In traditional Indigenous communities, music and dance are some of the most important ways to preserve and promote culture and to bring people together. While music and dance that are ceremonial in nature preserve our spirituality, secular songs and dances that appeal to our nature of fun, family, and friendship are the ones that are often the most celebrated and which appeal to the broadest segments of our people.
Contemporary Pow-wows, for example, are important cultural-revivals that present the most colorful aspects of our expression as Indigenous people. They evoke emotional and psychological overtones that go far beyond the pursuit of entertainment and enjoyment, yet at the end of the day they are at the heart of what makes our communities thrive, generation after generation. The same can be said of the traditional jig dancing of the Metis people.
From the earliest times of the Metis ethnogensis, the Metis took part in the traditional Indian dances of their mothers' peoples. But as missionaries began to exert more control over the Metis, participation in such dancing was greatly discouraged as "savage" and improper as the missionaries thought such dancing was tied to pagan ceremonies. However, the social dances of European and French-Canadian origin weren't seen as such by the clergy, so leeway was granted for the Metis to dance these dances and enjoy the music - as long as it wasn't overtly "Indian" in nature. This general prohibition against traditional native dancing and music, while at the same time condoning it in the European-style paved the way for the Metis to create their own dinstinctive dances and music to satisfy their need for Indigenous cultural expression by blending and blurring the lines.
To be certain, the polkas, waltzes, quadrilles, reels, and jigs enjoyed by the Metis were essentially of European derivation with some Metis flair, but the most famous dance of them all - the Red River jig - uniquely featured a combination of Indian dance steps that made it stand out and become immensely popular.
A fascinating explanation for the origins and Indigenous roots of the Red River jig are found in a short description given by Louis Goulet, a Montana Metis, recalling a dance/music session during the late 1800s:
"During the feast there'd be a big singing contest and after that would come the dancing. Talk about every kind of reel and jig you can imagine! Fiddles, drums, accordions, guitars, Jew's harps and mouth organs, anything was fine as long as it went along more or less with the rhythm. At a shindig like that it was always a contest to see who could play the best, who could dance the best, who could sing the best, who could wear through his moccasins first, who'd be the first to cripple up with cramps in the legs.
If the house had a wood floor, it would be creaking under the steady rhythm of dancing feet. If there was no floor, which was usually the case with those winter houses, the bare ground took all the stamping from our moccasins and the spectators were forced out many times in the evening for a breath of air because the dust inside would be suffocating. I often think the Red River Jig was invented one evening like that when sometimes the only instrument was an Indian drum. One night we were all jammed into Omichouche Godin's house in the Judith Basin on the Missouri River. The dance started. There was no wood floor and I don't remember any other instrument than an Indian drum. Some men were sitting on the ground around the drum, pounding away like mad to the rhythm of the Red River Jig while the dancing men and women took turns with wild enthusiasm. Spectators sat on the ground all around the room with their backs to the wall, almost completely invisible because of the dust and pipe smoke. The dancers kept time by clapping and snapping their fingers over their heads, adding an extra touch to the rhythm of their dancing feet. Broken by pauses when we sang, the dancing went on into the wee hours of the morning."
Among the old-time Metis, just about any occasion was right for merry-making. The return to Red River from the annual summer buffalo hunt, New Year's Day, weddings, or just because were regarded as reasons for celebration and dancing. Even today, you cannot attend a Metis event or celebration without at least some jigging happening - usually the Red River jig!
The Rise of the Pembina Band
A general decline in the beaver fur trade between 1805 and 1821 resulted in cultural changes among the Cree, Ojibwe, and Métis populations around Red River settlement. Declining game populations and disenchantment with the state of the fur trade led to greater adoption of the horse and a focus on bison hunting. More and more often, Métis were working in cooperation with their Ojibwa and Cree relatives, and new bands formed which resulted in a blurring of the cultural and kinship divides between these groups.
Because of the declining fur trade, these new multi-ethnic bands made adjustments to their seasonal subsistence patterns to compensate—diversifying their hunting activities and where they chose to live. Rather than return to Red River settlement each year, these groups were more often staying to the west in places like Wood Mountain, Riding Mountain, and the Cypress Hills over the winters. Trapping beaver became less important as the returns from bison hunting were more profitable in terms of valuable pemmican and hides.
Cultural changes began to happen as well, with a blending of designs appearing in clothing, decorative beadwork, and other outward displays of material wealth. In 1820, Peter Fidler noted that many of the people he encountered were starting of decorate themselves in “very flashy” silver ornaments, necklaces made of wampum, arm and wrist bands with gorgets, broaches, and beadwork. More colors were used such as fancy leggings garnished with ribbons and beads, and other garish clothing items were employed to look (at all times) very “tastefully arranged”.
With the merger of the Hudson's Bay and North West Companies in 1821, it was hoped that trade would increase for the new joint company. Unfortunately, new competition from the American Fur Company and independent traders cut into that hope. Many of the multi-ethnic bands took advantage of this and created new economic opportunities for themselves. Pembina became a more important location for both the Ojibwe and Métis, with many making it their new base of operations over Red River settlement. This shift away from Hudson Bay Company was accelerated by a refusal to offer credit and to withhold alcohol and other luxury items from the Indigenous hunters. The closure of some smaller trading posts also served to drive trade westward, and Fort Union became a new focus during the 1830s.
These changes, combined with a rapid growth of the Métis population, led to a shift in the northern Plains power structure during this time. In 1821, there were only about 500 Métis living with their Ojibwe relatives at Pembina, but by 1830 there were over 1,300. This new “Pembina Band” began organizing large-scale bison hunts that set out each summer, and which stayed in the field until autumn. The huge scale of these hunts made this group powerful both economically and militarily. The large size of the main camp made them less vulnerable to enemy attacks, and because of this they could venture farther into Dakota territories to the south and west with little fear of reprisal. By the time of the 1863 Treaty at the Old Crossing, this territory extended to include the entire Red River Valley south to the Sheyenne River, and all of what is now northern North Dakota all the way west to Montana.
While the Pembina Band finally lost prominence due to the forces of colonialism and the disappearance of the bison during the late 1800s, the band was able to rise to become one of the most powerful multi-ethnic groups on the northern Great Plains in less than a century.
For more information, read: Peers, Laura L. (Laura Lynn). 1994. “Ojibwa Of Western Canada, 1780 To 1870.” Manitoba Studies In Native History. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.
WALHALLA (ST. JOSEPH)
A beautifully situated community located in the wooded river valley at the slope of Second Pembina Mountain, Walhalla (or Old St. Joseph) got its start when trader Norman Kittson built a trading post here in 1843 to take advantage of the many Ojibwe and Metis who camped here throughout the year.
Antoine B. Gingras, a half-breed trader, also started a post here in 1843. Later, in 1848, Father George Belcourt established a mission here which was called St. Joseph to work with the 50+ families who made this their regular home. In 1851, additional missionaries arrived, and in 1853 the Pembina Belfry, known as the “Angelus Bell”, was relocated to St. Joseph to officially sanctify the mission. The bell is believed to have been brought from Pembina to St. Joseph by Red River cart.
By 1860 the settlement had become an important fur trading post, with a population of 1,800—mostly Metis half-breeds and Plains Ojibwe. In 1862 a post office was established and it was a burgeoning town with a strong community. However, by 1870, the good furs became scarce in the rivers and streams of the Pembina hills, and the buffalo had virtually disappeared. By 1871, Walhalla was inhabited only by a priest, the U. S. customs inspector, and some 50 Metis people who had settled here (more or less) permanently.
The town revived and was platted in 1877. It was renamed Walhalla by the Icelandic people who were settling in the region. Although most of the Metis inhabitants left the area, some families still remain in the area until today, and each year a festival is held at the Gingras Trading Post State Park.
Originally known as Leroy’s Trading Post, Leroy was established as a Metis community during the 1850s. This post, on the Pembina River, consisted of several households of Metis log cabins scattered in the timber along the river. In 1873, Father LaFlock transferred the Saint Joseph Mission from Walhalla to Leroy to serve the Metis living here, and a post office was established in 1887.
