being that he did not volunteer, but was drafted under the provisions of the Military Service Act. He reported for medical examination on November 14, 1917 in Fort Frances, Ontario, and was called up on January 11, 1918 in Winnipeg for active service as a private with the Lord Strathcona Horse (Royal Canadians), a regiment of mounted rifles.

A typed and handwritten form with the title “Casualty Form—Active Service.” The regimental number, rank and name of the soldier is typed underneath in blue ink along with handwritten notations.

The casualty form from Arthur Carriere’s digitized service file. (Library and Archives Canada, CEF 2293697)

The Casualty Form—Active Service record provides us with a very brief outline of Arthur’s activities following his enlistment. Leaving Halifax on April 15, 1918 on the S.S. Melita, the Lord Strathcona Horse (Royal Canadians) arrived in Liverpool, England on April 28, 1918. On August 20, 1918, shortly after arriving in France), Arthur joined the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Centre where troops were held before being sent to reinforce existing units. A couple of weeks later on September 13, 1918, he was transferred to the Royal Canadian Dragoons (RCD), a regiment assigned to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade but that mainly played an infantry role throughout the war. Less than a month after joining the RCD, Arthur’s life was tragically cut short. On October 10, 1918, he is simply reported as “killed in action.” This is one month and a day short of the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918 that ended the First World War.

A few more details about Arthur’s death is provided by another military record, the Circumstances of Death Registers, First World War, which the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (CEF) used to report the cause of a soldier’s death, where and when it occurred, and the soldier’s final resting place. The entry for Private Arthur Carriere indicates that on October 10, 1918 “while acting as a medical orderly at Brigade Headquarters in Troisvilles, he was killed by an enemy shell.” The location of his final resting place is given as Grave 8, Plot 11, Row C in the Highland British Cemetery, recorded in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Register as being one mile south of Le Coteau, France.

Too many to list here, there are other First World War records held at LAC, as well as external sources of information that can provide valuable additional details about WWI soldiers and the various CEF units serving overseas in France and Flanders.

An index card listing the regimental number, rank, surname, Christian name, unit, theatre of war, date of service, remarks and latest address of a soldier. In the top right corner the letters “B” and “V” are written, with a blue checkmark through them.

The medal card from Arthur Carriere’s digitized service file. (Library and Archives Canada, CEF 2293697)

An index card with the name “Carriere, Pte. Arthur,” “649-C25592” and a checkmark written at the top. There is also a large “M” written in blue ink.

The Memorial Cross card from Arthur Carriere’s digitized service file. (Library and Archives Canada, CEF 2293697)

Arthur’s story does not end simply with his death. The medals he garnered, such as the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, indicated by crossed-out capital letters “B” and “V” on the medal card along with the Memorial Cross, Scroll and Plaque, were dutifully given by a grateful nation to his mother in mourning.

The Franco-Manitoban Métis community of St. Norbert also felt the loss of Arthur’s death. Shortly after the end of war, they erected the St. Norbert War Memorial in recognition of the ultimate sacrifice paid by Arthur and 12 other local residents.

In this light, one can see in Arthur’s story a tradition of recognition and remembrance of the services rendered to Canada by veterans of Métis Nation communities that stretches back from the memorial erected in St. Norbert at the end of the Great War all the way to the present-day National Métis Veterans’ Memorial Monument in Batoche. The GDI acknowledges that there are probably many unknown Métis veterans who deserve our recognition and remembrance. Using the GDI form, you can submit the names and military service information of additional Métis veterans to engrave on the National Métis Veterans Historic Monument and ensure that they receive the recognition and honour due them from Canada and the Métis Nation.


David Horky is a senior archivist at Library and Archives Canada, Winnipeg office.

Mighty Indigenous Warriors: From Egypt to the First World War

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour and Sara Chatfield

When First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation were recruited in 1914 to fight in the First World War, enlistees were not aware of the new reality of 20th-century warfare. As a prelude to the First World War, in 1884, approximately 56 Kanienkenha:ka (Mohawk), 30 Ojibway and 19 Métis men were recruited for Britain’s six-month Nile expedition in Egypt totalling 400 men. The men were chosen for their strength, endurance, and skill in handling boats and rafts—qualities that were needed to navigate up the numerous cataracts and rapids of the Nile River. They did not see active battle, as they arrived two days after the city of Khartoum, Sudan had fallen, and British Major Charles G. Gordon had been killed. The expedition returned with the loss of 16 men and stories of what they had seen. Along their journey on the Nile, they saw monolithic temples and statues carved out of hillsides at Abu Simbel, the Sphinx of Giza, the pyramids, exotic markets and Egyptian life in Cairo.

