By Lorraine Freeman
On Friday, November 7th, 1885, eight Anishinabe men were hung for their involvement in the North West Resistance. They stood together on a scaffold in Battleford, Saskatchewan. J.H. Scully of Battleford built the gallows on the west corner of the barracks square.
Deputy-Sheriff A.P. Forget, accompanied by Father Bigonesse and Cochin and executioner Robert Hodson, told the prisoners to prepare for their deaths. The prisoners were allowed to say goodbye to their fellow prisoners and they expressed their hope that the government would take care of their families.
At approximately 8 a.m., the prisoners, hands bound behind their backs, each accompanied by four Mounted Police, were led to the scaffold. "Itka", one of the eight men, began to sing, first his strong heart then his death song to show his defiance.
"Miserable Man" was the first to walk up the scaffold steps, then "Manichoose", "Round Sky", "Wandering Spirit", "Napaise", "Apischiskoos" and "Itka" followed. "Wawahanich" was the last of the condemned to ascend. The hangman tied their ankles together. Each of the prisoners was given time to speak if they chose. "Itka" shouted to the Indian witnesses to never forget how the white man treated them. He then continued his death chant.
Shortly afterwards, all eight men, whose heads were shaved and covered with sacks, were dropped from the gallows. Fifteen minutes later they were pronounced dead. All eight men were buried in a ravine as a common grave, not far from the Battleford barracks.
Years passed and due to the Saskatchewan climate, erosion exposed some of the bones in the mass grave. In 1954, officials decided to put a concrete slab on the surface of the site.
The Anishinabe people paid a high price for their involvement in the North West Resistance. It is important we remember that it was First Nations as well as the Metis fighting to protect the rights of Aboriginal peoples of the North West.
"Cree Warriors" Courtesy of Saskatchewan Archives