Over the decades, the town lost most of its inhabitants to out-migration and old age. The town is now a ghost town, with no census returns during the 2010 census. However, an interesting legend, or ghost story, does persist for Leroy. A road, known as White Lady Lane, goes through the Tetrault Woods between Leroy and Walahalla. Local legend tells of a young girl who became pregnant out of wedlock. Her religious parents forced her to marry the man against her will, and after the wedding, the baby died. The distraught girl hanged herself from a bridge, and her ghost has been seen hanging from the bridge in her wedding dress. The bridge is located down a narrow road off County 9.
This small town, now nearly a ghost town, Olga was originally known as St. Pierre, due to the mission established by Catholic priest, Cyrille Saint Pierre, who was assigned as postmaster in 1882, but it was shortly thereafter renamed Olga in 1883.
A small Metis community lived at this location, and it was a favorite camping ground for the Plains Ojibwe and Metis. During the 1800s, and a famous battle between the Ojibwe/Metis and Dakota Sioux—the Battle of O’Brien’s Coulee—took place about a mile from Olga in 1848.
WPA Federal Writers Project (1935). North Dakota: A Guide to the Northern Prairie State. Washington: USGPO
Barnes-Williams, Mary Ann (1966). Origins of North Dakota Place Names. Bismarck: Tribune Publishing
By almost any account you read regarding the subsistence of the indigenous people of the prairies, it is indisputable that Pemmican was the favorite food of the Indians and the Metis.
Pemmican can be made from the flesh of any animal, but it was usually made from buffalo meat. The process of making it was to first cut meat into slices, then to dry the meat either by fire or in the sun. Once the meat was dried, it was then pounded into a thick flaky “fluffy” powder. Once rendered down, the meat was put into large bags made from buffalo hides. To this, rendered, melted fat melted fat was poured. The quantity of fat was nearly half the total weight of the finished product, in a portion where for every five pounds of powdered meat, four pounds of fat would be poured. The best pemmican generally saw berries and sugar mixed in for flavor. Once complete, the whole composition formed a solid block that could be cut into portions for later use.
Fish was also used to make pemmican. During sturgeon fishing, much of the sturgeon flesh was cured and stored for later use. This was made by drying and pounding sturgeon flesh into a powder, to which sturgeon oil and berries were added. This mixture was then packed into sturgeon skin bags, and used similar to bison pemmican.
A person could subsist on buffalo (or fish) Pemmican in good times and lean. Pemmican, with its high fat content, provides a high calorie source of energy that is almost unrivaled. Thus, it was an important food throughout the year, but especially in winter because it stayed “fresh” almost forever and could be stored without worry for years without spoiling.
Pemmican could be eaten when other foods were scarce, it could be used to stretch a meal, or it could be eaten on its own just like a block of fatty jerky – a great, portable source of food energy on long hunts or while doing any task where energy was needed. When cooked, Pemmican was easily turned into rubaboo (the most popular method by far) making a delicious stew that could feed an entire camp. Another method was to serve it fried – mixed with a little flour – to create a tasty roux that could be sopped up with bannock bread for a filling meal.
So what does pemmican taste like?' The only way you can describe the taste, is that it tastes 'Like pemmican.' There is nothing else in the world that bears the slightest resemblance. In terms of its quality as a food, it is a ‘super food’.
Tyranny! The Murder of Louis Riel
Kookum, the Medicine Keeper
Before the introduction of modern medicine, the Kookums (Grandmothers) were the traditional keepers of knowledge of herbal plant remedies. They were midwives for the Anishinaabe community and had an understanding of a whole range of medicines that could cure illness that their families might encounter. This knowledge was not exclusive, but was something that was shared between First Nations women and their children, including the Métis.
This is why we must honor our grandmothers and our mothers, for they hold the wisdom and knowledge of generations of mothers and grandmothers before them.
Say Hello to my Little Friend...
Once, a long time ago, a young man lived with his wife and children in a remote area near a large lake. He would go hunting every day and would return with all sorts of game.
During one of his hunting trips, he saw a fat squirrel and shot it with his arrow. As he was going to pick it up, he noticed a small man about two feet tall coming from around a tree. The small man – a memegwesi – said to the hunter, “Beshwaji! I was stalking that squirrel for my prey. You stole it from me, but I do not hold a grudge for that. Nonetheless, could you give it to me so that I might feed my family?” The young hunter agreed, and he and the memegwesi decided to camp together, and they both had a great time sharing stories and boasting about their hunting prowess.
After a successful time hunting, the young man asked the memegwesi if he would like to bring his family and live with him in his lodge. They could be brothers and always hunt together. The memegwesi agreed. The memegwesi had a wife and two young children: one was no bigger than six inches high, the other about one foot high. They came to the lodge of the young hunter and took up house in a corner of it.
Every day the young man and the memegwesi would go out hunting. The young man might kill a deer or a moose, and the memegwesi would kill squirrels and rabbits. They had good luck every day, and when they would go home the memegwesi’s wife would help him bring his squirrel or rabbit inside and would cook it up for him, and the young man’s wife would cook his deer. The memegwesi’s wife would scrape the hides of his small animals and made him wonderful clothing.
This little memegwesi had powers to do certain tricks, and he would entertain his family and the family of his young friend through the long winter nights and he would bring luck to his friend. They were all very happy in their friendship.
One day during a particularly warm spring, just after they had made maple sugar together, the memegwesi told his young friend, “We are leaving now. We have had a good time living with you and thank you for always being my friend. I wish you good luck every day and to be happy all your life.” The memegwesi family gathered up their things and disappeared. Until his dying day, the young hunter and his family always had good luck thanks to his memegwesi friend’s blessings.
The Sweetcorn Treaty of 1858
By Kade Ferris
One of the most reliable sources for defining the territory of the Pembina/Turtle Mountain Ojibwe in what is now North Dakota comes from the 1858 peace agreement, forged between the chiefs and headmen of the band and the Sisseton and Yankton Dakota, called the “Sweet Corn Treaty”. The Sweet Corn Treaty sought to establish peace and to define hunting and territorial boundaries so that there was no cause for warfare and so that resources would be shared without animosity.
The Sweet Corn Treaty was read into various congressional bills throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, and was later used in the official findings of the Indian Claims Commission. The language of the treaty stated:
We, Ojoupay (Sweet Corn, son of Ojoupay), second chief of the Sisseton and Yankton tribes of Dakotas, and Wahnatah (He-who-rushes-on), son of Wahnatah, first chief of the Sisseton and Yankton tribes of Dakotas, do hereby declare that we intend to abide by the articles of the treaty entered into by our fathers, represented by Chief Wahnatah with the Chippewas, represented by Chief Emaydaskah (Flat Mouth) at Prairie du Chine, about thirty-three years ago, by which treaty the boundary line dividing the lands of the two nations (the Chippewas and Dakotas) was established and agreed upon. We further declare that it is within our recollection that after the above treaty was agreed upon the boundary line has ever been known to us and our people to have been as follows: Commencing at the mouth of the River Wahtab, thence ascending its course and running through Lake Wahtab; from thence taking a westerly course and passing through the fork of Sauk River; thence running in a northerly direction through Otter Tail Lake and striking the Red River at the mouth of Buffalo River, thence following the course of the Red River down to the mouth of Goose River, thence ascending the course of Goose River up to its source; then taking the due westerly course and passing through the center of Devils Lake at Poplar Grove; after leaving the lake, continuing its westerly course to Maison du Chine [Dogden Butte]; from thence taking a northwesterly direction to its terminus at a point near the Missouri River within gunshot sound of the Little Knife River." (US Department of Interior 1872).
This general territory was later granted congressional acknowledgement in an April 18, 1876, report of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, which after considering a memorial from the Turtle Mountain Chippewa, reported a bill that authorized the setting aside of a reservation for the Turtle Mountain Band. In its report the committee stated:
The Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa Indians, and their forefathers for many generations, have inhabited and possessed, as fully and completely as any nation of Indians on this continent have ever possessed any region of country all that tract of land lying within the following boundaries, to wit: On the north by the boundary between the United States and the British possessions; on the east by the Red River of the North: on the south their boundary follows Goose River up the Middle Fork; thence up the head of Middle Fork; thence west-northwest to the junction of Beaver Lodge and Shyenne River; thence up Shyenne River to its headwaters; thence northwest to the headwaters of Little Knife River, a tributary of the Missouri River; and thence due north to the boundary between the United States and the British possessions (Indian Claims Commission 23-315).
