Columnist Doug Cuthand
Liam Richards / Saskatoon StarPhoenix
The Pueblo revolt was a pivotal point in First Nations history. The revolt began Aug. 10, 1680 and was over by Aug. 21 of that year. The Pueblo people, supported by Apache warriors, drove the Spaniards out of New Mexico. This event counts as the most successful Indigenous victory in North American history.The Pueblos were fed up with the colonization of their lands and the cruel Spanish overlords. About 400 Spanish settlers were killed and more than 2,000 fled back to Mexico. As a result, Indigenous culture on the Great Plains changed forever.When the Spanish left, they left in a hurry. Ranches and livestock were left behind, including large herds of Spanish horses. Previously, the Spanish jealously guarded the horses and the Indigenous people were not allowed ownership.The Pueblos captured horses for themselves and released others. The horses were quickly adopted by the tribes of the plains and, by the early 1700s, the Indigenous nations all the way from Mexico to the northern prairies had embraced the horse.This event changed the culture; our people now had mobility and could travel greater distances across the plains. They could venture out on the plains and hunt buffalo and had protection from the plains grizzly and other large predators that followed the buffalo herds.When combined with firearms, a mounted warrior was both a formidable foe and productive hunter.The women were able to make larger tipis because the horses could carry the tipi poles and pull larger loads on a travois.Our people became expert equestrians and the horse became a partner, a symbol of wealth and a tool for freedom and mobility.And so, the horse culture was born. For close to 200 years our people ruled the plains and prospered thanks to our relationship with horses. The iconic image of a chief in a Dakota headdress mounted on a horse was eaten up by Hollywood and the image spread around the world.Over the years, the horse evolved to suit the needs of our people. The Nez Percé developed the Appaloosa, which exists today as a distinctive Indigenous breed. The Chickasaw pony was crossbred with the English thoroughbred to produce the quarter horse. Indian ponies were small and tough and could live on sparse grass and little water. Many of the North-West Mounted Police used Indian ponies on their patrols because of their endurance.The horses replaced the dog as beasts of burden; previously large dogs were fitted with a small travois and used to carry camp supplies. The Cree word for a horse is misatim, which translates to big dog. The name for the little town of Mistatim in Saskatchewan is the Saulteaux word for horse.The settlement of the plains and the reserve system didn’t bring an end to the horse culture. Instead, the culture lives on in a different form. Today, our people still have a close association with horses.Nowhere is this more evident than on the track. This year, Todd Baptiste from Red Pheasant took second place in the Calgary Stampede’s aggregate and Chuckwagon rangeland derby. This year also marked the final year of racing for Ray Mitsuing, who turned 65. Ray was a fan favourite and has competed in wagon racing for about 40 years. His sons will carry on.Across Indian country our people compete in the smaller pony chucks and are regulars as outriders and horse trainers.The horse dance is making a comeback. In this ceremony the horse is honoured for its loyalty and long association with our people. It is also a ceremony of thanksgiving for all the horse has provided.Next week, riders will complete a ride from Wahpeton north of Prince Albert to Wood Mountain south of Moose Jaw. The ride is held to remember all the children who have been placed in foster care and raised outside of their families and culture. The ride covers a distance of 600 kilometres and runs through seven First Nations communities.The horse has become an instrument of healing reconciliation. To think it all began when the Pueblos stole the Spanish horses.