RCMP Report on Metis in the Northwest, 1885
An 1885 report by the RCMP discussed the conditions of the Metis in the northwest of Canada, and listed 34 communities with considerable Metis populations that were monitored. These communities included:
Report of the Commissioner of the North-west Mounted Police Force North-west Mounted Police Force (Canada), Printed by Order of Parliament, 1885, McMillan, Rogers, and Wellington, Ottawa.
Jesse Donovan. February 20, 2018
Indigenous peoples have found themselves under a constant state of siege since European contact. Land, resources, children, language, and culture- nothing has been off limits to thieving colonial hands. Now, Indigenous identity itself is the target of settler encroachment. Usurpation of Indigenous identity has reached epidemic proportions.
In an alarming new research paper, titled “White Settler Revisionism and Making Métis Everywhere”, Gaudry and Leroux describe the tendency for Canadians to identify as Indigenous based on distant ancestors uncovered through genealogical records. This process, which disregards kinship and the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples is referred to as ‘settler self-Indigenization’. The authors also identify several self-identified “Métis” organizations which have sprung up in areas where no Métis communities were historically present. These organizations have replicated colonialism by advocating publicly against the rights and interests of local Indigenous peoples.
Settler appropriation of Indigenous identity is hardly a new phenomenon. Archibald Belaney immigrated to Canada in 1906 and fraudulently manufactured an Indigenous identity. He became known as Grey Owl and was widely praised for his conservationist efforts. His reputation was tarnished after his death when it was revealed that he was not in fact Indigenous. Belaney was the product of a country which simultaneously glorified and violently suppressed Indigenous culture.
Belaney’s identity crisis was the result of an eccentric infatuation with Indigenous peoples. The rampant white settler revisionism occurring today, however, is the result of something decidedly more sinister. Organizations which appropriate Indigenous identities have proliferated across the country. These organizations, many of which charge exorbitant membership fees, are not designed to facilitate reconciliation. Rather, they are designed to enable mass usurpation of Indigenous identity.
The Mikinak “Tribe” is perhaps the most glaring example of this phenomenon. Comprised primarily of French-Canadians, members of this colonial construction need only show that they have some form of Indigenous ancestry. The organization caused friction with nearby Indigenous communities by threatening to erect blockades until Costco was persuaded to offer tax breaks to members.
The Métis Nation, in particular, has found itself assailed by rampant settler self-Indigenization. The 2016 census revealed explosive growth in the self-identified Métis population. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick witnessed 900 and 450 percent growth rates in the number of self-identified Métis people. These demographically impossible growth rates reveal that Métis identity is being appropriated on an industrial scale. Much of the confusion stems from organizations which promote loose conceptions of Métis identity. The Métis Federation of Canada (MFC), for example, does not require prospective members to demonstrate any form of Métis ancestry. In doing so, the MFC dismisses the unique historical process through which Métis Nation arose. MFC and similar organizations denigrate Métis peoplehood which arose in the Métis homeland.
Indigenous identities are being treated as fungible commodities to be consumed at the whim of curious settlers. Newly minted organizations are facilitating this practice. The process of settler self-indigenization underpins this noxious movement. The membership systems and criteria put in place by Indigenous communities represent legitimate exercises of political autonomy. Respecting this autonomy is essential in order to stop settler self-indigenization in its tracks.
A Statement to the Committee on Indian Affairs 1942
A Statement by Ms. Jeanette Rankin, a Congressional Representative from Montana, to the US Congress on February 23, 1942, sought answers to the problem of “Landless Indians” in Montana. In her address to congress, Ms. Rankin states:
“Throughout the country, there is a sizable group of people biologically of the Indian race for whom the Federal Government, through its Indian Service, has never assumed definite responsibility. Many of these, particularly those in the eastern part of the United States, are definitely affiliated with tribal groups. There are others who are not officially affiliated with any recognized tribe or band and have been known as unenrolled Indians. In the State of Montana, the problem of these unenrolled Indians has become acute. They possess no land and have few resources of any kind. Because they are considered Indians, they are often unable to avail themselves of relief and other forms of assistance provided by the local county or State governments. The history of the legal status of the landless unenrolled Indians in the State of Montana and their claims for assistance upon the Federal Government are diverse.
There are at least two groups who recognize separate leadership.
On January 18, 1940, Raymond Gray as chairman and Rose Gray as secretary of one of these groups, known as Montana landless Indians, submitted to the Secretary of the Interior a petition of approximately 600 names of Indians who claim to be of one-half or more Indian blood. These people reside in the State of Montana but have never acquired Indian rights or been enrolled on en Indian reservation. The purpose of this petition was to seek enrollment under section 19 of the Indian Reorganization Act. (This act authorizes the enrollment by the Indian Office of Indians of one-half or more Indian blood who are not affiliated with any recognized tribe or band.) There is another group centered about Malta, which recognizes another leadership. A delegation from this group has visited the Indian Office and interviewed members of Congress to solicit aid in the purchase of lands for their benefit. This group has been sponsored by Mrs. D. M. Phillips. Mr. Phillips owns ranch properties in this area which have been offered for sale to the Indian Service for the use of these Indians.”