Just a few years later (September 25, 1880), Superintendent James McLaughlin, agent at the Devils Lake Agency, wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs concerning the plight of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. He reported that white settlers were trespassing on their lands, and recommended that a reservation be set aside for them. Specifically, Agent McLaughlin reported:
Inasmuch as the section of country west of the treaty line of 1863 running from Lake Chicot [Stump Lake] in a line nearly due west by Devils Lake and Dogs Den to the mouth of the Little Knife River on the Missouri, thence north to the "Roche Perce" or Hole in the Rock on the International line, thence east along the International line until its intersection with the treaty line of 1863, which tract is about 80 by 200 in extent, is recognized by all neighboring Indians as belonging to the Pembina and Turtle Mountain Bands of Chippewas, and as the same has never been ceded to the government, and the Indians being desirous to relinquish for a consideration to enable them to commence a life of agriculture, I would respectfully recommend it to the careful consideration of the Department (Indian Claims Commission 72-113).
Each of the points mentioned in the above descriptions correspond to a place of importance and/or settlement associated with the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. For example, Stump Lake was the location of the village of Black Duck (Mug-a-dish-ib), a powerful sub-chief of the Ojibwe; Poplar Grove (Graham’s Island) is the location of the village of Chief Little Shell I and was also the location of a Chippewa village attacked by the Dakota in 1852; Dogden Butte was an important hunting and camping area to the Ojibwe (Indian Claims Commission 23-315).
United States Indian Claims Commission (ICC)
(1970) Before the Indian Claims Commission. Indian Claims Commission Docket 23-315. United States
General Printing Office.
United States Indian Claims Commission (ICC)
(1970) Before the Indian Claims Commission. Indian Claims Commission Docket 72-113. United States
General Printing Office.
US Congress (Department of Interior)
(1872) U.S. Serial Set, Number 4015, 56th Congress, 1st Session, Pages 852 and 853. United States
General Printing Office.
This is NOT an exhaustive list of everyone who was present at the Grand Council of 1892, but is a list of persons present who had both a listed name and an accompanying "Indian name" listed in the minutes. Most of the names are in either Michif or Ojibwe. No translations are provided and the spellings are probably not entirely accurate.
Names from the Minutes of the Grand Council Proceedings of January 29, 1892:
Arkee winini (Alexandre Jeanotte, Sr.)
Kar tah koo zit (Donald Short)
Ping gan (Rimeau Larocque)
Chonz (John Hayes)
Tchee non (Charles Poitra)
Ko tah mash (Modest Poitra)
May zha ke gwan abe (Zachari Poitra)
Knee croph (Joseph Poitra)
Tehee kas son (Henri Poitra)
Oza we dject (Bastien Poitra)
Sharl lens (Charles Poitra)
Lip tchee (Napoleon Poitra)
Ohe zan e ke shiz (Theodore Belgarde)
Omud diz (Maxim Lefort)
Ojib wanice (Galisse St. Arneau)
Mayn se daish kung (Alex St. Arneau)
Ah zhow e ge shig (St. Pierre Laverdure)
Was sarh kaish (Casimere Bouvier)
Pip pee shaish (J. Baptiste Jeanotte)
Tchoo wan do (Jacob Laviollette)
Man ne tous (Albert Laviolette)
Mch quah tiss (Stanislas Goslin)
Osh ke nar wins (Jaspard Jeanotte, Jr.)
Mee shee tay (William John Jeanotte),
Nur bay shish (Pierre Jeanotte)
Nar may we nini (Louis Richard)
Kee yash koo shish (Charles Ross, sr.)
To toosh (William Ross)
Ah zle day aush (Francois Dauiphinais)
Mee gwon (Gaspard Jeanotte, Sr.)
Osh kee now (Leon Jeanotte)
Mish quom meesh (Alexandre Jeanotte, Jr.)
