Dakota in the Red River Settlement by White Spotted Horse on May 16, 2019
1876: Always conscious of events south of the border, the Mounted Police faced a daunting challenge in 1876-77, when in November, exhausted 5,000 Lakota crossed the international border from the United States seeking the protection of “British” law as existing allies, making camp in the Wood Mountain area in what is now southern Saskatchewan. They were soon followed by Sitting Bull, who had led the battle to the death of General George Custer and the men of the 7th Infantry, U.S. Army, in July 1876 at Little Bighorn, Montana. Inspector James Morrow Walsh of the North-West Mounted Police, one of the first NWMP officers to meet with Sitting Bull and other Lakota was very respectful of First Nations leaders. Riding with half a dozen men into the camp, met with Sitting Bull and assured him of protection from pursuit by the U.S. Army if the Lakota obeyed the laws of Canada and did not conduct raids across the border. Inspector Walsh was also conscious of the fact that the Lakota greatly outnumbered the NWMP. With carefully chosen words and a firm hand, Walsh emphasized that they could stay as long as the law was respected. Sitting Bull agreed to these terms, denouncing the Americans and claiming to be a “British Indian.” And it was. The Mounted Police were impressed at how law-abiding the Lakota were, even when forced to starvation and surviving by snaring mice and gophers. No aid is offered not even basic food, clothing and shelter. Sitting Bull wanted to remain in peace in what he called his Grandmothers land. At first, the Canadian government accepted the Lakota as political refugees, but greatly feared that their presence in Canada would be a haven for other disaffected Indigenous groups in the U.S. west. John A. MacDonald developed a policy to starve the Lakota out of Canada and the government informed Sitting Bull that he would never be recognized as a British Indian or granted a reservation in Canada and warning him that the buffalo would disappear within a few years. The latter prediction came true all too quickly. In 1879 American traders and hunters set fires along the border to keep the buffalo south, and the end of the hunt on the Canadian prairies was in sight. That summer the lack of buffalo and the refusal of the Canadian government to give the Lakota either a reservation or food led many to go back to the United States which they promised of a pardon, just treatment and provisions for any returning Lakota. The majority including Sitting Bull would return to the United States in 1881 but some would remain and settle at Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan.