Small sticks falling from the sky
- John Cuthand | September 22, 2021
It was well over 140 years ago when a Cree war party in late winter moved west into the territory of the Blackfoot Confederacy. It was a time of war between the two nations. The once allies now fought with one another over the last of the great buffalo herds. Their battles began in early spring and extended into the snows of late November when the Cree left the open prairie to their winter camps in the north.
My great grandfather Mastatimwas was a war chief. He chose to lead his warriors during the late winter in a surprise attack. It was during the time when brown patches of grass appear among the dying snow. When they left their territory, they traveled by night and hid by day. As they traveled, they noticed they were being followed by a coyote. This continued over nights and each time the coyote came closer. Finally, it ran at them, leapt into the air and vanished. Then small sticks fell from the sky and vanished when they touched the ground.
Many among them said this was a bad omen and they should turn back. My great grandfather was stubborn and refused. The story does not say whether a few or any turned back. A war party was not a democracy but was controlled solely by the war chief.
On they went until they found a Blackfoot camp. They heard no sound and saw no one, not even a camp dog. As they entered they found the Blackfoot had died, their bodies covered in sores. An entire camp had died. They gathered a few items then hurried back to Cree country. As they traveled, they became violently sick and, one by one, died, their bodies covered in sores. Finally, my great grandfather was the last left alive then he too succumbed. He was found by his people laying on a trail unable to walk. He gradually recovered but he had brought back small pox to his people. It became apparent the small sticks falling from the sky were the many who would die.
It is estimated over half the population of the northern First Nations died during the epidemic. It was a tragic time of disease and starvation seldom spoken of. The small pox epidemic was followed by the Spanish Flu and tuberculosis. In our time many are stricken with diabetes and a new disease.
Covid 19 and its variant have brought suffering and tragedy, especially among those who refuse to be vaccinated. Saskatchewan First Nations, tribal councils and Health Canada have worked together to make a difference. Hundreds of band members were saved who would have otherwise died. Unlike the epidemics of old, Covid can be fought and lives saved. When Treaty number six was signed it included a medicine chest clause promising help during a time of pestilence. In this time of crisis the promise has been fulfilled.