War bish tee gwan (John Frothier)
Ine ne wish (Joseph Morriseau)
Tcheer Kuhk (Joseph Demarais)
In de bay we ne ne (Antoine Gosslin)
Nay tow o say (Jonas Azure)
Obe sane ge shig (Antoine Azure)
Bay bah o nub (Francois Patnaude)
Tay banse gay (Samnion Patnaude)
Mamais se sip (Alexandre Sayers)
Song law (Joseph Sayers)
Wid don (Louis Vallee)
Kill tchee ozhoop (Pierre Thibert)
Kar kar naish (Francios Morin)
Pet tchee ton (Joseph Brazeau)
Pas ko tail (Star McGillis)
Kar kikam mick (Alexander Larocque),
Osh kee now wens (Germeie Ladoux)
Tchee gus toosh (Kilaface Briere)
Ome mee (Antoine Desjarlais)
Tchee kee tam ens (Boniface Parisien)
Kin wah tig gons (Patrick Grandbois)
Andree shish (Andren Morin)
Kih tchee nor bay (Pierre Morin)
Osh kin oway (George Frederick)
Tah ko shish (Joseph Boneau)
Ish quork kee zons (Louis Lenoir)
Nap pah kee tche quonish (Pierre Laverdure)
Ls swis (Gabriel Poitra)
Watch amush (Xavier Thibert)
Ohk kan nish (Jean Baptiste Langan),
See see dje won ( Francios Langan)
Nap pe win (Charles Laviolette)
Tcho pee chee (Oliver Larocque)
Lil ley (James Williams)
Kakinotoop (Frank Demery)
Kay bay o ge mah (Joseph Lafournaise)
Obe quod aince (Patien Lafournaise)
Pah gwav cub (John Azure)
Kin wahte go zee (Isidore Grandbois)
View gar song (Joseph Gladue)
Weeks quoy (Francois Fournier)
Wee we yarn (Norbert Fournier, Jr.)
Boin ace inah (Alexis Malataire)
Mah tchar min (Joeph Azure)
Ke way ke new (Benjamin Azure)
Tehee kee tarn (Ignacieus Parisien)
Sharl gardee (Charles Beston)
Mih tigonish (Laurent Duchien)
Sharl loo (Charle Patenaude)
Nub un ay gar bou (Michel Davis)
Tchee quan (Charles Gladue)
Tche quon ence (Charles Gladue, Sr.)
Pah tee no de we (Corbet Patnaude)
Nud bay shish (Norbert Landry)
Mush kar o say (Alexis Zatste)
Pat tee tit (Jean Baptiste Bercier)
Tchee moy eez (Moise Azure)
Kay kay quosh (Jean Baptiste Martel)
Tchee zanvalee (Jean Baptiste Valley)
Su serde surrett (Gabriel Portra)
War be zee (Frederick Swain)
Cour cur (Joseph Poitra)
Pah dway we dung (Louis Lenoir)
Kih tche inini (Michel Lenoir)
Osh kah way (Abrah Honore)
Pug un auhk (Alexandre Davis)
Karn nar dah (Antoine Unean)
War be zeens (Francis Swain)
Peep pe shaish (Francois Jeanotte)
Ne gon e be nais (James Azure)
Sharl la grace (Charles Page)
Mar pay shish (Jeremie Malaterre)
Fo toosh (Antoine Azure)
Peyay shish (Charles Azure)
Pin dar nash (Francis Honore)
Sharllens (Charles Azure)
Arke wen zee (Louis Decoteau)
Nee kar nis (Moise Wallette)
Me she town ish (Berard Ah gah quaye)
Mih keenoo tens (Francis Mcleod)
Wisarko day inini (Augustin LeFort)
Abrah mish (Abram Boyer)
Barnah bee (Theophil Martin)
Zoo may (Alex Azure)
Pooh yar kar (St. Pierre Gladue)
Annee ko she zam (Corbette Bereier)
Sewonk kon (Jean Louis Fayant)
Mar yarm mons (Louis Lafontain)
Min nah gay (Pierre Lafontain)
Kee tar kiss (William Fayant)
Bon om (Antoine Bouvier)
Par pee tchee (Hernias Demontigny)
Batees shish (Jean B. Valley)
An neep (Louis Decoteau)
Ne mi gwan nis (Zachari Malaterre)
Oke mar shish (Onezin Houle)
Tchee zo zay (Joseph Laverdure)
Tchee William (William Davis)
Tchee Davis (Leandre Davis)
Mung ge sheegan (Jerome Davis)
Sas swain (Henri Poitra),
A Smithsonian Report on the Metis
By Kade Ferris
In a Letter from the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, accompanying the Annual Report of the Board of Regents for the year 1879, a very vivid description of the Metis people was given. This description discussed such issues as the Metis homeland and settlements, the tribes from which the Metis derived their Indian blood and kinship, their housing, mode of dress, the linguistic aspects of the Metis people, and some of the family names of the Metis Nation. A highly detailed document, it provides a very good basis for additional research into the Metis people.