"From these various estimates, it would be conservative to place the number of unenrolled landless Indians in the State of Montana as between 2,600 and 3,000 Individuals, or between 500 and 600 families. They are distributed geographically as follows:
"The outlook of these Indians generally offers difficult problems. As an underprivileged group, accustomed to the lowest standards of living and bred in an atmosphere of governmental indifference, they will require more than the gift of land to propel them toward industry and social responsibility.
Many factors make the placing of landless Indians upon existing Indian reservations in the State an exceedingly difficult, if not impossible task. In the first place, such action on the part of the Government would immediately give rise to a claim, unless the tribe from which the land is taken be adequately compensated. From this point of view then, It would make little difference whether the lands be bought from Indians or whether they be bought from private or State holdings. In the second place, Jealousies would arise among the several groups within a reservation which would make administration very difficult.
The Indian Service has examined three ranches in the State of Montana as possible sites for the resettlement of a portion of these Indians. These are the P. N. ranch, including the supplementary holding known as the "79" ranch, owned by Carstens Packing Co., Tacoma, Wash., and located In Fergus County, along the Judith and Missouri Rivers, 66 miles northwest of Lewistown, Mont.; the Phillips ranch, owned by Phillips Development Co., Malta, Mont, located In Phillips County; and the Flowerce ranch, owned by Teton Land Co., Lowry, Mont., located on the Sun River In Lewis and Clark, Teton, and Cascade Counties. The reports of these exploratory surveys are available in the Indian Office."
"Some years ago, the Indian Office In cooperation with the Subsistence Homestead Authority purchased a tract of land embracing 42.62 acres located in Cascade County on the outskirts of the city of Great Fall, planning at that time to set up a number of small homesteads for the Indians located on Hill 57. Opposition developed among the people living in the vicinity which forced the abandonment of this project. Recently health conditions, lack of sanitary facilities, and the growing Indian population have served to bring this problem again into focus. Congressman Rankin has been especially interested in the plight of this group. Other members of Congress, Senator Murray, Senator Wheeler, and Congressman O'Connor, have maintained a continued interest in the general situation.
Among possible solutions, the following and doubtless others should be considered:
In working out projects under the first three heads above, clear-cut, guiding principles are important, among which are:
Adapted from Interior Department Appropriation Bill for 1943: Bureau of Indian Affairs. Hearing Date: Mar. 3-6, 9-10, 12-13, 1942. Subcommittee on Interior Department Appropriations; Committee on Appropriations.
New Technology Created a Cultural Evolution
The Red River cart was a sturdy vehicle made entirely from locally available materials and was drawn by teams of horses or draft oxen. It had the advantage of allowing for the transport of massive cargoes. Whereas the Natives and the Métis had previously used dog and horse travois for transporting beaver pelts and small buffalo hunts on the plains, the Red River cart was not limited by the carrying capacity of individual dogs or horses dragging a small burden across the uneven ground. The Red River cart was capable of carrying nearly a thousand pounds of cargo – faster and several times more efficiently – especially when linked together into a wagon train of several dozen carts.
A historical example describes the amazing construction and capacity of the Red River cart:
“The carts composing the train were of uniform make, and of a species called “Red River carts”. They are constructed entirely of wood, without any iron whatever, the axels and rims of the wheels forming no exception to the rule. Although this might at first sight appear a disadvantage, as denoting a want of strength, yet it is really the reverse, because in the country traversed by these vehicles, wood is abundant and always to be obtained in quantities sufficient to mend any breakages which might take place. The only tool necessary, not only to mend but to construct a cart, are an axe, a saw, a screw-auger, and a draw knife. . .Each cart is drawn by an ox, and in cases where speed is an object, a horse is substituted. . .[with] the wiry little “Indian ponies”, one of which, with a load of four or five hundred pounds in the cart behind him, will overtake from fifty to sixty miles a day in a measured, but by no means hurried, jog trot. The common rate of progress made by heavy [ox] freight carts is about twenty miles a day, of traveling ten hours, the load averaging about eight hundred pounds per cart." (Hargrave 1871: 58-59)
This new technology allowed the Natives and Métis to carry massive amounts of buffalo meat and hides not previously possible. With the Red River cart the people were able to rise above the loss of the beaver after 1825 and were no longer confined to hunting for mere subsistence with the extras serving as trade fodder. Instead a cultural revolution had begun.
Adapted from Red River, by Joseph James Hargrave, John Lovell Publishing (1871)
A short explanation of how modern Métis identity is established
One of the most hotly contested and often debated topics lately is who is Métis, or how does a person establish their Métis identity beyond simply being mixed-blood.
So how is exactly is Métis identity established? Let's take a look at the example of the Manitiba Metis Federation.
First, Métis identity is initially started by self-identification. You must declare that you are Métis. That's the easy part. You know yourself to be a Métis person who descends from the historic Métis community that arose on the prairies of Canada and the northern United States, and you have every right to claim that identity.
