'His spirit can rest': After more than a century, ceremonial staff of Chief Poundmaker returned to family

Descendants of Chief Poundmaker have repatriated his staff during a ceremony on the Fort Battleford National Historic Site with Parks Canada on Wednesday.

Poundmaker is considered one of the great Indigenous leaders of the 19th century and was key in negotiations that led to Treaty 6, which covers the west-central portions of present-day Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The request to repatriate the staff was made by his great-great-granddaughter, Pauline Poundmaker in February 2021. The staff was in the possession of Parks Canada.

"It’s an honour because he was a very important man and it’s an honour to do the right thing, bring his personal belongings, his sacred artifacts, objects home so his spirit can rest,” Pauline said.

Poundmaker Cree Nation's protocols surrounding repatriation require items to be returned to a direct descendant.

Poundmaker is remembered as a peacekeeper during the North-West Resistance of 1885 and, in 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau exonerated the chief, who had been convicted of treason for leading his warriors in battle against Canadian forces.

Representatives of Park Canada say they were honoured to return the staff. They say it’s a “small but important step” and it was the “right thing to do.”

“We are on a learning journey and we are learning about our role and our place in reconciliation and that’s built on the foundation of relationships,” said Genevieve Jones with Parks Canada.

Pauline says the family is also working to repatriate upwards of 30 of Poundmaker's belongings that are in museums across the country and internationally.

“All objects have life. There’s a power to these objects, that’s why these artifacts don’t belong in museums,” she said.

Poundmaker Museum curator Floyd Favel says having Poundmaker’s staff taken under duress led the First Nation to be symbolically leaderless.

“I feel this will help our people as a whole and our community and in this province,” said Favel.

He says seeing the staff return fills him with hope and a way of “correcting history.”

“I hope to borrow it from the Poundmaker family and have it on display in our museum at special occasions. I hope they can see justice can always be done.”

Chief Poundmaker’s staff will be staying at the Fort Battleford national historic site on loan at the museum because Poundmaker isn’t equipped to take the staff yet.

--With Canadian Press files