In discussing homeland and community, the document states that the province of Manitoba, extending from the boundary line to Lake Winnipeg, is the great center of the Metis homeland. In this area, strong communities were concentrated around Winnipeg in places such as Fort Garry, St. Boniface, St. Vital, St. Norbert, St. Agatha, St. Anne, St. Charles, and St. Francis Xavier (or Grantstown). The population estimate for the area was place around 6,500 people, with an additional 500 living in various area around the shores of Lake Winnipeg, Lake Manitoba, and in the Rainy Lake district of Ontario.
In the Saskatchewan district, the letter stated that many of the settlements were scattered along the Saskatchewan River, clustering around trading posts, and in Alberta settlements were most numerous along the base of the Rocky Mountains in places such as Fort Edmonton, St. Albert, and St. Anne, with the number residing in that area totaling around 2,500 Metis. At little Slave Lake (and vicinity) an additional 500 Metis were living, and other large concentrations include about 500 souls in the vicinity of Lac Labiche, 300 at Peace River and vicinity, and varying numbers of scattered families ranging as far north as the Great Slave Lake. Other places with concentrations of Metis included Turtle Mountain in what is now North Dakota, Wood Mountains in Saskatchewan, Cypress Hills in Saskatchewan and Alberta, Milk River and French Creek, Montana, and additional groups in British Columbia at the Fraser and Okanagan Rivers, Lakes Kamloops, Babine, and Stuart.
The document estimated that over 33,000 Metis were living in the Canadian northwest. The letter also made a hypothetical guess that if the French-descended families outside the Metis homeland, stated to be “tainted with Indian blood”, residing in places such as eastern Canada, Illinois, and Missouri were included, perhaps an additional 7,000 people might be added to this total.
BLOOD AND KINSHIP
The letter also discussed some of the tribes to which the Metis were related by blood and kinship. These tribes included early admixture with Montagnais, Ottawa, and Huron, with limited mixing with Iroquois and Ottawa tribes. The majority of Metis, it states, derived their bloodlines from the Ojibwe, Cree, and Assiniboine, with minor influence of Dakota Sioux. Those Metis hailing from Saskatchewan were mostly of Cree extraction, Metis hailing from around Pembina, St. Joseph, Winnipeg, Rainy River, the Red River were mainly of Ojibwe and Saulteaux blood, while the Metis of Alberta northward to the Great Slave Lake were exclusively of Cree origin. The Metis who possessed Iroquois blood were small in number and hailed from around Lake Winnipeg and at areas near the Rocky Mountains. Of the other tribal bloodlines, a small proportion of Blackfeet and Montagnais Metis were known to be operating near the base of the Rocky Mountains; the Blackfeet Metis living in the south and the Metis with Montagnais blood living to the north with the Cree derived Metis. Metis with Assiniboine ties were more common in southern Manitoba, and northern North Dakota, and some groups with Ojibwe, Assiniboine, and Dakota Sioux blood were operating in the Red River and Devil’s Lake region of North Dakota. There were some Gros Ventre and Flathead associated Metis in Montana, with some Cree and Ojibwe Metis there as well, mostly in the Milk River region.
HOUSING AND DRESS
In terms of housing, the letter states that the average Metis house—especially those typical along the Red River—were small, one-story log structures with one, sometimes two or three rooms, and very sparsely furnished. In one corner of the principal room, the bed of the heads of the family were usually placed. An open fire-place, constructed to be tall and narrow—so as to accommodate logs placed upright—was along the middle of one of the walls. If possible, a table, dresser, and a few boxes serving duty as storage and as chairs, constituted the furniture. Almost all activities would happen in this room, including eating and sleeping.
