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.