The Metis suffered greatly at the hands of the soldiers
While most people are aware of the various battles and skirmishes that took place between the Canadians and the Metis in 1885, few know – and little is documented – about the war crimes that were committed by the Canadians as they tried to subjugate the half-breeds into submission.
In addition to attacking and pursuing the Metis warriors incessantly, the Canadian forces were tasked with adding insult to injury and rubbing salt into the wounds suffered by the Metis and other aboriginal peoples during the rebellion.
For instance, in his memoirs published following the end of the 1885 rebellion, Major Charles Arkoll Boulton, euphemistically noted in his memoirs that after the Fall of Batoché that, “The half-breeds had any number of ponies, and the soldiers were soon seen galloping about on their backs, and every man who wished had a shagganappi for his own use and amusement for the time being”. In this instance, Boulton was using slang terminology of pony/shagganippi as for the conquered Metis women. Boulton and his men used the women as booty of war and the “galloping about on their backs” was word-play referring to the unfortunate half-breed and Indian women and girls being raped by the pillaging white soldiers under his command.
Other war crimes and atrocities in 1885 (to name a few) include the murder of Damase Carrière, who was hanged over the back of a pony because the soldiers thought he looked like Louis Riel, and the rapes of Marie-Thérèse and Elise Tourond and a young Miss Gervais who had the unfortunate fate of being encountered by the soldiers.
For more see: Reminiscences of the North-west rebellions : with a record of the raising of Her Majesty's 100th regiment in Canada, and a chapter on Canadian social & political life / by Major Boulton, commanding Boulton's scouts. Toronto : Grip printing and publishing co., 1886
A Metis Victory in 1885
On the morning of the April 24, 1885, Gabriel Dumont and his force of Metis soldiers had carefully planned a surprise attack on Canadian forces at Tourond's Coulee (also called Fish Creek), a steep and winding ravine leading down to the south Saskatchewan River.
Men in the advance guard of the Canadian forces first realized they were under attack when they noticed several of their leading scouts fall from their saddles under the deadly fire of the Metis who were concealed in the bluffs above them. At that moment, the Canadians noticed about thirty or forty mounted Metis in front of them and they charged after them. The Metis at once turned their horses and bolted for a ravine about a hundred and fifty yards distant, dismounting as they galloped. When the soldiers dismounted to fight, they were attacked again from above by the Metis, who rained down fire while those in the ravine also attacked in full.
While the soldiers were successful in forcing the Metis in the ravine to fall back slightly, the rebels would occasionally ‘pop up’ from the ravine, take a snap shot, and disappear in an instant. In their defense, the Canadian soldiers brought two gattling guns into action, but these had little effect as the Metis kept under cover. The attack of the Metis pushed the soldiers to the edge of the bank of the creek, and many casualties occurred because the Canadians could not find adequate shelter from the Metis sniping from above them. In addition to their shooting prowess, the Metis started a prairie fire to the right of the Canadian lines and, under cover of the smoke, made a gallant attempt to dislodge the soldiers and make them scatter. However, the soldiers kept their nerve, and were able to beat out the flames.
In an effort to break the Metis offensive, a party of soldiers advanced into the ravine, but they were checked by the fire of the Metis who were almost invisible. After making several gallant attempts, all of the soldiers retreated with the loss of three men killed and five wounded in the effort.
By about 3:00 pm, with the exception of an occasional shot from the Metis firing pits, the conflict started to die down as most of the Metis left the battle.
In total, 10 Canadian soldiers were killed in the skirmish and 40 were wounded. 11 Metis were killed and about 18 were wounded.
The Metis would serve as middle-men in dealing with Red Lake
The Metis were well acquainted with the Thief River area and with the Red Lake Indians - possibly related by marriage and blood to some Red Lakers. Henry Schoolcraft wrote in 1832 that the inhabitants of Pembina were in the habit of making temporary voyages to trade at Thief River, but that they had not built or made a permanent camp there. The trade with the Thief River and Red Lake area was carried on, exclusively, by the Metis and not by the white traders of the Hudson's Bay Company, probably due to a general distrust of the white traders and their intentions.
In his journals, Giacomo Constantino Beltrami, the Italian traveller who accompanied Major Long's expedition to Pembina, stated that he had trouble finding guides at Pembina who were willing to take him to Red Lake. He searched long and hard until he finally found an Ojibwe and an Ojibwe half-breed (Metis) who were willing to take him.