In their dress the Metis, it was noted, had a remarkable fondness for finery and gaudy attire. The Manitoba Metis men usually wore a blue overcoat (or capote) with conspicuous brass buttons, black or drab corduroy trousers, and a belt or sash around their waist, with garter leggings and moccasins. Their clothes would usually be variously adorned with colored fringes, scallops, and beads. Younger men might wear leggings made of blue cloth, which would extend to the knee, below which was tied with a gaudy garter with heavy bead work running down the outer seam. The Metis women generally dressed in a black gown with a black shawl thrown over the head, while young girls often wore a colored shawl about their shoulders and a showy bonnet or kerchief upon the head. The women loved the color scarlet and prized gaudy ribbons and jewelry.
It was noted that the Metis generally spoke several languages, including one or more Indian dialects, French-patois, and often English. Most of the Metis residing in the United States could speak and understand English and used it when conversing with white men, but spoke their native language between themselves. Similarly, the Metis at Red River, Saskatchewan, and Milk River settlements, only spoke English when conversing with white men. In terms of Indian languages, the Metis around Rainy River westward spoke mostly Ojibwe, while the further west one went Cree became the language of choice. Many of the Metis in what is now North Dakota could speak Ojibwe, Dakota Sioux, and Cree, while in other places the dialect of the tribe from which they originated was spoke (e.g. Gros Ventre, Assiniboine, etc.) While French is understood by the Metis, the French is a patois that is not comprehensive but contains a large number of peculiar words and expressions grown out of the character of the land they live in, and their mode of life they live. Their pronunciation is generally understood by a Frenchman in spite of its difference, but the French spoke by the white man is not readily understood by the average Metis.
SOME FAMILY NAMES
The names of Metis, it was stated, were primarily derived from the original French Canadian families from the east. Some of the names found around the Lakes in Manitoba included: Bonaventure, Saint-Arnaud, De Montigny, Saint-Cyr, Saint-Germain, La Morandiére, and La Ronde. Farther north, names included: De Mandeville, Saint-George, Laporte, Saint-Luc, Racette, Lépinais, and De Charlais [Desjarlais]. Among the most common family names at Red River were: Boucher, Bourassa, Boyer, Cadotte, Capelette, Carrière, Charette, Delorme, Deschambeau, Dumas, Flamand, Garneau, Gosselin, Grand Bois, Gaudry, Goulet, Hupé, Larocque, Lucier, Lagemodière, Laderoute, Lepuie, Laframbaise, Letendre, Morin, Montreuil, Martel, Normand, Rinville, and Villebrun. Other common names included: Saint-André, Bellanger, Bonneau, Boucher, Baudry, Biron, Chevalier, Cadotte, Chenier, Deschamps, Frichette, Giroux, Gendron, Grondin, Hamelin, Lapierre, Lavallée, Lécuyer, Lévéque, Lusignau, Labutte, Lépine, Mainville, Nolin, Plaute, Pelletier, Perrault, Pilotte, Piquette, Riel, Saintonge, and Thibault. Further west, names like Gregoire, Maison, Lachapelle, Delorme, Vaudal, Lucier, Gervais, and Rondeau could be found. Some Metis names found in Montana included: Asselin, Jaugras, Moriceau, Lade route, Lafontaine, Larose, Lavallée, Poirier, Dupuis, Bisson, Houille, and Carrier. Some of the names found in British Columbia included: Allard, Boucher, Boulanger, Danant, Dionne, Durocher, Falandeau, Gagnou, Giraud, Lacroix, Lafleur, Napoleon, Perault. Some of the names that began with the “La” possibly originated in the wilderness and were not necessarily derived from white fathers. Other names could be found, and any of these names listed above, and others, could be found in and among all Metis communities. Some Scottish and English names were also present, but these are not listed.
In terms of work, the Metis could be found in a variety of positions working at trading posts as porters, laborers, and other positions. Many moved goods from place to place in their carts, and some were boatmen. Trading establishments also hired Metis men to serve as trappers and hunters to supply the posts with goods to sell and trade. Estimates are that about 25 percent of Metis were employed this way. Others served as guides and interpreters. The vast majority are hunters who are dependent on the buffalo and work the hide and pemmican trade. Their women are expert in tanning hides and robes. It is said that their bead-work was outstanding and they were very skillful in the ornamentation of furs and buckskin.
REFERENCE: Annual Report of the Board of Regions for the year 1879, Smithsonian Institute, Washington: Smithsonian Institute.
Kade M. Ferris, MSc