Maski-Pitoon – Broken Arm 1869

He’d seen the pale skin Heaven,
Of Philadelphia and Washington
Had Palliser’s men haul wood on their carts
To the prairies for burning

He told tales of spirit ways
To their chief President Jackson
He learnt the new magic,
Of white paper on black ink

He traveled with neither fire-stick nor arrow,
But the lightest of five things
Gratitude, Forgiveness, Peace, Truth
And the word of Manitou.

His eyes drew soft as a summer’s night
As war whoops came upon him
But the Blackfoot raid came to a halt,
As he stood unarmed as a feather of peace

On the great hill of Wetaskiwin
Gathered chiefs of Blackfoot and Cree
On the hand of Broken Arm
The Warring tribes agreed on peace

As the stars are held to the sky,
Broken arm held to his oath
Gave a coat of his finest buckskin
To the killers of his father and son

The mightiest of men in Canada
Peels away on a roadside sign in Hobbema

He held the cross of the Anglican,
The Catholic Rosary
But like the hiss and the crackle of the pine in fire
Together they cannot agree

Sweet grass and arctic air
The undying sermon of the smooth-tongued stream
The colour of all eyes he saw
The Great Spirit move in all things

In his tiny body
There was room for all this to be
But in all the land between the oceans,
Is not enough for people to live free

The mightiest of men in Canada
Peels away on a roadside sign in Hobbema

~ Cort Delano

Cort Delano, the Calgary-based songwriter and poet, sings about home-grown experiences. Taking a roots approach to music Cort forges a new generation of songs, reflecting the folks, their histories, and the places that he’s journeyed.

“The seeds of inspiration were planted when I was driving through Hobbema on Hwy 2A, I pulled over for a little roadside stretch and there was an Alberta History sign with the story of Broken-Arm ‘Maski-pitoon.’ I quickly wrote down a song about this mysterious yet great Canadian. Over the next year or so, I began to research more about him, finding him in the memoirs of the missionaries, the Journals of Paul Kane, and in the books of Kerry Wood and Grant MacEwan. I was most inspired by his capabilities of transformation. As his world around him, literally, crumbled and changed so fiercely, this Cree Chief found harmony and encouraged peace. Through this he elevated the finest qualities of his culture, an enigmatic man, an example of how we can adapt with peace and wisdom, allowing the spirit to move through, moving forward but not losing sight of the past, keeping close to the earth.”

Editor’s note: This poem is from Home and Away – a sequel to the bestselling Writing the Land (2007). Look for one poet to be featured each day as Alberta poets ponder the question “what is home?” and explore our complex relationship with working on, living with, exploiting and protecting our land and our home. For more information about the project, click here.

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