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.