‘MY HEART IS LAKOTA’

Saskatchewan’s Wood Moun­tain is still home to some of the de­scen­dants of Sit­ting Bull’s peo­ple.

Canada's History - - CHRISTOPHER MOORE - — Nelle Oos­terom

Not all of Sit­ting Bull’s peo­ple re­turned to the United States in 1881. As many as 250 re­mained in the Wood Moun­tain re­gion of present-day Saskatchewan. Among them were Nancy Thom­son McIvor’s pa­ter­nal great-grand­moth­ers.

“I am of Hunkpapa Lakota blood of the Sit­ting Bull tribe and very proud of that part of my her­itage,” said Thom­son McIvor, who was born in Wood Moun­tain.

One of Thom­son McIvor’s great-grand­moth­ers — Iha Wastewin (Good Laugh­ing Wo­man/Alice Mary Thom­son) — came to Canada with Sit­ting Bull’s tribe when she was a child. Iha Wastewin mar­ried North West Mounted Po­lice of­fi­cer James Thom­son, who was sta­tioned in Wood Moun­tain, when she was in her teens. They lived in an adobe house and raised eleven chil­dren, all of whom were given Lakota and English names.

Her other great grand­mother — Ta­sunke Hin Hotwein (Roan Horse/Mary Ogle) — was two years old when she came to Canada. She mar­ried Wil­liam Hall Ogle, an English aris­to­crat-turned-cow­boy, and to­gether they ran a large ranch.

Thom­son McIvor’s knowl­edge of her an­ces­try did not come eas­ily. Her fa­ther lost his First Na­tions sta­tus when he joined the army dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. Sta­tioned in the Nether­lands, he met and mar­ried a Dutch wo­man. He re-en­listed af­ter the war, and the fam­ily spent six years in Europe.

“We thought we were lit­tle Dutch kids. No one ques­tioned our colour­ing,” said Thom­son McIvor of her­self and her sib­lings. “It was af­ter com­ing to Canada and kids calling me an Eskimo that I asked, am I? That was when I was told, ‘You are an In­dian.’”

Later, as an adult, she asked her fa­ther why he kept their her­itage a se­cret: “His answer: ‘I wanted you to have a bet­ter life.’ How sad is that?”

A break­through in Thom­son McIvor’s search for her Lakota roots came in 1998, when she re­ceived an in­vi­ta­tion to at­tend the open­ing of an ex­hibit at the Cana­dian Mu­seum of His­tory en­ti­tled Leg­ends of Our Times. The story of her great-grand­moth­ers was part of that ex­hibit.

“Go­ing to this ex­hibit was life-chang­ing for me,” she said. “I can’t ex­plain the emo­tions — mostly love and be­long­ing.”

About fif­teen years ago, at the urg­ing of her wid­owed mother, Thom­son McIvor trav­elled back to her birth­place at Wood Moun­tain for the first time for an Ogle fam­ily re­u­nion. Af­ter that, she re­turned reg­u­larly, and in 2007 she re­ceived her new Lakota name dur­ing a cer­e­mony at the Wood Moun­tain Re­serve.

“The holy man prayed over me and said I was to be given my own name, and it is Joh­p­wampi Zin­tkala. It means beau­ti­ful song­bird. It was a very mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and I ac­tu­ally had a vi­sion while be­ing prayed over.”

In 2014, Thom­son McIvor, who had lived in On­tario for much of her life, moved to Kis­bey, Saskatchewan, with her hus­band. They pur­chased lots in Wood Moun­tain and plan to re­tire there. Her life has thus come full cir­cle with her re­turn to the land that Sit­ting Bull had sought as a per­ma­nent home for his peo­ple.

“My heart is Lakota, al­ways has been. All I can think is, ‘the grand­moth­ers shall bring them home.’ It’s a Na­tive be­lief, and it hap­pened to me.”

One of Thom­son McIvor’s young rel­a­tives, Claire Thom­son, wrote a mas­ter’s the­sis in 2014 about the his­tory of Sit­ting Bull’s Cana­dian de­scen­dants. In her pa­per, Thom­son states that the hand­ful of Lakota who stayed in Canada af­ter Sit­ting Bull went back to the United States in 1881 were de­ter­mined to re­tain their in­de­pen­dence. Many even­tu­ally took sea­sonal jobs on ranches and with rodeos, hunted an­te­lope for sub­sis­tence, and re­sisted gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance.

Many wanted the right to es­tab­lish home­steads but could not do so un­der the terms of the In­dian Act. A small tem­po­rary re­serve was even­tu­ally es­tab­lished in 1910 but was halved in size in 1919. What was left was made a per­ma­nent re­serve in 1930. At this time, most still spoke Lakota and re­tained many of their tra­di­tions.

To­day, the Wood Moun­tain Re­serve con­sists of 2,376.2 hectares of rolling prairie. There are about two hun­dred reg­is­tered band mem­bers, of whom about a dozen live on the re­serve.

Edgar Sa­muel Pax­son’s Custer’s Last Stand de­picts the battle the way most of the Amer­i­can pub­lic wished to see it. In this paint­ing, Lieu­tenant Colonel Ge­orge Arm­strong Custer is in the cen­tre, wear­ing buck­skins and a red ban­dana. He stands up­right with brave de­ter­mi­na­tion, one hand hold­ing a smok­ing pis­tol while the other cov­ers a gap­ing wound in his side. None of his sol­diers ap­pears fright­ened. The artist spent twenty years re­search­ing the event and com­pleted the two-by-three-me­tre can­vas paint­ing in 1899. He then cir­cu­lated it as a trav­el­ling ex­hibit.

From left: Ta­sunke Nu­pawin, Okute Sika, Nupa Kikte, and Pte San­win, circa 1900. All stayed in Canada af­ter Sit­ting Bull left.

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