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)
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities