Si'k-okskitsis (known by various other names including Black Wood Ashes, Charcoal, The Palate, Paka’panikapi, Lazy Young Man and Opee-o’wun), Kainai warrior, spiritual leader (born circa 1856 in present-day southern AB; died 16 Mar 1897 in Fort Macleod, AB). Si'k-okskitsis was involved in a domestic dispute that ended in murder. He fled but was eventually caught by police, tried and hanged. The story of Si’k-okskitsis’s life speaks to larger themes of relations between Indigenous peoples and settlers, the settlement of the West, and changes to traditional ways of life on the plains.
Si’k-okskitsis was born and raised in Kainai territory. His father was Red Plume, and his mother was Killed Twice. He had a large family, as his father had two wives and many children. Originally part of the Mamyowi (Fish Eaters) band, led by chief Red Crow , the unrestrained and warlike actions of Si’k-okskitsis’s brother, Left Hand, prompted his family to leave the Mamyowi band and form a new one called Uspoki-omiks (Shooting Up). This band had a reputation in the community for being troublemakers.
In his youth, Si’k-okskitsis witnessed many changes to traditional Kainai life and territory. The bison, once plentiful, were disappearing, leaving many Indigenous peoples without the food and resources the animal once provided. When Si’k-okskitsis was about 21, the Kainai signed Treaty 7 in 1877, bringing yet more change. As with the other Numbered Treaties, Treaty 7 created reserves and surrendered traditional territory to the federal government in exchange for certain hunting rights and monies.
Likely restless and in search of food, in the winter of 1883 Si’k-okskitsis and some of his friends stole a cow from white ranchers and killed it. Si’k-okskitsis was arrested for theft and spent a year in the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) jail in Fort Macleod. Sometime after, Si’k-okskitsis turned to religion and joined the Dog Society and later, the Horn Society — two sacred organizations among the Kainai. (See also Religion and Spirituality of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)
Murder and Escape
Si’k-okskitsis had more than one wife during his lifetime. Around 1896, not long after taking another wife, Iyokaki (Sleeping Woman), he learned that his first wife, Anu’tsis-tsis-aki (Pretty Wolverine Woman) was having an affair with her cousin, Nina’msko’taput-sikumi (Medicine Pipe Stem). After finding them together, Si’k-okskitsis killed Nina’msko’taput-sikumi in the fall of 1896.
Si’k-okskitsis believed he would be hanged for this crime. A spiritual man, Si’k-okskitsis aimed to follow a sacred Kainai custom to ensure his safe passage to the land of the dead. He needed to find a messenger who would announce his arrival in the spirit world. This messenger had to be an important person. According to historian Hugh Dempsey, there was a second step in his plan: to kill himself and his first wife. The intent was that their spirits would be forever tied together.
Some accounts say that Si’k-okskitsis shot and wounded farm instructor Edward McNeill and also attempted to kill Red Crow. He left his home, taking some family members with him. They fled south to Lee Creek, making their way to the Alberta-Montana border.
Si’k-okskitsis’s actions caused concern among locals and the NWMP, who were involved in another high-profile murder case in 1895 with Kitchi-Manito-Waya (Almighty Voice). On 17 October, the NWMP found and attacked Si’k-okskitsis’s camp, but he evaded capture. After stealing two NWMP horses that night, he fled north toward the Porcupine Hills.
On 30 October, NWMP officer Sam Steele arrested Si’k-okskitsis’s family in order to prevent their assisting his escape. Steele later released two of Si’k-okskitsis’s brothers, Left Hand and Bear Back Bone, in exchange for their assistance.
About a week later, NWMP and Piikani scouts spotted Si’k-okskitsis by Pincher Creek. Sergeant William Brock Wilde and the search party closed on him, but in exchanges of fire, Wilde was killed. For Si’k-okskitsis, Wilde’s death not only allowed him to escape, but also provided him with the important person necessary to introduce him to the spirit world.
Capture and Death
Soon after, Si’k-okskitsis travelled to his brothers’ camp on the Kainai reserve, where he was captured the following morning. Si’k-okskitsis attempted suicide but failed. On 12 November, he was turned over to the NWMP.
Si’k-okskitsis was tried for the murders of Wilde and Nina’msko’taput-sikumi. Though Si’k-okskitsis argued that he had been justified in shooting both these men, he was still convicted. Si’k-okskitsis was hanged on 16 March 1897.
Police and white settlers saw the search, arrest and death of Si’k-okskitsis as part of an effort to ensure the success of settlement in the West. As historian DJ Hall explained, the NWMP and white settlers “feared the actions of a criminal few might incite the unstable many.”