Here, in 2018, we listen to politicians and media discussions about immigration often taking place using less than flattering words. This is nothing new, as racist points of view about immigration have been part of the American discourse for centuries. However, the discussion rarely includes indigenous people from Canada, such as the Metis, who made their homeland on the prairies of what is now Manitoba, North Dakota, Minnesota, and other border states and provinces before Canada and the United States had developed the international boundary.
This 1953 article discusses the historical Metis disregard for the boundary in the framework of the (then) present-day discussion on border security, using racist terms and a colonial disregard for Indigenous rights.
Minneapolis Star (September 1, 1953. p. 12)
Upper Midwest Had ‘Wetbacks’ Too
Red River half-breeds came down from Canada to hunt the buffalo more than a century ago.
By Jay Edgerton of the Star editorial page staff
Illegal entry of the United States, dramatized today in the "wetback" border troubles, of the southwestern states, is nothing new in the nation's history. More than 100 years ago the part of the, Upper Midwest that became Minnesota, North and South Dakota was having pioneer "wetback" trouble from Canada. Troops were sent to the border several times but then, as now, officialdom was none too successful in stopping the illicit traffic. Minnesota's original "wetbacks" were the Bois Brules, or Red River half-breeds, who swarmed down out of Canada twice each year in the early part of the nineteenth century to hunt the buffalo on the teeming prairies of what is now Minnesota and the Dakotas. Although the country was unsettled and still beyond the frontier the United States had many reasons for opposing the Canadian half-breed forays, chief among them being that it brought trouble with the Indians, particularly the Sioux.
In the summer of 1844 a large party of Red River Metis ran into a war party of Yankton Sioux. One half-breed was killed. The Canadians fought back, killing eight Indians. This brought on "Indian trouble." The Sioux went on the warpath and promptly attacked an American party they met near Otter Tail Lake. All through the I840s the Red River half breeds were a major frontier problem. Their buffalo hunts were the biggest ever seen. In 1840 more than 1,600 half-breeds went out to hunt on the Red River prairies. More than 20,000 buffalo were killed.
To the half-breeds and to the buffalo there was no such thing as an international boundary. The, buffalo wandered where they willed and the Red River men saw no reason why they couldn't kill them where they found them. To the Red River men, and also to the Indians, the buffalo was a way of life. The buffalo was food, clothing and shelter. Anything that interfered with good buffalo hunting was a matter of life and death, both to the tribes and to the half-breeds.
In those days there were no elaborate immigration restrictions such as those governing the Mexican “wetbacks”' today. But the military authorities at Fort Snelling did have laws they could work with such as the one John Jacob Astor, head of the American Fur Company, had gotten through congress in 1816.
This prohibited trading with American Indians by anyone not an American citizen. As most of the Canadian forays involved some contact with the American tribes frequently with “swaps” and sales of Canadian goods the army had legal authority to go after the half-breeds. The first military expedition against the Red River raiders came in 1845. Two companies of the First Dragoons (mounted infantry) were sent north from Fort Atkinson, Iowa territory. They discovered they were able to get promises from Canadians to stay off American soil, but once the troops were withdrawn the Red River me went speedily back to the buffalo chase.
In 1849, the war department ordered another military expedition to the Red River country. This was organized at Fort Snelling, and was commanded Brevet Major Samuel Woods, a captain of the sixth infantry, and included a company of dragoons. It marched all the way to Pembina, then a fur trading post and a motley collection of Indian lodges.
Despite all threats and shows of force, the “wetback” buffalo-hunters continued invading the United States annually until the extinction of the buffalo. Even today legal red-tape at the boundary is largely meaningless to the Indians and half-breeds of the Minnesota and North Dakota boundary country. They know it as “the line”, but to them—as Joseph Kinsey Howard reported in his book on the Metis, “Strange Empire”—it is merely a nuisance.
Source: Minneapolis Star. September 1, 1953 (page 12 of 42). (1953, Sep 01). Minneapolis Star (1947-1982)
In 1906, Congress passed an Act (amended in 1907), authorizing mixed-blood Indians on White Earth Reservation, Minnesota, to sell the lands which the Government had previously allotted to them. Many of the mixed-bloods sold all or part of their allotments since the passage of the act. However, in time, the Government suspected that in the sale of certain lands fraud had been committed intentionally by the original white purchaser, the mixed-blood seller, or both.
In 1910, the US Justice Department began to bring suits against the present white owners of more than 1,300 pieces of such land—whether or not the present owners were the original purchasers who bought the land from the mixed-blood allottees.
Both the Government and the defendants in these suits spent significant time and resources trying to ascertain the facts as to the blood status of the original White Earth members who sold their land as mixed-bloods. The method that was normally used was to take testimony from the mixed-bloods, incorporating such “evidence” as physical appearance, genealogy, and family ‘reputation’ as it related to their genealogy and blood status. Despite the evidence collected, which usually weighed in favor of the mixed-blood and against the defendants, additional information was sought to protect the claims of the white men who bought the land. Thus, the defendants then sought to determine the blood status of the mixed-bloods by using atavistic anthropometric methods.
In 1914, Albert Jenks of the University of Minnesota, was called upon to provide an “expert” opinion on behalf of the defendants. His work sought to try to determine blood status/blood degree using eugenic and atavistic “scientific” methods that were popularized by Samuel Morton (and others) to try to determine the face-breadth head-breadth index of a sampling of mixed-bloods from Red Lake, Bois Fort/Nett Lake, Mille Lacs, Cass Lake, Leech Lake, Lake Winnibegoshish, and Bowstring Lake, Minnesota, and from the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, to see if this index could be introduced as a means of determining the blood status, or blood-quantum of mixed-blood Indians.
Jenks conducted his research at White Earth in 1914, before moving on to Bois Fort and Nett Lake over the winter of 1914-1915, Minnesota. The remainder of his work was performed over 1915-1916. His work included measuring the head breadth and length, face breadth and height, nasal breadth and length, color of eyes, skin and hair, texture and quantity of hair, and nature of incisor teeth.
His work is typical of the various methods used by the Government and others to try to separate, classify, and eventually destroy tribal communities in America and was one of the many tools used to justify the use of blood quantum as a means of restricting, erasing and eliminating Indigenous people in America.
Jenks, A. (1916) Indian-white Amalgamation: an Anthropometric Study by Albert Ernest jenks, Ph.D. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.
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
The name Pembina comes from the Michif word “lii paabinaan” (drawn from the Ojibwe word “aniibimin”) for the highbush cranberries that lend their flaming color to the nearby woods in autumn.
The community traces its beginnings to about 1797 when Charles Chaboillez, of the North West Fur Company, established a temporary wintering fur trading post at the confluence of the Pembina and Red Rivers. Shortly afterward the Hudson's Bay Company opened a post here, under the operation of Alexander Henry, in 1800, and the X Y Company also established several posts in this area. The three companies competed heavily for the majority of trade with the half-breed Metis and the Ojibwe who frequented the area, providing cheap trade goods and rum.
In 1812, about 227 Scotch and Swiss colonists were brought to Pembina by William Douglas, the Earl of Selkirk, under an agreement with Hudson's Bay Company to settle and farm the area, as Pembina was under British control until 1818, when the international boundary placed it under the control of the United States.
Throughout the early and middle part of the nineteenth century Pembina was the one of the main rendezvous for Metis and Plains Ojibwe hunters, and the town was the starting point for the great Pembina buffalo hunts. Stories abound about the massive hunts that left Pembina, often taking in millions of pounds of pemmican and furs in a single season before returning to trade them back. Hundreds of Metis maintained residence at Pembina, and the surrounding area, using it as their main wintering place.
Although a church and a school were started at Pembina early in the 1800s, the community made little progress until 1843 when Norman Kittson, of the American Fur Company, established a large trading store that he kept stocked with goods of all kinds, brought up from St. Paul. His business thrived as it served as a middle-man hub where he would buy furs in bulk and have them shipped to St. Paul by Red River cart. The carts would, in turn, haul valuable goods back to Pembina for trade with the half-breeds and Indians. Kittson also served as postmaster, creating an avenue for communication with the outside world.
As the fur trade dwindled down during the 1860s, the place became less important and many of the half-breeds and Ojibwe began to filter west towards Turtle Mountain and the western Plains. After the signing of the 1863 Old Crossing Treaty, white farmers began to stake claims in the region. Pembina was finally incorporated as a city in 1885, and the traditional indigenous owners of the land eventually abandoned the area, with the exception of a few Metis families who took homesteads and remained. Their descendants can still be found in Pembina and many of the surrounding communities to this day.