A black-and-white photograph of a large group of men standing in front of the Parliament buildings.

Canadian voyageurs in front of the Parliament Buildings, a detail from the “Canadian Nile Contingent,” 1884. (c002877)

Three decades later, their next involvement in an overseas military expedition was with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (CEF) in the First World War. It was an opportunity for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation soldiers to see the world, and to prove their courage and combat skills. Soldiers were facing a major change in combat style and warfare. The new reality of war involved the use of chemical warfare, machine guns, fighter aircraft, armoured vehicles, and trench warfare.

Our latest Co-lab challenge, Correspondence regarding First Nations veterans returning after the First World War, illustrates some Indigenous peoples’ experiences during the war, touches upon how their communities coped during their absence, and gives information about their lives after they returned home. These documents provide us with information that the Personnel Records of the First World War may not. They offer information such as what the solider planned to do after the war, if he owned land or farm animals, or if he was suited to farming. There is also information about whether the soldier suffered any lingering disabilities, who they lived with, and if they had any dependants.

Created by the former Department of Indian Affairs, these records are unique in that an overseeing federal “Indian Agent” included personal information and comments on the returning First Nations soldiers. In contrast, this was not the case for non-Indigenous soldiers, as no similar sets of records exist for the rest of the CEF.

A page from the “Indian Agent’s Office,” Chippewa Hill, Saugeen Agency, February 14, 1919.

Document from RG10 Vol 6771 file 452-30 sent to Duncan Campbell Scott from T.A. Stout on February 14, 1919, providing information about John Besito. (Image found on Canadiana)

This personal information became part of the federal government files in Ottawa. The records are also unique in that the “Indian Agents” delved into the soldier’s post-service life. The information that was collected included gratuitous private information and personal judgements about the veterans and the civilian lives they returned to. For example, the “Indian Agent’s Office” notes dated February 1919 for Private John Besito from Saugeen Agency, Ontario, state, “He has a location of fifty acres in the Reserve. He has a house and some improvements on his location.”

As well as administrative information, such as CEF regimental numbers and membership in First Nation agencies and bands, these records also give us genealogical information. For example, the names of three deceased soldiers are listed in a letter to the Department of Indian Affairs dated February 12, 1919, written by the “Indian Agent” of the Griswold Agency in Manitoba. The letter states that the deceased soldiers are from Oak River and Oak Lake Reserves. The letter also includes the CEF regimental number of one of the deceased, Private John Taylor, and that the Department of Indian Affairs paid a pension to his wife and two children. Other correspondence informs us that Private Gilbert Moore, who was killed in action on March 24, 1918, left behind parents in poor circumstances and that they applied for a pension; and that Private Thomas Kasto left a mother who received a pension.

A black-and-white studio portrait of a First World War soldier in uniform and holding a rifle.

Photograph of Canadian Expeditionary Forces soldier Michael Ackabee. (e005176082)

As well as providing information about the soldiers who fought with the CEF, these files make reference to women in First Nation communities who provided funds to help with the war effort to organizations such as the Red Cross, the Girls Overseas Comfort Club, and the Canadian Patriotic Fund. Women in the communities knitted socks and made shirts to add to the “comfort boxes” that were mailed to the men overseas. They also fundraised by making beadwork, woven baskets, and quilts to sell at box socials and fairs.

Indigenous soldiers who survived the war often returned home changed, both positively and negatively. Sapper Peter Taylor, a Kahnawake soldier, suffered the rest of his life with complications from mustard gas poisoning until he passed away in 1955. Private Tom Longboat, the Olympic long distance runner from Six Nations of the Grand River reserve, returned home from his duty overseas in France to find his wife had remarried after receiving word that he had been killed.

A black-and-white photograph of two men in First World War military uniforms smiling and buying a newspaper from a young boy. The man on the right is accepting a newspaper from the boy and giving him money in exchange.

Private Tom Longboat, the Onondaga long distance runner, buying a newspaper from a French boy, June 1917. (a001479)

Many who returned home were affected mentally and physically. We give our gratitude for their sacrifices and service, and they will be forever acknowledged, honoured, and respected.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour is a project archivist and Sara Chatfield is a project manager in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Service Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Indigenous Pipes now on Flickr

Close up portrait of a man smoking a pipe, and wearing a flat cap and round glasses.

Portrait of an Inuit man, Angmarlik, a respected leader at Qikiqtat (Kekerten) (PA-166470)

Pipe smoking was practiced by both Indigenous men and women.

Woman smoking a pipe and wearing a dress, shawl, and headwrap. She is holding the reins of a horse pulling a Red River cart.

Camp scene of a Red River cart and an Indigenous woman (e011156555)

Pipe bowls were made from ceramics or carved from hard materials such as pipestone, soapstone, wood, or corncobs. The stem was usually made of a hollowed out tube of wood. Pipes were used recreationally to smoke tobacco, or blends of aromatic plants or barks. Pipes were also used on political and ceremonial occasions. Unique metal-forged axe pipes were gifted to Indigenous chiefs and leaders.

A birch bark basket embroidered in the centre with a First Nations figure smoking a pipe, and white, red, and blue flowers on each side.

Birch bark basket with embroidered First Nations figure and pipe (e010948522)

Pipe smoking has dwindled, but the practice and symbolism still carries on as some of these pictures show.

Portrait of a woman wearing a plaid shawl and smoking a pipe.

Inuit woman wearing plaid shawl and smoking a pipe (e010692540)

Visit the Flickr album now!


 

Chief Poundmaker: Revisiting the legacy of a peacemaker

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By Anna Heffernan

Pîhtokahanapiwiyin was a Plains Cree chief who was known as Chief Poundmaker in English. In 1885, he was tried and convicted of treason-felony because of his alleged involvement in the North-West Rebellion/North-West Resistance. On May 23, 2019, 134 years later, the Canadian government posthumously exonerated him and officially apologized to the Poundmaker Cree Nation of Saskatchewan, which is home to many of his descendants. His people, and other Plains First Nations who passed down accounts of his life, remember Poundmaker as a leader who remained committed to peace even when faced with dire circumstances. After decades of advocacy by his First Nation community, Poundmaker’s story is also coming to the attention of the broader Canadian public thanks to his exoneration. At Library and Archives Canada, we have many photographs and documents that help to tell this story.

Poundmaker was born around 1842 to a Stoney Nakoda father and a Métis mother of French Canadian and Cree descent, near Battleford in what is now Saskatchewan. In the early 1870s, an influential Blackfoot chief, Isapo-Muxika (Crowfoot), adopted Poundmaker and gave him the name Makoyi-koh-kin (Wolf Thin Legs), after a son whom Crowfoot had lost in battle. Poundmaker returned to the Cree after living for a time with the Blackfoot, but he maintained a friendship with his adopted father.

A black-and-white photograph of Poundmaker standing in front of a tipi wearing a fur hat, a shirt and vest, a blanket around his waist, and moccasins. Standing next to him is his wife, wearing a blanket around her shoulders over a dress.

Pîhtokahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker), right, with his wife, circa 1884 (a066596-v8)

A black-and-white photograph of Isapo-Muxika (Crowfoot), seated holding an eagle feather fan and wearing a hide shirt adorned with fur and beads or quills.

Isapo-Muxika (Crowfoot) in 1886 (c001871)

By August 1876, Poundmaker had become a headman and spoke at the Treaty Six negotiations. He was successful in having a famine clause added to the treaty, which promised that the Canadian government would provide rations to the signatory nations during times of food scarcity. Poundmaker recognized that the majority of his band favoured making a treaty, and he signed it on August 23, 1876. In 1879, Poundmaker and his band settled on a reserve about 40 miles (65 kilometres) west of Battleford.

Faced with the ever-increasing settlement of the West, which reduced the land and game that First Nations relied on to survive, Poundmaker urged his people to remain peaceful. He advised that war was no longer a feasible option, and in his words, “our only resource is our work, our industry, our farms.” In 1883, the Canadian government reduced the rations they had been providing to First Nations, and many were dissatisfied with the government’s failure to fulfill treaty promises.

In June 1884, several bands came to Poundmaker’s reserve to discuss the situation, including Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear) and his followers. With over 2,000 Cree gathered, they held a Thirst Dance (also known as a Sun Dance), a sacred ceremony in many Plains First Nations traditions. The North West Mounted Police attempted to disperse the Cree and prevent the Thirst Dance from taking place. Poundmaker and Big Bear were able to keep the peace for the time being, but it was clear that tensions between First Nations and the police were high, and it was becoming more difficult to restrain the young warriors in their bands.

In 1885, representatives of the Métis in the District of Saskatchewan, North-West Territories, wrote to Louis Riel, who was living in Montana territory at the time. They were also experiencing difficulty because of increasing white settlement and lack of government recognition of their rights, and they asked Riel to return to the region to help. Leaders of the Cree and other First Nations continued to meet with each other and discuss their worsening predicament. With buffalo herds in decline, hunting was no longer a reliable source of food. The transition to agriculture was difficult, and both First Nations and settler farms in the region were failing to yield sufficient crops. Many Cree were starving, and their leaders were desperate to find a solution.

In the eyes of the settler-Canadian press, the Métis movement and the First Nations movement were the same. In fact, although they had many of the same grievances, the Métis and First Nations leaders were far from being united. Poundmaker sought to pressure the Canadian government into honouring its treaty promises through peaceful means. But as the Métis resistance grew, some of Poundmaker’s band members joined in fighting alongside them. In papers seized from Louis Riel at Batoche, there are French and English translations of a letter from Poundmaker to Riel, in which Poundmaker responds to a letter from Riel. Poundmaker’s reply was likely translated from Cree to French for Riel.

Handwritten letter, written in English

Translations of Poundmaker’s letter to Riel, found among Riel’s papers seized at Batoche. (e011303062)

The letter is undated. Based on its contents, it was likely written after the Battle of Duck Lake, the initial engagement of the North-West Rebellion/North-West Resistance between the North West Mounted Police and commander Gabriel Dumont’s Métis forces. In this letter, Poundmaker expresses respect for Riel but also makes it clear that he is not interested in joining the fight and is ready to negotiate with the military. As the translation reads, “We have all laid down our arms and we wish that the war was finished between us and when the General arrives I am ready to treat with him (hear him literally) with the most sincere intentions of the most complete submission.”

Poundmaker saw the Métis victory at Duck Lake as an opportunity. He wanted to take advantage of the uncertain state that the Canadian government found itself in to negotiate for supplies and rations. His people desperately needed these, and the government was obliged by treaty to provide them. Poundmaker’s band and a Stoney Nakoda band that was camping with them went to Battleford to open negotiations with the Indian Agent. The white settlers had deserted the town and holed up in the fort with the Indian Agent. After waiting for a day, the starving band members looted the empty Battleford homes for food, despite Poundmaker’s attempts to prevent this action. Although greatly exaggerated by the press at the time, the “looting of Battleford” was an act of desperation, not an attempt to start a conflict.

When the Indian Agent would not agree to meet with Poundmaker, the band left the town and set up camp at Cut Knife Creek. Some of the warriors erected a warriors’ lodge at the camp, signifying that the warrior society had taken control. Meanwhile, Lieutenant-Colonel William Otter and his column of soldiers travelled to Battleford. On April 31, 1885, he set out with over 300 men to attack Poundmaker’s band in retaliation for the perceived attack on Battleford. They arrived at Cut Knife Creek on May 2. Poundmaker did not take part in the battle, which lasted for seven hours before Otter withdrew. Poundmaker convinced the warriors not to pursue the retreating army, which prevented many losses. Following this attack, many of the warriors in Poundmaker’s camp departed to join the Métis forces in Batoche. On May 12, Riel’s forces were defeated. Upon learning this, Poundmaker sent a message to Battleford offering to negotiate a peace. Major-General Frederick Middleton replied that he would not negotiate and demanded Poundmaker’s unconditional surrender. On May 26, Poundmaker obliged and came to Battleford, where he was arrested

Oil painting of a large group of First Nations people sitting and standing in a semi-circle with tipis in the background. Chief Poundmaker is seated on the ground in the centre with a ceremonial pipe in front of him. General Middleton is on the right seated in a chair, with several army men standing behind him.

The Surrender of Poundmaker to Major-General Middleton at Battleford, Saskatchewan, on May 26, 1885. Oil painting by R.W. Rutherford, 1887 (e011165548_s1)

On August 17, 1885, Poundmaker’s trial began in Regina. He was charged with treason-felony. The trial lasted for two days. In our collection, we have a written account of the testimony that Poundmaker gave at his trial. This account was found in a box of miscellaneous files in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development fonds. Unfortunately, there is no indication of the author of this account.

A handwritten page in English.

A written account of Poundmaker’s testimony from his 1885 trial (e011303044)

Poundmaker spoke to the court in Cree, while an interpreter translated his words into English. According to the account, the Chief’s words were translated as, “Everything I could do was done to prevent bloodshed. Had I wanted war, I would not be here now, I would be on the prairie. You did not catch me, I gave myself up. You have got me because I wanted peace.” The jury deliberated for half an hour before returning a verdict of guilty. The judge sentenced him to three years in a penitentiary. The impact of this decision on Poundmaker was immediately apparent. According to the author of this account, upon hearing his sentence, Poundmaker said, “Hang me now. I would rather die than be locked up.”

For a man who had spent his life on the land, hunting and leading, the effects of incarceration were profoundly detrimental. After only one year in the Stony Mountain Penitentiary, Poundmaker’s health had declined so much that he was released. Four months after his release, he died of a lung hemorrhage while visiting his adopted father Crowfoot on the Siksika Blackfoot reserve.

Nothing can truly right the injustice of Poundmaker’s imprisonment, or reverse the damage that the loss of his leadership had on his band and the Plains Cree. However, recognizing this injustice is a step toward greater understanding between Canadians and Indigenous peoples.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Anna Heffernan is an archivist/researcher for We Are Here: Sharing Stories, an initiative to digitize Indigenous content at Library and Archives Canada.

Judith-Pauline White, Nunatsiavut photographer

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.By Heather Campbell

A black-and-white photograph of an Inuk girl facing the camera. The young girl is wearing a white amauti (a girl’s or woman’s coat with a large hood) and stands in front of a building as a woman peeks out from a window behind her.

An Inuk girl stands as a woman peeks out from a building behind her, circa 1900–1950 (e011307844)

Judith-Pauline White (née Hunter) was an Inuk woman born in 1905 in Hebron, Newfoundland (now Newfoundland and Labrador), about 200 kilometres north of Nain in Labrador. She married a well-known trading post owner, Richard White, in 1922 and became stepmother to his daughter; the couple would have five children together. The Richard (Dick) White Trading Post (now a heritage building) is located in Kauk, approximately 4 kilometres south of Nain and 34 kilometres north of Voisey’s Bay. Ms. White, an amateur photographer, took photos in the area starting in the 1920s. In the 1950s, she met anthropologist Alika Podolinsky Webber, who travelled to Labrador to conduct research for her thesis about the art of the Mushuau Innu (of the Innu Nation). Podolinsky Webber went to Kauk because she was aware that the trading post was a hub for Innu and Inuit along the north coast of Labrador. Ms. White sent a shipment of material to Podolinsky Webber after Mr. White died in 1960. The material included photographs and negatives for over 200 images of daily life in and around the trading post. White’s photographs (see lower levels) feature both Innu and Inuit, and are a visual documentary of life in Labrador from the 1920s to the 1950s. This wealth of knowledge, which was tucked away for decades before being donated to Library and Archives Canada in 2007, is now accessible to everyone.

A black-and-white photograph of an Innu man staring at the camera, wearing traditional clothing and sitting on a pile of supplies. In the background, many other people are standing in front of a dark-coloured house with two small windows.

Innu on the move, circa 1925–1940 (e011305800)

As an Inuk woman from Nunatsiavut, an artist and a former curator, I am interested in the life and work of this early photographer. I cannot help but think of the well-known Inuk photographer Peter Pitseolak from Cape Dorset. His snapshots of Inuit life in the 1940s and 1950s are some of the earliest examples of Inuit individuals turning the camera on their own communities, rather than being the topic of ethnographic study by others. Unbeknownst to Pitseolak and those who followed his work, an Inuk woman in Nunatsiavut was also taking photos of everyday life. Why have we not heard of her? As Inuk scholar Dr. Heather Igloliorte writes in the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly, the Indian Act excluded Inuit in Nunatsiavut when Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949:

Labrador Inuit artists were unfortunately omitted from virtually all of the developments that emerged from the concerted efforts of [James Houston (who “discovered” modern Inuit art)], the government, the Canadian Guild of Crafts, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and others, because the federal government did not officially recognize that there were Inuit in Labrador until decades later. We did not establish studios, form co-operatives, build relationships with the southern Canadian art world, and develop national or international markets for our work. We were not even permitted to use the ubiquitous “Igloo Tag” for authentification until 1991.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman standing in a window of a wooden building, wearing a dress with a white collar and a necklace with a large cross. In the left-hand corner of the window frame, a child is peeking out, looking toward the camera.

Woman standing in a window, circa 1900–1950 (e011307849)

When Newfoundland joined Confederation, White was still taking photographs, but galleries and exhibitions at the time did not feature Nunatsiavut Inuit artists. Instead, these artists sold their works door to door, at local craft shops or to the occasional visitor. We can only imagine how the Inuit art world would have reacted to White’s work had the contemporary provincial or federal governments given support and recognition to Nunatsiavut Inuit artists. We are thankful to the Alika Podolinsky Webber estate for its valuable gift. It is a visual reminder of Judith-Pauline White’s passion for photography and her recording of Labrador Innu and Inuit culture, which is now available online for all to enjoy.

A black-and-white photograph of an Innu man and three members of his family. The men and young boy are dressed in fur jackets and mittens. A tent and trees are in the background.

Innu man Pasna and his family, circa 1920–1940 (e008299593)

Visit Flickr to see more of Judith-Pauline White’s photographs.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Heather Campbell is an archivist in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.