He wrote, “Not an individual in that place [Pembina] knew either the way, nor even the Red river [Red Lake River] above the point at which the Robber's river [Thief River] falls into it. Everybody represented to me the dangers which I was going to brave among the Indians, who are generally described as being very ferocious, and who are still very unfriendly to the Americans. I however found two Cypowais [Chippewas], who, having lost one of their companions at the Cayenne river [Sheyenne River], were going precisely to Red Lake, to stimulate and rouse his relatives and their nation to avenge him on the Sioux, (the Yanctons) who had killed and quartered him. One of them was a Bois-brules, or Fire-brands [half-breeds], [who] offered to accompany me as far as the Robber's river with his train of dogs, to carry a small quantity of dry provisions which I had purchased…”
The trip from Pembina to the confluence of the Thief and Red Lake rivers took five days from Pembina. Beltrami and the two Ojibwe did some hunting along the way. Beltrami wrote: “On the fifth day we arrived at Robber's river (called Wamans-Watpa by the Sioux and Powisci-sibi, by the Cypowais), so denominated because one of the Sioux, in his flight from the vengeance which had been denounced against him for murder, kept himself concealed, and robbed on this spot for many years, escaping observation of his persecutors and enemies, by whom he was completely surrounded. We passed along its bank for two or three miles, to the place where it falls into the Red Lake River, and there my Indian attendants discovered their canoe, which was concealed among the brambles”.
Adapted from Wheeler-Voegelin, Erminie, and Harold Hickerson. 1974. “Red Lake And Pembina Chippewa.” American Indian Ethnohistory : North Central And Northeastern Indians. New York: Garland Pub. Inc.
A delicious group activity of the Metis, Cree, and Ojibwe
The gathering of berries (la grenn) was a social experience, and a berry party was enjoyed by everyone who took part. Gathering was usually done by the women and older children, and in the country of the Ojibwe, Cree, and Metis, berries of many varieties could be found throughout the late spring, summer, and early fall.
During gathering, a woman usually carried at her belt a small birch-bark basket or cloth bag in which she placed the berries as she gathered them. From this the berries were emptied into a larger basket that everyone dumped berries into. The berry party might also carry an ax to cut the higher boughs of chokecherry or similar trees to get to the good berries.
In olden times the cranberries (Pabinaw) were gathered by hand, but in more recent times a box was used. This box was open on one end, with the lower edge cut like the teeth of a rake. It was operated like a scoop, taking off the tops of the plants with leaves and small stalks as well as the berries. This made it easier to gather many berries at less effort.
Blueberries (lii blooay) and Saskatoon berries (lii pwayr/Juneberries) were almost always dried if they weren’t eaten fresh. Chokecherries (takwahiminana), were dried and pounded, stones and all. Raspberries (lii fraanbwayz) were “boiled down” and spread on sheets of birch bark and allowed to dry further. The little cakes that were made of the raspberries were then piled one upon another and tied in packets for storing.
Not all Voyageurs were Metis...some just lived with the natives
Some people mistakenly believe that any early fur trader from New France must necessarily be at least part Indian (i.e. Metis/Chicot). However, this was not always the case. While some indeed did have Indian bloodlines, others simply lived with the Indians and called themselves names like 'Chicot' out of simple affinity to the Indians and the half-breeds who lived among them.
This phenomenon is shown in a contemporary account describing early mixed-blood people and non-mixed bloods living in the Great Lakes region. In his account, Johann Georg Kohl makes the following observation:
“Où restez-vous?” I once asked a Voyageur, who had taken a seat near us in a Canadian fishing-hut. In Canadian French this means so much as, “Where do you live?—where is your home?” “Où je reste? je ne peux pas te le dire. Je suis Voyageur—je suis Chicot, monsieur. Je reste partout. Mon grand-père était Voyageur: il est mort en voyage. Mon père était Voyageur: il est mort en voyage. Je mourrai aussi en voyage, et un autre Chicot prendra ma place. Such is our course of life.” (This translates to: “Where do I stay? I cannot tell you. I'm Traveler-I'm Chicot, sir. I stay everywhere. My grandfather was a traveler: he died while traveling. My father was a traveler: he died while traveling. I will also die while traveling, and another Chicot will take my place. Such is our course of life."
"I must remark here, in explanation, that my Canadian had some Indian blood in his veins, either on the father or mother's side, and hence, jestingly, called himself “Chicot.” That is the name given in Canada to the half-burnt stumps, and has become a nickname for the half-breeds. They also call themselves, at times, “Bois brûlés,” or “Bois grillés,” in reference to the shades of color that bronze the face of a mixed breed."