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
In 1909, cowboy and countryman Randall Kemp wrote a detailed description of a “half-breed” dance that he witnessed years earlier on the Colville Reservation in Washington state. An interesting description, this account shows the distant reach of Metis culture far to the west of the original prairie origins. A summary of his account is as follows:
The desire to attend a dance of this description had been uppermost with me for a long time. I longed to take it all in, write it up and allow the readers of some widely circulated journal to know just how it was in reality. It was the month of July that a companion and myself were camped at Okanogan Smith's ranch…
A messenger arrived at the ranch and brings the welcome tidings that the dance, a surprise party would go on. Everybody was invited, a splendid time was expected and if we desired to enjoy the fun all we had to do was saddle our horses, mount and go. It scarcely appeared an instant until we were on our way, bounding over the prairie-like river bottom toward the scene of the festivities.
I had ridden fifty miles that day to see what was to be seen and was determined to take it all in. In due time we arrived at the Ingraham ranch, dismounted and, after promising each other to say nothing to our families about our interests in the affair, we were ushered into the room where the company were assembled."
"It appears at this time almost impossible to describe the scene that met our eyes. A low room about twenty feet square, around the sides of which were rough benches on which sat persons of the different sexes, of, it appeared to me, every shade imaginable, from the pure white man and woman to the blackest Indian, interspersed with mixed blood of all shades of copper. All ages, too, were represented. The room was a perfect babel of sounds. Some were conversing in English, some in the Indian tongue, others were carrying on their conversations in Chinook, and in one corner two Chinamen, who had come down from Rock creek, were having a war of words, apparently, in their native language.
Sitting on a chair placed on the top of a common table in another corner was a bald-headed man busily engaged in tuning an antiquated looking fiddle. "Hudson's Bay," remarked my companion, pointing toward the musician. I did not know at this time the meaning of these two words in that connection, but afterward I thoroughly understood the meaning of Hudson's Bay fiddler, and, if the reader is patient, will endeavor to describe this backwoods disciple of Paganini. A Hudson's Bay fiddler is one of the old fur company's employees with a taste for music which is only brought to the surface by an energetic use of the bow. They are as necessary adjuncts to a half-breed dance as the half-breeds themselves. They can generally play but imperfectly a few old-style tunes. If a string on the instrument breaks, and there is not another within 100 miles, does the dance cease on account of the lack of music? No! Mr. Hudson's Bay fastens on a tow string, a piece of barb wire from the nearest fence, anything that will make a noise when stretched, and the fun goes on.
"Take your pardners for a quadrille," yelled old Hudson's Bay, as he drew the bow across the tightened strings of the fiddle, which appeared to be tuned to his satisfaction. Instantly the hum of voices ceased, and there was a hurrying of feet on the puncheon floor. The first thing that I knew I was bowing and extending my left arm to the first purely Native American lady I saw. There was no need of introduction. She accepted me as a partner, and we took our places in one of the sets that were forming. "All ready," shouted old Hudson's Bay as he tucked the fiddle under his chin. "Jeemeny whiz! Here's room for another". A young fellow took a plaited rawhide rope from his belt, and dexterously lassoed a comely looking half-breed girl at the other side of the room and brought her to him by pulling the lariat hand over hand. Thus we were standing in waiting for the dance to go on. I turned to my lady so as to carefully study her features as well as make-up, but was startled by the hoarse voice of old Hudson's Bay with the request to "say-loot your pardners. On With the Dance”. Then the dance commenced in real earnest.
I do not know the name of the tune that old Hudson's Bay ground out of the fiddle, and I was too modest to inquire. What it lacked in melody was made up in energy and vim by the dancers. The rubber soles of Mr. Pete's rubber boots touched the ceiling at times, while the clatter of Mr. Sam's hob-nailed underpinning was not much unlike the thumping of stamps in a quartz mill. The ladies, with their moccasined feet, skipped nimbly about, while I, in the excitement occasioned by the newness of everything, soon noticed that I had neglected to remove the heavy pair of Mexican spurs from my top riding boots."
Kemp, Randall H. (1909) A Half Breed Dance and Other Far West Stories: Mining Camp, Indian and Hudson Bay Tales Based on the Experiences of the Author. Spokane: Inland Printing.
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 tradition 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.
Annual Report of the Board of Regions for the year 1879, Smithsonian Institute, Washington: Smithsonian Institute.
During the latter part of July, 1870, a contingent of soldiers under the command of Major C.J. Dickey, of the 22nd U.S. Infantry, was accompanying a paymaster between Fort Buford and Fort Stevenson, in what is now North Dakota.
About twenty soldiers were in the contingent. On their first day of travel, they camped near a stream called ‘Rising Waters’, about twenty-five miles upriver from Ft. Berthold. While there they were met by two half-breed mail carriers—Scotty Richmond and George Keplin—who usually transported the mail between the various forts along the Missouri. These men were considered quite fearless in their jobs because they were from the region and knew most of the local tribes quite well. Keplin himself was quite a character. He was born the son of one of the original Scotch founders of the Selkirk and a Cree woman. He was reputed to speak Cree, Ojibwe, Dakota, Mandan, and many other tribal languages. Because of this, Keplin was considered one of the most trustworthy mail carrier's on the northern plains.
Just around noon, the soldiers spotted three Indians coming over the bluffs from the direction of the Fort Berthold agency. They were mounted and riding at full speed. Not knowing what to make of this, the soldiers mounted their horses, but upon seeing this the Indians quickly turned down a draw and hid themselves in a wooded area. Major Dickey sent a few men, accompanied by Kelpin, to investigate. Keplin was to serve as interpreter. Unfortunately, Keplin and Scotty Richmond has spent most of the night and part of the morning drinking whiskey. Keplin and was heavily under the influence and instead of staying with the soldiers, he fool heartedly rushed ahead and reached the tree-line.
One of the Sioux men stepped forward and Keplin yelled to him in Dakota, “Who are you?” The man looked at Keplin and said, “I am Bad Hand of the Sissetonwan”. He turned and motioned to his friends standing behind him in the trees and continued, “These men are my friends. I see that you are with some white soldiers. This is good because my people are friends with the whites.” Wobbly in his saddle, Keplin stared at Bad Hand, who continued speaking, “Why do you and the soldiers chase us? We have done nothing wrong.” With the whiskey talking, Keplin called out, “I have come to fight you!”
Bad Hand didn’t seemed upset by this, instead he simply raised his gun and said, “Then fight it is.” With that, Bad Hand pulled the trigger and shot Keplin straight off of his horse—dead. Bad Hand then ran forward, grabbed Keplin’s gun and belt of cartridges, and ran back to the shelter of the grove. Just arriving, the soldiers took up positions and surrounded the grove of trees.
Almost as if by some twist of fate, a party of Mandan and Hidatsa came riding over the hill. They had been in pursuit of Bad Hand and his companions. Once they arrived they informed the soldiers that they were following the Sioux, seeking vengeance for killing some of the people at Ft. Berthold and stealing some horses. The Mandan and Hidatsa also took up positions around the trees and their leader, Poor Wolf, shouted to the Sioux: “We have come to kill you, Bad Hand. You killed our people and you stole from us. You do not deserve to live. Prepare to die!” Upon this, the Mandan and Hidatsa warriors began firing into the trees.
After a few volleys had been fire, Bad Hand spoke up from the tree cover: “You will kill us because you are hundreds in number, and we are few. My friend is dying, but I refuse to die without taking one of you with me to the spirit lands.” It was finally decided that one of the Mandan warriors would walk out into the open to draw the fire of the Sioux. In this way they could see exactly where they were hiding and put an end to them once and for all.
A young Mandan warrior volunteered for this task. He was given various charms, smudged by one of the older warriors, and they sang a song together before he walked out to his suicide task. Striking up his courage, the young warrior walked bravely out and was almost immediately shot. In response, about 200 shots were rained down on the spot where the killing shot came. Bad Hand was no more. The body of Band Hand and another of his companions were then scalped. Bad Hand’s head was cut entirely off as a war trophy. One of the Hidatsa warriors noted that they only had two bodies here, but they had been chasing three men. They searched the area, but no trace of the third man was found.
About three days later, a young Dakota lad arrived exhausted at Fort Buford. He was briefly detained by the soldiers, but he escaped in the middle of the night, never to be seen again.
Taylor, J. H. (1897). Sketches of frontier and Indian life on the upper Missouri and Great Plains: Embracing the authors personal recollections of noted frontier characters and some observations of wild Indian life during a twenty-five years residence in the two Dakotas. Bismarck, ND: Self Published.
The Report of the Commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police Force for 1895 discusses a few Metis communities that were being visited by police, who made notes on their observations of these places and the people who lived in them. Notes about each place are provided below:
“There are a few [half-breeds] at Fort Pelly and the vicinity, who have a few cattle, but depend chiefly on freighting for the traders for a living. The corporal at Pelly reports: “I cannot say much for them, they seem to be responsible for giving liquor to Indians.”