The next step in establishing Métis identity (beyond simple self-identification) is to establish your ancestral connection to the Historic Métis Community and the current Métis Nation. This is done through completing a valid genealogy with supporting evidentiary documents, such as Federal Census records showing your ancestors to be Métis, sacramental records that establish family connections, Métis-related documents such as Manitoba and Northwest scrip affidavits, fur post records and journals, or other data that shows the connection. This connection may have to be verified by a certified genealogist that is acceptable to the Métis Nation, such as the St. Boniface Historical Society which verifies genealogies for the Manitoba Métis Federation. This vital part of the process establishes that connection which is vital to proving your connection to a historical Métis community.
The final step is to be accepted by the contemporary Métis community as a Métis person who qualifies as a citizen of the Métis Nation. This is done through an application that includes your declaration as a self-identified Métis; your certified genealogy and supporting documents proving your connection to the historic Métis community; and by having your citizenship application verified and acceptance by the Métis Nation, in this case the Manitoba Métis Federation and the 'local' that you are affiliated with. Once your citizenship application is accepted by the community and the local representatives, you are issued a MMF Citizenship/Membership card and are a duly-accepted citizen who can vote, take part in certain educational and employment programs set forth for Métis people, participate in special cultural activities and community functions by the Federation, and even become an elected representative and serve the Métis community. You may also be able to qualify as a Métis Harvester and undertake traditional subsistence hunting to feed yourself and the Métis community.
Citizenship in the Métis Nation is not required, but being part of the Nation helps re-affirm your ties to the historic community, helps strengthen the Métis Nation in negotiating for more rights for the Métis people, and helps to repair generational trauma and bolster the contemporary community now, and for future generations that come after you.
The Metis had no match in Hunting or in Military power
In a report on the Red River territory, given to the Canadian parliament in 1859, some flattering notes were given about the Metis hunters who were based out of the Red River settlement and surrounding area.
The report noted that the Metis were "hardy and fearless children of the prairie constitute a race to which much interest may reasonably be attached. They are endowed with remarkable qualities, which they derive in great part from their Indian descent..." It was lamented that, despite having European roots, that many of the Metis were living in a "primitive Indian state" and preferred life on the prairies to a more settled existence that appealed to their European forefathers.
The report noted that by and around the 15th of June each year, the Metis would start for their summer hunt of the buffalo on the prairies. The Metis were formed into two distinct bands: one being those of Red River (Pembina and Winnipeg), and the other of the White Horse Plain on the Assiniboin. The report mentioned that these bands were formerly united, but that a "difference" had sprung up between them and that were maintaining separate hunts on different hunting grounds. The Red River hunters would go west to the Yellowstone River and the Coteau de Missouri in what is now North Dakota and eastern Montana; while the White Horse Plain hunters roamed the branches of the Saskatchewan, before moving down into areas of northern Montana.
As the buffalo were diminishing, it was reported that the Metis hunters would have to go further west towards the Rocky Mountains each year, leading many to become hiverants and stay the winter on the prairies. This failure to return to Red River and White Horse Plains left the Metis to sometimes abandon their farms, and it was noted that they were becoming more and more "indian-like" because of this. The report noting that: "The fascination of a camp in the high prairies, compared with the hitherto almost hopeless monotony of the farms of Red River, can easily be understood by those who have tasted the careless freedom of prairie life".
Perhaps the most interesting part of the report was about the unmatched power that the Metis possessed. It was noted that the Metis hunters had splendid organization when on the prairies and matchless military power They could, if they so choose, to spend as much time as they wanted on the plains because they had perfect knowledge of the country, and the firepower that could render them a very formidable enemy against any other force that might meet them.
Adapted from Papers Relative to the Lake Superior and Red River Settlement (1859)
Some of the dispersal was due to theft and lack of confidence
Under the Manitoba Act, half-breeds were entitled to have a certain lot of land for the extinguishment of their Indian title. A reserve, comprising 1,400,000 acres of land, was set apart for that purpose. However, there were long delays in implementing the granting of lands. Because of the delays, some of the Metis people became doubtful of the good faith of the Government, and were easily induced by speculators to sell their rights to the land. Many of the speculators canvassed Metis communities and told them that it would take many years to get possession of their land, and that the Government did not desire that they should get possession of them. Through this lie, many Metis sold their scrip outright, rather than get nothing at all. Most of the scrip was purchased for as little as 5 pounds.
As a result of these delays and the loss of their scrip, many of the Metis lost confidence in Canadian laws and Canadian promises. The result was that in 1880, 1881, and 1883, a large number of these Metis left the province, many went south towards the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, and were later enrolled as Indians there. Others went west, which increased size of the Metis settlements at Duck Lake, Qu'Appelle, Battleford, and St. Albert. As the quest to take Metis land continued, the once strong colony at Wood Mountain started to fracture around this time as well. Many of these people went to the United States into North Dakota and Montana.
Adapted from House of Commons Debates, Third Session (1885)
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities