The rules governing the harvest of Bison
The following rules were made for the 1840 hunt.
This system of rules and punishments would evolve to become part of a system of self-government for the Métis communities; in 1873 the Southbranch settlements organized a form of local government, under Gabriel Dumont, based on the laws of the buffalo hunt.
From George Bryce. The Remarkable History of the Hudson's Bay Company... Nabu Press. ISBN 978-1-277-72735-7.
A look at the North Dakota segment of the Metis Nation
The area around Devils Lake was great buffalo country. The mighty bison roamed the undulating prairie in uncounted numbers, moving in very early days up to and along the Red River and the Canadian lakes, and then away down to the great plains to the southwest. As the settlement along the Red River drove the buffalo back out of the valley, the great herds made the Canadian boundary, or thereabouts, the limit of their grazing land, and in the fifties and sixties they occupied the country around Big Stone Lake, the James River valley, and westward over to and beyond the Missouri River. In the country about Devils Lake they had been very numerous, and had lingered there until the Red River half-breeds and Indians became too thick, disappearing from that country in 1868.
The Red River half-breeds had for many years made Devils Lake the scene of the summer hunts. They were descendants of the French voyagers, who had married the daughters of the northern tribes and who had grown greatly in numbers and established for themselves a local habitation on the Red River, after the founding of the headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company, at, or near, what is now Winnipeg. They were a happy-go-lucky lot, leading an easy-going existence in the Indian style when they were abroad, and after the fashion of the frontier white man in their permanent habitations. Someday, someone will arise who will write the epic of the Red River half-breed, and the world will be the richer for the knowledge of these people, half Indian, half French, having the capacity for endurance of the one race and the vivacity and appreciation of enjoyment of the other, and of their devotion to primitive Christianity on the one hand and their wild indifference to all trammels on the other.
They trapped in the winter, did service as voyageurs and freighters, and hunted the buffalo for the hides and pemmican. They did all the freighting for the old fur companies, and the screeching protest of the wooden axles of the carts, which they formed into trains miles long, could be heard on the prairie long before the outfit came into sight, their carts being built entirely of wood, with no ironwork whatever in the construction, not even an iron nail being used.
The preparation of pemmican may not have originated with the Red River half-breeds, but they most assuredly preserved the art of making it. Pemmican was made of buffalo-meat, which was dried and then pounded into pulp; hides of buffalo calves were made into sacks that were quite impervious; the sacks were filled with the lean meat; the tallow of the animals slaughtered was then melted and poured into the sacks, the tops sewed up, and when the mass hardened it would keep almost indefinitely. Pemmican formed the most nutritious and easily portable article of food, and was of great value to travelers who made long distances over plains where meat could not always be obtained. It was the article of diet most to be depended upon, and with very little pemmican in his pack, a plainsman could travel an incredible distance without fear of lacking ample subsistence. In the neighborhood of Devils Lake, an enormous quantity of this frontier delicacy was made and sold to the Hudson's Bay and American Fur companies.
These half-breeds made a permanent camp on the south side of Devils Lake, and used that for a base in their hunting expeditions, and here they had lived for years, generally on excellent terms with the nomad Indians who hunted in the same country.
from James McLaughlin, "My Friend the Indian", Indian Wars of the West and Frontier Army Life, 1862-1898: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
A powerful request for the inclusion of the Metis
During the proceedings of the negotiation of the McCumber Agreement, the question of the Metis was addressed. The government agents wanted to leave the Metis out of negotiations and to remove them entirely from government protection as Indians.
Because of the government’s refusal to help the Metis members of the band, a good many Metis had already returned to Canada where they were able to get more assistance that they could from the stingy local agency. Other who remained were suffering – living outside the reservation and relying on what little general assistance they could get from the county, who normally refused to help them because they felt that the agency should be helping them as Indians. A catch 22!
Sub-chief Misko-benais, or Red Thunder, the chief soldier and councilman of Little Shell, decided to speak up on their behalf during negotiations. He stood up and addressed the McCumber Commission by speaking one of the most powerful speeches ever given on behalf of the Metis People. He said:
"When you (the white man) first put your foot upon this land of ours you found no one but the red man and the Indian woman, by whom you have begotten a large family."
Then, pointing to the half-breeds present, Red Thunder continued, "These are the children and descendants of that woman; they must be recognized as members of this tribe; that they have been waiting for a settlement for their lands for a great number of years, and in all that time they had gone hungry and many had died from starvation, and many others had dispersed themselves over the land and across the line into Canada in quest of something to live upon pending the settlement for their claims; and when this settlement is made you will again find them all back here again. And those, of us who are here assembled to meet you are starving. We are all glad that our Great Father sent you here and we hope that you will relieve us from starvation, for we have nothing to eat”.
His words were echoed by the next two sub-chiefs who spoke.
From: Printed Protest of Turtle Mountain Indians, Native Americans Reference Collection: Documents Collected by the Office of Indian Affairs, Part 2: 1901-1948. Col. 52. U.S. Department of the Interior Library, Washington, D.C.
School Supervisor's report of 1917
The following are excerpts from a Report on Supervision of Turtle Mountain Day Schools, August 11-16, 1917, by W. W. Coon, Asst. Supervisor of Indian Schools. In this passage, Mr. Coon describes the ethnic makeup of the Turtle Mountain Reservation, showing that the vast majority of persons at Turtle Mountain were Metis and that the full-blood population was concentrated mainly around the area of what is now known as the Dunseith Day School.
Mr. Coon wrote:
“The Superintendent estimates that there are about 3,000 Indians under his care. He has no reliable statistics, just estimates. He says that perhaps there are about 2,000 living on the reservation, and about 1,000 living off the reservation mostly west of it in North Dakota and Montana. The 1,000 is supposed to be badly scattered except the full bloods living about two miles north of Dunseith and around Day School No. 5. This Day school is not on the reservation. Practically all the full bloods belonging to this jurisdiction live in the vicinity of Day school No. 5…"
"Nearly all the Indians on the [Turtle Mountain] reservation with whom I talked were born in Canada, or their parents were born in Canada, and in many instances both were born in Canada, although they say away-way back their ancestors were Chippewa who went from Minnesota to Canada and there married French and Scotch settlers.
The vast majority are proud of being mixed bloods…As stated before, many of these Indians are less than one-half Indian blood and in the majority of cases they are quarter bloods, eights and sixteenths…[but] all the mixed bloods call themselves "Metis", (pronounced ma-chief) which means halfbreed, regardless of the degree of Indian blood…
The reservation [itself] includes two adjoining townships, which includes an area of six miles wide, north and south, and twelve miles long, east and west. “
from A Report of W.W, Coon, Turtle Mountain Schools. 08/07/1917