"Frequently, too, pure-blooded French Voyageurs, if they lived entirely among the Indians, and intermarry with them, are counted among the Chicots. How much these French Voyageurs identify themselves with the Indians against the Anglo-Saxons, I had often opportunity of seeing. When they spoke of the irruption of the Americans into the country round Lake Superior, they used nearly the same language as the Indians. A pure French Canadian, with whom I spoke about the old Canadian songs, thus expressed himself on one occasion to me: “Depuis que les blancs sont entrés dans le pays, nous n'usons plus de ces chansons-là. Formerly,” he added, “when the white men were not so numerous here, we Voyageurs were always entre nous. Then there was a pleasure in singing, we knew that everybody was acquainted with any song begun, and would join in. But now, if a party of Voyageurs meet, there are often so many Britons, and Scotch, and Irish, and Yankees among them, that when one begins singing there is often nobody who knows how to join in. Hence we prefer remaining quiet. C'est bien triste à cette heure.”
From Kohl, Johann Georg, and Lascelles Wraxall Sir. 1860. “Kitchi-Gami: Wanderings Round Lake Superior.” London: Chapman and Hall.
An 1876 Statement by Major Walsh
In 1876, there were about 2,000 Indian and Metis families living at Cypress Hills and perhaps another 3,000 families at Wood Mountains. These people were increasingly dissatisfied with what they called the 'Police Law’ that was being imposed upon them by the Canadian government, which was introduced into the region in the spring of 1875. As a result, the Indians and Metis met in grand convention forty-five miles east of Fort Walsh and decided that they must appeal against the further enforcement of the law against their normally free people.
After his failure, Major Walsh sent for his interpreter and instructed him to go and call from among the Metis five men whom Walsh felt were the most intelligent and influential of the delegation. These men arrived at midnight. One of these men, named Walsh, was Vice-President of the Prairie Government.
Walsh said to him that so serious was the step they were about to take that he could not allow them to depart without once more appealing to their better judgment. He then stated that if they would not follow the white man’s law, that the law would have to be enforced using force. He pleaded with them, telling them that the Government of Canada wished to be their friends, and if they became enemies it would be the fault of the Metis. They finally agreed, saying the delegation would observe our laws and that their council would be dismissed and their government abolished.
For three days the discussion continued, and at the end of the third day the conference broke up without Major Walsh being able to convince the delegation to see things his way, and they withdrew, announcing their determination to resist the law.
After his failure, Major Walsh sent for his interpreter and instructed him to go and call from among the Metis five men whom Walsh felt were the most intelligent and influential of the delegation. These men arrived at midnight. One of these men, named Walsh, was Vice-President of the Prairie Government. Walsh said to him that so serious was the step they were about to take that he could not allow them to depart without once more appealing to their better judgment. He then stated that if they would not follow the white man’s law, that the law would have to be enforced using force. He pleaded with them, telling them that the Government of Canada wished to be their friends, and if they became enemies it would be the fault of the Metis. They finally agreed, saying the delegation would observe our laws and that their council would be dismissed and their government abolished.
After agreeing to Walsh’s request, the Metis held true to their words and on two rendered Walsh and the local government assistance. During possible trouble with Sitting Bull at Wood Mountain, two hundred Metis went so far as to tell the Hunkpapa Indians that whenever a dead Red-coat was found there would be a dead Metis, meaning that they would die fighting with the Canadian soldiers.
Unfortunately, as the government became more demanding, the Metis soon took a negative view of the peace they had made. Walsh still held out hope that he could make peace. In his own words, he stated “I think a commission should have been sent out long ago, but that it has been neglected so long is no reason why it should not be sent [now] at once. What great credit would it be to Canada to kill a few poor Half-breeds who feel they have been neglected? Don't forget that these people have the hearty sympathy of all the white settlers in their district…These people are not rebels, they are but demanding justice.
The History of the North-west Rebellion of 1885: Comprising a Full and Impartial Account of the Origin and Progress of the War, Scenes in the Field, the Camp, and the Cabin; Including a History of the Indian Tribes of North-western Canada. Charles Pelham Mulvany, A.H. Hovey & Company, 1886 - Canada
1857 Panic by the Canadian Government Led to the eventual Claiming of the Red River Area
Prior to the movement by the Government of Canada to undertake the incorporation of the Red River settlement into the territory of Manitoba, there was considerable discussion in the halls of power, worried that if the Canadian government didn’t act quickly to claim the area that the Americans would.
During a discussion in the House of Commons in 1857, regarding the Hudson Bay Company in the Red River region, it was worriedly mentioned that in 1851, the United States negotiated a treaty with the Indians and half-breeds of the region in the hopes of gaining support from them for the United States governing their territory. This treaty was never ratified, but it did seek to satisfy the native population and to try to entice some of the people to settle at least part of the time in the United States and to swear allegiance to them.
The Canadian government claimed that the object of the treaty was to induce the Red River half-breeds to lay claim to the territory. This would be secured by giving them $30,000, and for the next 20 years annually the sum of $10,000. The Canadians feared that the Americans would get their whole-hearted support and that if they did not act quickly to seize Manitoba themselves, that the territory would be drawn over to the United States.
This fear was added to as the half-breeds were going around the Hudson Bay Company’s monopoly by getting supplies from Minnesota at less cost.
Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons 1857
Born in Red Lake and Born to Raise Hell on the Prairies
In the rough and rowdy days that followed the first Riel Uprising, there was a climate of general lawlessness that arose. Many who participated in the dust-up fled to America or went further west. Others stayed around the Red River Settlement and raised some hell. One of those men was Gilbert Godon, known to many as the first “outlaw” of Manitoba.
Gilbert Godon was born at Red Lake, Minnesota, the son of Louis Godon (b. 1820) and Elizabeth Isaac, the daughter of Martin Isaac and Magdelaine Roy. Magdelaine was sister-in-law to Little Shell Band Counselor Louis Lenoir. Although a Metis, Gilbert was considered a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and drew annuities in 1889. He spent time crossing the border and even raised a family. Gilbert first married Lucienne Collin and they had a son, Simon, born May 20, 1880 at Pembina River. He then married Elise Desjarlais, the daughter of Francois Desjarlais and Marguerite Parisien. Their son Joseph Godon was born in 1886.
Known to enjoy a good time, Gilbert would often frequent the Pride of the West Saloon, owned by Dugald Sinclair. This Winnipeg establishment was popular with Canadian soldiers, who would come during the day, and with the Metis population, who took the place over once the sun went down. This arrangement generally kept the peace, but one occasion saw a fight erupt between the soldiers and the Metis. During the fight, one of the soldiers took out a revolver and aimed to shoot Sinclair. Godon valiantly grabbed the assailant and was shot in the arm. This ended the fight and Godon was quickly patched up.
Again in 1873, Godon was involved in another incident that was fueled by a night of drinking and brawling. One night in early October, Godon and some of his drinking buddies wound up at the home of bootlegger A.J. Fawcett. The men were already under the influence and Fawcett refused to sell them any more liquor. Godon’s friend Benjamin Marchand took offense to this refusal and threatened violence if Fawcett didn’t sell them some whiskey right then and now. Trying to calm his friend Godon took Marchand outside, but Marchand’s son took offense to his father being berated. The young Marchand grabbed a shovel and started to hit Godon. Fisticuffs ensued and Godon, his father and brother made short work of the Marchands. In gratitude, Fawcett produced a bottle and sat down for a drink with the Godon boys.
After a while, Godon needed to relive himself and went outside. He noticed the younger Marchand standing in the darkness and, being larger and older than the young lad, quickly beat him to the ground. As the young Marchand struggled back to his feet, Godon grabbed an axe and hit the young man with the back of it – dealing him a near fatal blow. Fawcett ran as quickly as he could to the nearest soldier’s barracks for help, but when the soldiers arrived young Marchand died shortly afterwards.
Godon was arrested without incident and was released until a jury could be convened. Godon quickly decided that he didn’t want to stand trial and fled across the border before a grand jury handed down charges of murder against him. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but it was impossible to serve with Godon hiding in American territory.
Less than a year later Godon was in a fight in Pembina. While in jail, the Canadian authorities learned he was in custody and they came to Pembina to claim him on June 19, 1874. At this trail the next day, Godon pleaded not guilty to the murder of Marchand, but he was quickly found guilty and sentenced to hang by the neck until dead. While awaiting his fate, his old friend Dugald Sinclair and a few others petitioned for clemency for Godon and his death sentence was commuted to 14 years in prison instead.
Godon was sent to prison in Upper Fort Garry. For a time he pretended to be a model prisoner, but was only biding his time. On September 25, 1876, he ran from his work duty and fled in a small boat across the Red River under a hail of gunfire from the prison guards. He quickly disappeared into the woods and using his outdoorsman skills he lost the guards following his trail. Soon, he found a horse, collected his wife, and fled back across the border to Dakota by early October.
In early 1877, rumor had it that Godon planned to visit his brother in Emerson. Knowing that Godon would be back within their jurisdiction, a posse was rounded up to take Godon back into custody. It didn’t go as planned.
William Lucas, the leader of the posse bust through the door of the Godon residence – leaving his men outside to guard for escape. He was shocked to find himself staring down the barrels of Godon’s pistols, but even more surprised when Godon’s mother and sister-in-law jumped on him and beat him to the ground. During the confusion, Godon walked out the door, overpowered one of the posse members, and fled into the woods near the river. Again, under a hail of bullets, Godon made his escape and fled back to Pembina.
His time in Pembina was quiet for a while, but again he found himself in trouble while drinking at a house party in 1880. Fisticuffs with Alexander Montreault led to some broken ribs and Godon being tossed in jail for assault with the intent to kill.
This incarceration didn’t last long, however, and he soon escaped with the help of a couple of fellow prisoners. They ran away when the jailer was sick, stole a canoe from a nearby Indian camp, and disappeared. Godon, knowing that he couldn’t return to Manitoba, decided to flee west to the Missouri River. He and fellow prisoner Frank Larose wound up at a Metis encampment on the Missouri where Larose soon died of an illness. Godon himself disappeared into history.
Gabriel Dumont Institute seeks to preserve Michif Language
Michif is the endangered orally-based language of the Métis people. Perhaps only 5-10% of the population are able to speak the language, with the majority being elders. The Gabriel Dumont Institute's mandate is to promote and preserve Métis culture and therefore has been developing resources that allow people to hear and read the language. Since Michif-Cree is an oral language, no standard orthography exists. As a result, the Institute recognizes the spelling conventions of Michif experts, such as Norman Fleury.
To help in preserving the language, The Gabriel Dumont Institute has created two smartphone enabled apps to help teach and learn the Michif language. You can click the buttons below the pictures to go to the apps on the Google Play store website and download/install them on your device.
Michif Lessons contains over 60 exercises to learn over 1000 Michif words. Categories range from Numbers, Months, Animals, Weather, the Body, Love, and more! Michif specialist Norman Fleury provided all of the translations, as well as the audio narrations that will help users pronounce the Michif terms correctly. Michif Lessons was developed by the Gabriel Dumont Institute and the app was created by Media Access and Production (eMAP), University of Saskatchewan - http://www.emap.usask.ca.
Michif to Go is the first English-to-Michif Dictionary available for Android. Features over 11,500 translations and audio pronunciations by Michif-language expert Norman Fleury. A search tool allows users to look up the English word to find the Michif-Cree translations. This project was developed by the Gabriel Dumont Institute, and was funded through the Department of Canadian Heritage's Aboriginal Languages Initiative. The app was created by Media Access and Production (eMAP), University of Saskatchewan - www.emap.usask.ca.
The mission of the Gabriel Dumont Institute is to promote the renewal and development of Métis culture through research; materials development, collection, and distribution; and the design, development, and delivery of Métis-specific educational programs and services. Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research was founded in 1980 to help meet the educational and cultural needs of Saskatchewan’s Métis community. As the official training and education arm of the Métis Nation – Saskatchewan, GDI is owned by the Métis people of Saskatchewan.
The Ojibwe and Metis spent their winters in family units, surviving on what stores they laid in during the fall, and hunting for food to make it to spring. During the winter, the elders in each family unit recounted their oral traditions to the young. Some stories were so long and so intricate that it was said that the telling could start in the month of October when the first snow fell, and would not end until quite late in the spring—sometimes not until late in the month of May. On every evening, a part of the story would be told. Some stories used pictographs impressed upon birch bark to show and record certain "pictures" to accompany the stories.
The Ojibwe and Metis would generally only tell certain stories in the winter, so that the evil manitous that hibernated in the cold would not hear them and come bother the people. A summer narration of these stories would bring punishment from these creatures, particularly frogs, toads, and serpents. Traditional knowledge stated that the first stories were told in the fall when the reptiles began to crawl into the ground, while the last ones were told in the spring when the leaves began to appear.