Metis History and Personal Reflections

I am a Metis; I'm part Cree and Dene Indian and part French, I am probably a descendent of the Metis Voyageurs that played a major role in the success of the Fur Trade and, of course the Hudson's Bay Company Incorporated probably would not have survived without the assistance of the Metis and Indian people. In all likelihood the Hudson's Bay Company's imported clerks and managers would have starved to death if it wasn't for all the pemmican (dried buffalo meat, pounded into a pulp and mixed with buffalo grease and wild berries, Mmmmmm) supplied by the Metis.
So, here I was (Winnipeg) in what was known as the Red River Area and where Louis Riel made his first political impressions.
The blue indicates the water system with Ile a la Crosse the center of a vast region known as Rupert's Land. There are great number of smaller rivers, and long bays to get access into deeper country away from the main routes. Yellow are main roads, mostly gravel and some poor asphalt.

Louis Riel played a major role in the eventual development of Manitoba and it's becoming a Province. He also was instrumental in drafting and declaring a Provisional Government in the Red River region immediately after the 1869 Red River Resistance, (they seized the HBCo. and all its assets). The main reason why the Metis reacted at the time was that the HBCo. was in the process of turning over "Rupert's Land" to the Dominion of Canada which would have kept the area as a colony and thus, all governmental operations would have been decided by the four provinces and the Federal government. Riel knew that in order that the Metis maintain their decision making powers the region would have to be made into a province. Since this was unlikely, the only way to force the issue was to set up a provisional government. It was not long after this that John A. McDonald's government entertained the idea, and Parliament eventually passed legislation in 1870. The legislation included sections 31, 32, and 33 which would provide 1.4 million acres of land for the children of the Manitoba Metis but, also protect the rights of the Metis culture and way of life. Somehow, by 1871 certain parts of the Manitoba Act were worded differently so as to basically do away with the idea of giving a block of land to the Metis which would otherwise be dealt as a Metis homeland. Instead the promised lands were given out in "fee simple", in separate packages to all the possible descendants' children affected.

For the record, Flanagan's book "Metis Lands in Manitoba" that deals with the supposed good handedness of the federal government is totally biased and in favour of the government's prespective. In his conclusion, page 225 he wrote: The evidence assembled in this book shows that the federal government generally fulfilled, and in some ways overfulfilled, the land provisions of the Manitoba Act. To this writer, I would have to discount his findings and that the Metis were duped in not receiving the said lands as a Nation of peoples, and that the fee simple dispersement of the lands were designed so that eventual alienation would take place, contrary to what Flanagan is trying to get across. That is the main reason that the Manitoba Metis Federation must continue their court battle to secure Metis land.

On a historical note, Louis Riel's last testament, is the will he wrote before he was executed.

Speaking of Louis Riel, did you know that his father ( Riel Genealogy) Louis Riel Sr. was born in my hometown of Ile-a-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan. Louis David Riel's grandfather Jean-Baptiste Riel was a French Metis Voyageur working for the North West Company. Jean Baptiste married a Dene Aboriginal Marguerite Boucher (today a common name in the La Loche region). however, in 1815 her family lived in Ile-a-la-Crosse.

As Metis Peoples, even though we are the first children of the meeting of Aboriginal and European People; we have to argue that on the basis of our Indian ancestory we are entitled to a land base and that we have inherent rights. North West Saskatchewan Metis have a Metis Land Claim in the Saskatchewan Queen's Bench which was registered March 1, 1994. This Land Claim has been renewed as of 1999.

Therefore, going back to Louis Jr. it can be argued that he actually got his political heart, mind and spirit from his father who was instrumental in organizing the Metis once he moved to the Red River region during the middle 1800's.

Ile a la Crosse was one of the HBCo's most important Fur Trading Posts of the day, because it was part of the Churchill River system and it's Cree name, 'Sakitowak' means many openings; it was the hub in a network of hundreds of miles of water routes. That is why the North West Company maintained a vigilante fur trade war with the HBC until the early 1820's when the two companies merged.

The Churchill River flowed through Lac Isle a la Crosse, to the West and North provided access through the Methy Portage (La Loche) which took fur traders into the Clearwater and eventually in to the McKenzie River valley and the far north to the Arctic; to the East, all the way to the Hudson's Bay and what is known today as Churchill, Manitoba. The Beaver River provided access to the Rocky Mountains; other rivers emptied into the Beaver River, like the Cowan which provided access to Green Lake, Cowan Lake (Big River), and from where a short overland trip by red river carts brought you to the Saskatchewan River providing further unlimited access to Western Canada and to the Red River Region and onwards to Eastern Canada.

The Canoe River took trappers into what is now known as the Primrose Air Weapons Range and North East Alberta. Ile a la Crosse was an extremely important commercial interest to the HBC and was a hotly contested Trading Post considering that the North West Company, a bitter rival of the Hudson's Bay Company battled continuously for the right to exclusive fur trading in the region.

Ile a la Crosse today is over two hundred and twenty years old as it was incorporated as a community in 1776; we are the second oldest community in the province of Saskatchewan. Notwithstanding, that Cree and Dene Peoples have lived in this region for the past several thousand years. As well, because of the Riel legacy one could argue that Ile a la Crosse could very well be the actual original homeland of the Metis resistance.

