Big Bear

BigBearBig Bear
Penguin Extraordinary Canadians series
230 pages, $26.00

(Canscene) –History is the study of the past. Many questions of why and how are answered by a person’s interpretations of the evidence collected from a historical event. However, what happens when a person or people are limited in telling the story because of the lack of historical evidence — either by accident or design? wrote critic James Knockelby on the publication of Novelist Rudy Wiebe’s novel The Temptations of Big Bear, which Wiebe now reprises in biography form for the Extraordinary Canadians series.

“A society disinterested in the plight of the Plains Cree created an information vacuum in which little of their history remained to reference. To tell their story, the historian must recreate conversations, lives, even people; the storyteller must flirt with the fine line between fact and fiction divining it from the past.’ One senses that much of this spirit remains in the biography.

The Plains Cree were hunters pure and simple and conscious only of Hudson’s Bay trading posts as friendly symbols of white presence.

Then come the soldiers establishing the sovereignty of the White Grandmother, establishing reserves and endeavoring to make Plans Cree farmers– a disaster.

Slowly, Big Bear emerges as a leader of his people , intransigeant, refusing to understand or acknowledge the new colonial laws and even at times entering into armed conflict with white soldiers. Falsely accused of supporting the Riel rebellion, Big Bear is tried for treason in 1883 and sentenced to three years in Stony Mountain Prison, where he sickens and released to die in 1888 on the Poundmaker Reserve.

The heritage of Big Bear lives on in Rudy Wiebe’s biography.

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