“There are but a few families of half-breeds here, who give no trouble.”
“The half-breeds are few in this district and are chiefly located in the Qu’Appelle Valley.”
“[The half-breeds are]… very quiet and well behaved.”
“Very little relief has been given to half-breeds during the past year. It is very probable though that the coming winter may discover, through calls for government aid, many cases of destitution, due to entire failure of crops.”
“In the Egg Lake district there are ten families of half-breeds, two families having left the district since last year, and gone north where game is more plentiful.”
Moose, Long, and Frog Lakes
“At these places there are about 150 Indians and Half-breeds who make their living principally by the chase. Quite a number of them have a few head of cattle and put in small gardens of potatoes, which turned out very well this year ; this with the supply of fish taken from the lakes enable them to make a fair living. Their hunt during the past year proved very successful, besides, a trader named Laboucane, from near Victoria, has come to reside amongst them, and they are enabled to get goods much cheaper than heretofore.”
“One or two new families have arrived. They [the half-breeds] have been very orderly throughout the year, giving no trouble at all. Very few cases of destitution have been brought to my notice. Nearly all the half-breeds work hard and do their utmost to earn their living and support their families respectably. They have dug and sold 21,000 pounds Seneca roots, at 18 cents per pound. It may be, should the winter be a severe one, that demands for aid in the shape of food will be forthcoming.”
“From Turtle Lake only a cart trail for about 12 miles, then bridle path went through heavy timber and muskegs. There is a small half-breed settlement here.”
Lac Ste Anne
“[There is a] H.B.C. Post; large half-breed settlement: R.C.mission and buildings; police station; post office.”
“Flourishing settlement of French and Americans and few Belgians and half-breeds; post office and police station.”
“Half-breed settlement, near Buffalo Lake; post office, police station; few white settlers.”
“Stopping place; half-breed settlement.”
Other communities mentioned in text, but not expounded upon included Athabasca Landing and Victoria.
Report of the Commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police Force. (1895). Ottawa, ON: Queens Printer.
Yesterday (November 10, 2018) the Metis National Council passed a resolution designating a large swath of land encompassing Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, parts of Ontario, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, and portions of northern North Dakota, Montana, and northwestern Minnesota as part of the official Metis Nation Homeland. The designation of this homeland has caused some consternation because some people see this as overlapping the homelands and territories of other indigenous groups, such as the Cree, Assiniboine, Blackfeet, Blood, and Ojibwe peoples. While there concerns might seem grounded in concerns over land rights and other issues, history shows that the Metis National Council is 100-percent correct in their determination of their territory based on one, little known fact that saw the historical Metis Nation working and living across this area for over 200 years: the Iron Confederacy.
The Iron Confederacy (or Nehiyaw-Pwat) was a political and military alliance of many bands of Plains Indians and Metis who thrived in what is now Western Canada and the northern United States starting around the 1740s and lasting until the defeat of the Metis and Cree at Batoché in 1885.
The Confederacy rose to predominance during the height of the fur trade when the various bands of Cree, Ojibwe, Assiniboine, and Metis operated as middlemen and suppliers to the European traders. By working together, the bands could effectively control the flow of European goods and were able to expand their territories and economic position relative to other native nations, such as the Blackfeet and the Missouri River tribes. The Confederacy also played a large role in the formation of the Metis Nation, as many of the women from the various Indian bands would marry with European traders from the Hudson's Bay Company and North West Company. The children of these unions strengthened the Iron Confederacy and created even more fluidity between the bands—helping the Confederacy dominate the bison and pemmican trade during the early and middle parts of the 19th century.
The confederacy included various individual bands that allied together against common enemies and for mutual benefit during the hunting season. The bands would switch alliances quite often, perhaps hunting with groups in the west one season, and allying with other groups in another area the next. Bands that were part of the confederacy included the Pembina Band, Little Shell Band, Turtle Mountain Band, St. Francois Xavier Saulteaux/Metis, Nakawiniul (Wilkie’s) Band, Big Bear’s Band, Poundmaker’s Band, Crazy Bear Band, Canoe Band of Nakota, Four Claws (Gordon) Band, Nekaneet Band, Carry the Kettle Band, Rocky Boy’s Band, Montana Band, Muscowequan Band, Beardy’s Band, One Arrow’s Band, Carlton Stragglers Band, Petaquakey Band of Muskeg Lake, Dumont’s Band, Big Bear’s Band, Red Stone Band, Maski Pitonew Band, Piche (Bobtail) Band, Moose Mountain group of White Bear Band, Striped Blanket Band, Prison Drum Band, Crooked Lakes group of Cowessess Band, Ochapowace Band, Pasqua Band, Kahkewistahow Band, and Sakimay Band. These bands ranged from what is now eastern Manitoba through much of the northern United States (North Dakota and Montana), Saskatchewan, and Alberta – reflected in the recent map showing the Metis Nation homeland.
The decline of the fur trade and the collapse of the bison herds caused a decline in the power of the confederacy after the 1860s, but the alliance was not forgotten during the 1885 Metis uprising in Saskatchewan, when they heeded Gabriel Dumont’s call to participate in the fight against the Canadian government. Unfortunately, after the battle of Batoché the bands scattered to various areas where they were placed on reserves or settled into other communities.
Enculturation is the social and psychological process by which individuals learn about and relate to their traditional ethnic culture and identity. Enculturation is generally a lifelong learning experience in which cultural consciousness develops. However, it is, in many ways, a state of being rather than a process. Enculturation is measured by the extent to which individuals identify with their ethnic culture, feel a sense of pride in their cultural heritage, and participate in traditional cultural activities within their physical community. Enculturation is a more relevant measure of a person’s attachment to a culture and a community than ethnic identity. This is because enculturation requires ongoing processes that develop over time through factors such as kinship, learning and understanding norms and taboos, and from otherwise absorbing culture through deep connections. Ethnic identity, on the other hand, is a construct that may not necessarily include actual participation in culturally relevant activities or a connection to one's cultural heritage – such as a person who is more or less assimilated into general western society feeling a sense of ethnic pride in their French or Ukrainian heritage, even though they have no significant connection to these cultures or communities. Enculturation is especially important for indigenous people because of the numerous efforts to systematically and forcibly assimilate them or destroy their cultural processes throughout history (e.g. residential schools, relocation efforts, etc.). Other factors that have served to several the enculturation process include out marriage, purposeful assimilation, and adoptions.
It is important to note that enculturation is the primary psychologically factor in ethnic identity. Race, or simply having a measure of ‘blood’, while superficially important is an often a meaningless factor in comparison to enculturation. This is because simply having DNA – or possessing a measure of genetic ancestry – cannot make a person something that they are culturally not. A person who has lived their entire life as a Euro person has been enculturated into that identity. If they happen to find an ethnic anomaly in their family tree, or if they take a DNA test and find they have 4% Native DNA, this fact does not suddenly make them part of that culture. They might be able to add that found fact into their overall ethnic identity (i.e. their self-identified ethnic background), but without long-term connections to the culture, community, and other integral factors that normally come from natural enculturation it is illogical to make the broad claim to being a representative of that culture/ethnic community. A case in point is the admission of a self-proclaimed “Acadian Metis” elder, who stated in an interview that they had lived for decades identifying as French Acadian, but who learned through genealogical research that they had a long ago ancestor who was indigenous. When asked when they started to identify as Metis, this individual stated that they found out, “After I started doing research on it…That was just before I retired as I had more time”.
Can a person who spent (perhaps) 60+ years living as a European ever truly be part of, or have a valid claim to indigenous identity? Would a person who found out their distant ancestor was from Germany ever be able to be a German? It doesn’t seem possible given our understanding of the enculturation process – something that takes a lifetime and which is an ongoing process. That individual would have missed the cultural morals taught in childhood; could not have learned the social rituals that are acquired during adolescence; would lack the understanding of the ceremonies, beliefs, methods of social interactions, and (in essence) would operate like a floundering child within that culture and would never be accepted as a fully-actualized member of that culture and ethnic group.
The attempts to reconstruct the “eastern Metis” as a cultural community seems doomed to failure. Without an extant historical or contemporary cultural community, there can never be a functional constitution of a group that would ever be seen as a Nation or a people by an objective observer. This doesn’t mean that people who find out later in life that they have an indigenous ancestor should not be proud of that fact: they should. However, they cannot expect other indigenous people to welcome them with open arms, as their attempts at self-indigenization will almost certainly be viewed as illegitimate – because they lack the true indigenous ethnic experience that takes a lifetime to acquire. Attempts to make such claims cannot be expected to be left unopposed, as it is tantamount to cultural appropriation…or better yet enculturation appropriation.