January 20th, 2021

Potai’na (Flying Chief), a.k.a. Joe Healy

By Submitted Article on June 17, 2020.

Rebecca Wilde

Potai’na (Flying Chief), also known as Joseph Healy, was a prominent member of the Kainai Nation and son of Akai-nuspi (Many Braids) and Pi’aki (the Dancer).

Potai’na was orphaned at a young age when his parents and sisters were killed in their camp near Sun River, Montana. It was his father’s dying wish that he be taken in by John Healy, who at the time was operating a trading post in Sun River. Potai’na was adopted by Mary-Frances and Johnny Healy (who, along with A. B. Hamilton, started Fort Whoop-Up) and they gave him the name Joseph.

Joe was sent to school in nearby Fort Shaw, Mont., and learned to speak and write English. He worked with his adopted father at both the Sun River trading post and later at Fort Whoop-Up. He also served as a scout and interpreter for the North-West Mounted Police. Later in life he spoke with a newspaper reporter and relayed some memories of Fort Whoop-Up:

“I was only a boy then but I remember well the long wagon trains loaded high with goods and supplies. It was a two-week trip for us [from Fort Benton], and we passed through many dangers. I was at the useful stage and knew well how to handle the four-horse team.”

As a youth, he was an eyewitness to the 1870 battle between the Blackfoot and the Cree in what is now Indian Battle Park.

“I had lived there (Fort Whoop-Up) just like a white man, a son of the family of Mr. Healy. I attended the white schools of Montana, and not till years after did the longing come to me to return to Canada to see my remaining relatives and friends.”

Healy lived the latter part of his life on the Blood Reserve. Although he was never an official chief, Joe Healy was one of the great leaders of the Kainai people. He and his wife, Toopikiini (Nostrils), raised 10 children and many of their descendants remain in southern Alberta today.

Your old photos, documents, and artifacts might have historical value. Please contact Galt Museum & Archives for advice before destroying them.

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