Joseph Lafournaise was born in 1826 in the vicinity of what is now the Fond du Lac Ojibwe Reservation near Duluth, Minnesota, to North West Company voyageur Joseph Lafournaise dit Laboucane and Susanne Leclair (or Leclerc), daughter of an unnamed Leclerc and an unnamed Tsuutʼina (Sarcee) Indian woman from Alberta. He married Suzanne Vallee (b. 1833), daughter of Louis Vallee and Louise Martel, in 1852 at Pembina, Dakota territory.
Joseph spent much of his life hunting on the prairies and living between Pembina and Wood Mountain. He was reputed to have taken part in the 1851 Battle at the Grand Coteau as part of the Pembina contingent. He rarely showed up on any censuses, but was witness to various births, baptisms, and burials at places like Pembina, St. Joseph, Labret, Qu’Appelle, and St. John (ND). He himself was not known to be very religious, as he avoided confirmation into the Catholic church until 1872, when he was 46 years old and living at Wood Mountain.
He had a half-breed scrip application in 1885, but it was disallowed due to his status as a US Indian. Nonetheless, he and his wife Suzanne participated in the 1885 Metis Resistance and are listed among resistance families. Following the resistance, he and Suzanne returned south of the medicine line and were enumerated in the census in 1885 at Turtle Mountain Reservation.
At Turtle Mountain, Joseph became active in tribal politics, serving as a leader for the half-breed community and pledging his allegiance to principal chief Little Shell. In 1887, while in the midst of a mass starvation due to a severe winter, the county sought to levy taxes on half-breeds living outside of the reservation. Little Shell wrote letters to known Indian sympathizers, and in a letter dated February 24, to Dr. G. W. McConnell, a pro-Indian lobbyist in Washington, Little Shell told that the off reservation Indians were being provoked, and complained that the taxes implemented by the county were “unfair.” The signatures on the letter to McConnell identify the highest-ranking council members, including Little Shell, Jean Baptiste Lenoir, Francois Dauphinais, Francois St. Germain, Joseph Bomcaux, Antoine Brien, Joseph Lafournaise, and Pierre Grant.
During the McCumber Agreement, Joseph was part of the deliberations and was a participant in the Grand Council of January 29, 1892. He was enumerated under his “Indian name”, Kay-bay-ogemah (Everlasting Chief).
Joseph passed away in 1920, but his and Suzanne’s many descendants can still be found among the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe community.