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The Short Life of Almighty Voice

I've spent half a century writing for radio and print (mostly print). I hope to still be tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Culture Clash

A dead cow in Saskatchewan, Canada ended up causing all manner of bother largely over a misunderstood joke.

Almighty Voice.

Almighty Voice.

One Arrow Native Reserve

Kitchi-Manito Waya was born on the One Arrow Willow Reserve, Saskatchewan in about 1875. His given name meant “Voice of the Great Spirit;” it was shortened and anglicized to “Almighty Voice. His grandfather, Kapeyakwaskonam (One Arrow), was chief of the reserve and his father, Sinnookeesick (Sounding Sky), took part in the North-West Rebellion.

Led by Louis Riel, the 1885 rebellion was an uprising of Métis—people of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry—and First Nations people. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, the revolt “was caused by rising fear and insecurity among the Métis and First Nations peoples as well as the white settlers of the rapidly changing West.”

For plains Indians catastrophe occurred when the vast herds of bison, on which they depended for survival, disappeared, leading to starvation; the animals were almost slaughtered into extinction by European settlers. At the same time, huge tracts of traditional Indian land were signed away in treaties about which the Native People had little understanding.

Without the massive herds of bison, plains Indians became destitute.

Without the massive herds of bison, plains Indians became destitute.

The rebels hoped to have redress for their grievances but the government in Ottawa was unsympathetic and sent out a detachment of the North-West Mounted Police, along with soldiers, to put down the rebellion. Over a period of five months, battles were fought, hundreds were killed, and Louis Riel was captured and hanged.

Reprisals were instituted against the First Nations that had joined the rebellion. Supplies to the One Arrow Reserve were cut and life for people in the community became very hard.

The Case of the Dead Cow

Sometime in October 1895, Almighty Voice killed and butchered a cow that was not his. There's some confusion about whether the cow belonged to a settler or the government; no matter, hauling off a side of beef owned by someone else is a crime, even if the people on your reserve are hungry.

North-West Mounted Police Sergeant Colin C. Colebrook was sent to the One Arrow Reserve to arrest 21-year-old Almighty Voice. Captive and captor return to Duck Lake where Almighty Voice was to be incarcerated.

The “prison” was not much of an affair, a makeshift bed in corner of the Mountie office. The police did not consider the charge against Almighty Voice to be serious, however, one of them jokingly suggested it was a hanging offence. The young Indigenous man did not understand the humour and, while the officers were otherwise engaged, he simply walked out of the office and headed home.

Sergeant Colebrook set off the find him. He tracked him down, but Almighty Voice was in no mood to surrender quietly and face the hangman's noose. He warned Colebrook to back off or he would shoot. The Mountie following his unit's creed of “always getting their man” and advanced. Almighty Voice shot and killed the policeman and now really did face a capital charge.

Men of the North-West Mounted Police dressed in their finery for the photographer.

Men of the North-West Mounted Police dressed in their finery for the photographer.

The Hunt for Almighty Voice

Needless to say, Almighty Voice did not tarry long at the scene of the crime. He disappeared into the Prairie landscape where he was skilled at survival. A price of $500 (about $17,600 in today's money) was put on his head but there was no sign of him for 19 months.

There was another shooting, this time causing a non-fatal wound in May 1897, so the Mounties set up a patrol to catch the fugitive. They caught up with Almighty Voice and his companions in the Mininchinas Hills and a firefight ensued. Two more Mounties were wounded, and two civilians sworn in as special constables were killed.

The police decided it was time to get serious; they brought in reinforcements and a nine-pound field gun. It didn't take long for the artillery to deal with Almighty Voice. When there was no return fire, the police moved in and found the body of the man they were after along with his dead cousin Little Saulteaux and his equally dead brother-in-law Topean.

A total of seven people died during Almighty Voice's escapade, all, it can be said, as the result of a misunderstood joke.

A letter authorizing payment of $500 to David and Napoleon Venne for information leading the the capture/death of Almighty Voice.

A letter authorizing payment of $500 to David and Napoleon Venne for information leading the the capture/death of Almighty Voice.

Bonus Factoids

  • Several attempts have been made to re-rehabilitate the memory of Louis Riel, the man who led the North-West Rebellion. In the 2004 Greatest Canadian project Louis Riel was voted into 11th place. In 2007, the government of the province of Manitoba created Louis Riel Day as a public holiday observed in February. And, in a 2010 speech, then-Chief Justice of Canada's Supreme Court, Beverley McLaughlin, said although he was seen as a rebel when he was alive, he is viewed as a patriot “through our modern lens.”
  • Among First Nations people in Canada, Almighty Voice is considered a hero and has been the inspiration for Indigenous art and fiction.
  • Unlike many reserves in Canada where unemployment and poverty are rife, the One Arrow Willow Reserve is vibrant today. It is home to about 750 on-reserve people.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Rupert Taylor