Matthew Coon Come, Grand Chief of the James Bay Cree Nation of Iiyuuschee/Cree Regional Authority (1987-1999, 2009–), National Chief of AFN (2000-2003); activist, environmentalist (born in 1956 near Mistissini, Québec). Matthew Coon Come was elected Grand Chief of the James Bay Cree Nation five times, and served one term as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. He achieved national and international fame through his successful opposition to the James Bay hydroelectric project in the 1990s, his assertion of Cree self-determination in relation to Québec separatism, and his advocacy for Aboriginal self-determination across the world.
Thunderchild (also known as Peyasiw-Awasis or Kapitikow, Cree for “one who makes the sound”), Plains Cree chief (born 1849, likely along the South Saskatchewan River; died 29 June 1927 on the Thunderchild Reserve in Saskatchewan). Chief Thunderchild was a signatory to Treaty 6 in 1879. He was a strong defender of treaty rights and Indigenous land as well as traditional Cree lifeways. Thunderchild supported the right of every reserve on the Canadian Plains to have its own school.
Pitikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker), Cree chief (born circa 1842 in central SK; died 4 July 1886 in Blackfoot Crossing, AB). Remembered as a great leader, Pitikwahanapiwiyin strove to protect the interests of his people during the negotiation of Treaty 6. Considered a peacemaker, he did not take up arms in the North-West Rebellion (also known as the North-West Resistance). However, a young and militant faction of his band did participate in the conflict, resulting in Pitikwahanapiwiyin’s arrest and imprisonment for treason. His legacy as a peacemaker lives on among many Cree peoples, no less those of the Poundmaker Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.
Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear), Plains Cree chief (born near Fort Carlton, SK; died 17 January 1888 on the Little Pine Reserve, SK). Mistahimaskwa is best known for his refusal to sign Treaty 6 in 1876 and for his band’s involvement in violent conflicts associated with the 1885 North-West Rebellion.
Joseph Brant, or Thayendanegea, Mohawk war chief, Loyalist, statesman (born circa March 1742/43 in Cayahoga [near Akron, Ohio]; died 24 November 1807 at Burlington Bay, Upper Canada); brother of Mary (Molly) Brant. In May 1784, following the American Revolution, Joseph Brant led the Mohawk Loyalists and some other Indigenous peoples to a large tract of land on the Grand River granted them in compensation for their losses in the war.
Os-Ke-Non-Ton (also written Oskenonton, meaning deer in the Mohawk language, also known as “Running Deer”), baritone, actor, spiritual leader (né Louie Deer c. 1888 in Caughnawaga [now Kahnawá:ke], QC; died c. 1955 in Lily Dale, NY). Os-Ke-Non-Ton was a celebrated singer and performer who showcased his culture across the globe. He also worked as a healer at a spiritual centre in Lily Dale until his death.
Sitting Bull (Tatanka Iyotake in the Lakota language, meaning literally “Buffalo Bull Who Sits Down”), Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux chief (born in 1831; died 15 December 1890 at Standing Rock, South Dakota). Sitting Bull led the Dakota (Sioux) resistance against US incursion into traditional territory. After the most famous battle at Little Big Horn, in which General George Custer’s forces were completely annihilated, Sitting Bull left the United States for the Cypress Hills in Saskatchewan. Sitting Bull symbolized the conflict between settlers and Indigenous culture over lifestyles, land and resources.
A few days before September 12, 1877, Blackfoot and Stonies began arriving at Blackfoot Crossing on the banks of the Bow River in southern Alberta. The two were old enemies and camped on opposite sides of the river. Later in the week they were joined by the Blood and Piegan.
Ralph Garvin Steinhauer, OC, lieutenant-governor of Alberta, Indigenous leader, farmer (born 8 June 1905 in Morley, North-West Territories [now AB]; died 19 September 1987 in Edmonton, AB). The first Indigenous person to serve as lieutenant-governor of a Canadian province, he was committed to Indigenous affairs in Alberta and Canada.
Canada is a country so vast that too often, it seems, its history is lost inside its geography. A striking example is the history of Indigenous peoples, whose long, rich narrative is well-preserved by them, but seldom gets the same attention on a broader scale — even when their stories affect us all.
John Brant (Ahyonwaeghs), Mohawk Grand Chief, Indian Superintendent (b near Brantford, Ont, 27 Sep 1794; d there 27 Aug 1832). John Brant was the son of Joseph Brant, Mohawk chieftain and the first Aboriginal to receive a commission in the British Army, as a captain in 1757.