Piapot

Piapot, Cree chief; also spelled Payipwat (b 1816 on the southern prairies; d 1908 at Piapot Reserve, Sask). During Piapot's 92 years, the Canadian prairies were changed forever. In his youth, the Cree still roamed freely across the plains, and the bison were still plentiful. By the time he died, the prairies had been inundated by massive immigration, the bison had disappeared and the Native people were isolated in reserves.

As chief of his band, Piapot was responsible for guiding his people through these difficult times and for negotiating the best conditions possible, which he accomplished with great skill. He gained concessions from government officials by playing off his reputation for being a dangerous enemy as well as his reputation for being loyal.

Piapot signed Treaty No 4 in 1875, but a year of sickness and starvation on his allotted reserve near Indian Head (Sask) in 1883 convinced him that his people would never survive there. By willpower and negotiation, he managed to get them a far better location in the Qu'Appelle Valley, where fish, fowl and other game were plentiful. He moved his band there in 1884. The following year, Piapot ensured protection for his people by declaring loyalty to the government during the North-West Rebellion.

Nevertheless, he resisted assimilation, refused conversion to Christianity, and he strongly upheld Cree customs and beliefs. In 1899, the Indian Department deposed him as chief for permitting a traditional ceremony to which they objected. However, his band continued to regard him as chief until his death, and he is still remembered with great honour in Saskatchewan.