NE-CAN-NETE (Ne-kah-nea, Ne-kah-new, known as Foremost Man, Front Man), Plains Cree chief; d. 16 May 1897 near Maple Creek (Sask.) at an advanced age.
Ne-can-nete likely spent some of his youth in the area around forts Qu’Appelle and Pelly (Sask.) but at some point he developed a strong attachment to the Cypress Hills farther west. After the signing of Treaty No.4 in 1874 [see David Laird*] he drew treaty annuities as a member of Kahkewistahaw*’s band. In 1880 his chief agreed to give up the buffalo-hunting way of life traditional with the Crees and move on to a government reserve on the lower Qu’Appelle River. Most of the band, however, chose to remain on the plains under the leadership of Ne-can-nete. Soon Indians from other bands joined them. The Department of Indian Affairs recognized him as the headman of more than 400 Crees and in 1881 promised him a reserve in the Cypress Hills area. In July 1881 department officials and North-West Mounted Police commissioner Acheson Gosford Irvine visited the Cypress Hills area with Ne-can-nete and other Indians to select a site for a reserve. The next year, however, the department decided that all reserves should be located farther north, distant from the international border.
By this time the buffalo had all but disappeared from the Canadian plains, and the Cypress Hills, rich in game, water, and timber, became a gathering place for several thousand destitute Indians no longer able to live by the hunt but unwilling to submit to the sedentary life of a reserve. To induce these Indians to move on to reserves, where it was hoped they would learn to live by agriculture, the Department of Indian Affairs announced that after 1882 annuities and other benefits would be dispensed only on reserves. As a result, within two years every band, except Ne-can-nete’s, had been forced to move north; about half of his followers, finding they could not live without treaty benefits, left as well. He claimed to be perfectly willing to take a reserve as long as it was near his beloved Cypress Hills, and the 200 Indians who stayed with him were united in this goal. Although other, more prominent, Cree leaders such as Piapot [Payipwat*], Little Pine [Minahikosis*], and Big Bear [Mistahimaskwa*] had been compelled to leave the hills, the government did not consider Ne-can-nete dangerous and by living unobtrusively his band was allowed to remain at large.
Ne-can-nete was not a dynamic, hortatory leader in the Plains Cree tradition. His leadership was based on the strength of his commitment to the Cypress Hills and his followers drew courage from his example. As their spokesman he tried, in the 1880s, to persuade the Indian department to grant the reserve he had been promised but, finding no success, he chose to remain aloof from government representatives.
During the North-West rebellion [see Mistahimaskwa] Ne-can-nete stayed neutral and after 1885 the small band he led was the only Plains Cree group not living on a reserve. Considered “stragglers” from other bands and wrongly labelled non-treaty Indians by officials of the Department of Indian Affairs, Ne-can-nete’s followers nevertheless managed to survive in the Cypress Hills with no government assistance. They were often scattered over a wide area on both sides of the international border, and subsisted by hunting small game, cutting firewood in the Cypress Hills, collecting buffalo bones on the plains to be sold for fertilizer, selling horses, and working as day-labourers for local ranchers. They never requested government relief or medical care, did not send their children to school, and rarely sought justice in Canadian courts. Instead they continued to rely on traditional Cree practices of community sharing and social organization to meet their needs.
Ne-can-nete died in the spring of 1897 without having obtained the reserve in the Cypress Hills he had sought since 1880. His successor, Crooked Legs, with the help of a white lawyer, finally obtained a grant near Maple Creek in 1913 for the Nekaneet Indian Reserve, although treaty benefits were not restored to the band until 1975.
NA, RG 10, 133, 3744–45, 3757, 3863, 3964, 7779; 138, 9412–15A; RG 18, A1, 62, 91, 1042; B1, 1038, 1063, 1140, 1382. Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1880–1906 (annual reports of the Dept. of Indian Affairs and of the NWMP). D. G. Mandelbaum, The Plains Cree: an ethnographic, historical, and comparative study (Regina, 1979). David Lee, “Foremost Man, and his band,” Saskatchewan Hist. (Saskatoon), 36 (1983): 94–101.