A case against colonial separation of Indigenous people
Reality shows that the idea of “tribal separation”, or the differentiation of Indian to Indian, or Indian to Metis, is a European construct that served historically to separate and divide indigenous people and to classify them to fit into a neat box that could more easily be controlled by colonial forces. Over the past century, white scholars have gone to great lengths to emphasize the differences between the indigenous peoples of the prairies of Canada and the northern United States – using borders, boundaries, and other factors to look for tensions between Metis and First Nations peoples and to divide them throughout history. However, reality was much different.
Instead of a competitive or adversarial relationship, the truth is that most of the relations between the indigenous peoples of the prairies were mutually beneficial and marked by vast intermarriage and the development of strong kinship ties that brought them together and which (in reality) clouded the accurate identification of people as distinctly Metis, Ojibwe, Cree, or Assiniboine.
The reality of the historical situation of the Plains Cree, Plains Ojibwa, Assiniboine, and Metis was that separating these groups into typical “tribal” models, where territories were separated, claimed, and defended by discrete ethnic groups was virtually impossible by the early 1800s. The kinship ties and cooperative hunting, warfare, and settlement patterns created a multicultural system that defied description in exclusive, monolithic ethnic or tribal terms. This is because ethnicity, in the generic and highly abstract sense of a “tribe", was (and still is) an inadequate marker of geopolitical boundaries or cultural/ethnic affiliation. Instead of defined “tribes”, what was most important in defining a person, or a group, were the social ties – based on ties of kinship, friendship, and mutual benefit that served as a glue and which allowed for a fluidity unheard of in history.
Because of this, “band” level affiliation was (and still is) the most appropriate political and social unit in the identification of the Plains Ojibwe, Plains Cree, and Metis. Bands were autonomous in nature and completely sovereign. However, individual affiliation within the band was loose, since it was relatively simple to form new bands, or for an individual to leave one and join another due to economic, social, or other needs or reasons. An individual might claim himself a member of the band in which his parents had lived at the time of his birth, but upon marriage he could either elect to remain in his own or else join the band of his wife's people. Later in life he might find that his purposes were better met with the band of a relative or friend – thus changing alliance again. This pattern made various bands related to one another, making the concept of tribe (or ethnic group) irrelevant.
For Further reading: Multicultural Bands on the Northern Plains and the Notion of "Tribal" Histories by Innes