To this very day, ask any Saskatchewan Provincial Government Leader, Ile a la Crosse has been one of the most outspoken communities in Northern Saskatchewan and has also produced some of the most courageous and outspoken leaders on and about Metis Rights in the Province. One must also consider that the majority of Metis who have become Provincial Metis leaders in Metis politics are from North West Saskatchewan. The present Saskatchewan Metis President is Clem Chartier, who has been involved in Metis politics for many years is from Buffalo Narrows. Rod Bishop of Green Lake, who passed away just a few short years ago was a fearless advocate of our Metis Rights. Rod's son-in-law Gerald Morin is the Metis National Council President who is from Green Lake, in North West Saskatchewan.Buckley Belanger from Ile a la Crosse is the Minister of Environment and Resource Management for the Government of Saskatchewan. Today, with all the industrial development taking place in Northern Saskatchewan the Metis people and our Aboriginal cousins are once again in the front lines defending land we have always believed to be ours. However, we also want to play a part in the development; we want to be co-managers of development. We want the royalty sharing revenues to better our communities, we want to be in business, but not at the expense of the environment.

What about our war veterans? Many Metis also served in both World Wars and in World War II many young men from Ile-a-la-Crosse went overseas with the Allied Forces to liberate Europe from the onslaught of the German Forces. Men like Vital Morin, who spent months as a prisoner of war, others like Leo Belanger, who saw a great many friends and fellow Canadians gunned down as they rushed the shores of Normandy and Juno Beach. The Canadian government forgot about these heroic Aboriginal Canadians who risked their lives for something they believed in. Many non-aboriginal Canadians received farm land as gratuity for their part in saving Eurpope, but for the majority of our Metis and Aboriginal War Veterans they received absolutely nothing. Many of these same men lived in squaller, welfare and other means to survive once they returned to Canada. To this day the governments have never fully recognized the big and important role Aboriginal speaking veterans played in defeating the German War machine. For one, it is a fact that Indians and Metis speaking their mother tongues played a major roles in sending and receiving vital messages because the Germans were not able to understand them as they were not in any secret codes, Indians spoke in their own language and as a result were able to communicate important strategies without fear of the Germans finding out. These heroes must be recognized for these important roles they played. Not only that, most Aboriginal men in the Allied Forces were crack shots and therefore, also played major roles as snipers and having the ability to do survaillance work undetected because of their expertise in bush warfare. This is a salute to all those Aboriginal Veterans of Northern Saskatchewan that served their Country so courageously.
On a historical note, Sarah Riel the sister of Louis Riel is buried in Ile a la Crosse where she died of some illness or mishap in 1883. There are rumours in Ile-a-la-Crosse amongst elders who claim that she may have been pushed down some stairs at the mission. Was it because of her love and continued support of her brother Louis Riel who at that time would have been teaching and raising a family in Montana. Or is it just that, another rumour?

She was serving as a Grey Nun at the time of her untimely death; she was in her thirties. She was considered a rugged traveller considering the hardships she endured travelling in routes where even rugged voyageurs had to struggle in order they survive. In winter the long cold journeys by horse and sleigh or by dogteam. In the summer travel by canoe and york boats sound romantic but, they endured rushing waters and rapids and lots of bugs. She was close to her brother Louis, as evidenced by the letters they wrote each other. There are perverted antagonists and so-called (Federal Government Trial) experts on Riel who claim that Louis and Sara had an inncestual relationship. It is an insult to my Metis pride that such a thought would be processed by a so-called expert, a professional. I mean the siblings probably hadn't seen one another for years and it is only natural to be concerned for one's sibling's well being. To me it is no surprise because I know Metis people care greatly for one another.Siblings actually care for each other for the most part as opposed to what I have witnessed in the non-native community and which the Aboriginal community is slowly embracing. Global and Materialistic. I detest people that write for the sole purpose of creating controversy and discriminating against the Metis.

Today, her gravesite is still very visible where she was laid to rest among other Grey Nuns, Oblate Priests and Oblate Brothers, on a sand covered hill overlooking A'la Pointe Roche as it is known in Sakitawak. As kids we used to go to Lapointe roche in the spring to snare mullets and northern pike; We would cook and eat the fresh fish right then and there.
There is information which I have come across myself which says that Sara died in the far north amongst the Askeemeweenowak (Inuit) people.I have scanned a copy of the Jean Baptiste Roman Catholic Church records at Ile-a-la-Crosse that shows her death and the photo of the headstone should stop those rumours. I think how she died is still a mistery which we will probably never know as the story has died with whoever was involved.

The above a photocopy of the Church record entry when Sister Sara died. There are signitures from what looks like three nuns, and four Oblate priests.

The top photo (map) is from Landsat5 satellite, the white areas are frozen lakes. Ile a la Crosse and Beauval are actually very close in proximity. The two communities are only about thirty-two air miles apart and about 55 miles to go around by vehicle. This photo was taken in November 1996; the yellow lines are all weather roads; the one running South from Buffalo Narrows to Beauval is supposed to be paved, but if you drive on it, you will agree that it is merely tar mixed with gravel; a cold mix as opposed to asphalt which is hot mix. The roads tend to become choppy and could be hazardous to your vehicle. Sask. Dept. of Highways will disagree on that, but recent lawsuits have proven otherwise. Some travellers have been compensated for damage done on their vehicles. The rest of the roads are straight loose gravel. If you venture to visit make sure you have a couple of spare tires (I don't mean to scare you, it isn't all bad). The people are friendly, the air is clean, you can drink the water straight out of the lakes, the scenery is breath-takingly beautiful, and fishing is pretty good most of the time and you can eat the fish too. I hope you can make it up here; if you do, look up Mrs. Cecile Bouvier at the Beauval Junction,(Amy's Bar and Grill), she has beautiful native handicraft available; tell her Mike Durocher sent you.


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