Though the Plains Ojibwe often hunted with and intermarried with the Métis, their relations with the Métis were by no means always friendly or free of tension. Some of the Ojibwe leaders mistrusted the Métis, who often assumed leadership of joint efforts in opposition to traditional Ojibwe leadership systems, and others were disturbed by the often over-hunting efforts of the Métis, who had a deeper economic stake in the buffalo hunts and would kill many more animals than might be necessary at the time
One of the Ojibwe leaders, Green Setting Feather, who was a sub-chief at Turtle Mountain, made an impassioned speech regarding the Métis in 1852. He admonished the Métis for overhunting and for hunting outside of the allotted hunting territory by the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe within their territory—the area about Devils Lake and the Sheyenne River—as the Métis were starting to encroach on the Ojibwe hunting grounds near Turtle Mountain. Green Setting Feather further expressed that the Ojibwe desired to be granted a treaty and given protection by the ‘Great Father’, asking that the government take action against the Métis because they were not using all of the buffalo they killed, instead just killing them (in some cases) for their tongues and robes.
His speech, given on September 14, 1852, demonstrates the complicated relationship that was developing as resources started to become increasingly scarce in the Red River region:
“In time past, whenever I looked over my hunting-grounds, I ever found a plenty with what to fill my dish, and plenty to give my children; but of late it is not so. I find that my provision bag is fast emptying—my dish is now often empty; and what is the cause of this? Why was it not so in former times, when there were more Indians on the plains than there are now? The reason I find is this: it is none other but the children I once raised [the Métis], that first proceeded from my own loins, that were once fed from my own hands.”
“The manner of his hunt is such as not only to kill, but also to drive away the few he leaves, and waste even those he kills. I also find that same child, in the stead of being a help to me, his parent, is the very one to pillage from me the very dish out of which I fed and raised him when a little child; and now having gained strength and grown to manhood, has become master of my own dish, and leaves me with the wolves and little animals to follow his trail and pick off the bones of his leaving; and if I wish to help myself out of my own foodbag, his hand and whip is raised on me, his parent. When I look at all this, my heart is pained within me. I now see my provisions all wasted. I am led to think that it is my Creator that puts it in my heart no more to allow this waste of the animals he has given me; therefore look to him as my Father to help me to remove those that are eating up and pillaging my food from me.”
“I have no bad feeling, and do not wish to use my strength. Why should I make use of my strength? It is my food I am looking at; I only wish to be master, and do as I please with what is my own. I now say, I hold back, and love all of the Turtle Mountain. From [there] the half-breeds must keep, and stop on the place their father gave them at the Pembina. We now look at our lands and what our Great Father said to us—Keep, my children, the lands of your hunt for your own selves, and let not your half-breeds take them. Keep them for your own selves—let them dwell among the timber of the Pembina.”
“Now whatever half-breed goes against this, our law, shall pay as a fine, a horse; and a half-breed having an Indian mother full-blooded, wishing to spend the winter with us, may come; but he shall be allowed to hunt only where we shall tell him, and not to kill more animals than we shall tell him; and shall no more be master of my hunting-grounds. Also for our traders, we do not keep back those who may come; but they also must obey our law, not to kill animals or hunt furs, only as we shall tell them. The hunting-road which was first pointed out for the half-breeds was from this place straight to Devil lake and southward, and we reserved and do still reserve all north of this line for our own use; but they have of late made another road for hunting towards the Turtle Mountain without our consent, which we cannot any longer allow.”
“We now close by saying we wish it to be as our Father told us—for the half- breeds to go to get meat from the plains only once a summer, and for them to stay at Pembina to take care of the preacher, and we will take care of our own selves; for as for me, I do not ever intend to give my hand to the swine, let me see him where I will.”
“From us, your friends, the Chippewas of Turtle Mountain and elsewhere, to all the half-breeds of Pembina.”
The sentiment of Green Setting Feather was also echoes by the Assinaboine, who similarly complained about Métis encroachment into their preferred hunting lands. In speaking with some of the fur traders at Pembina that same year, the Assiniboine noted that the Métis hunters were leaving Pembina each year and ranging west to the Mouse River in extremely large hunting parties. Their huge harvests were severely harming the Assiniboine and Sioux subsistence efforts. The traders’ observations echoed this sentiment, as they noted that year that one of the Métis hunting excursions consisted of a train of 824 carts, 1,200 animals, and about 1,300 men, women and children.
Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1854) United States. Office of Indian Affairs, Washington, DC
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities