The Country of the Metis

To get a fairly accurate idea of the condition of the Metis at the beginning of 1885 in the North West, especially in Saskatchewan, we need to know a little about their situation before Confederation.

They were the people who owned the North-West Territories. The Indian blood in their veins established their right or title to the land. They held possession of this land jointly with the Indians.

But the financial value of their country represented, in itself, a huge sum.

Let us discuss only the land of the North-West within the limits actually assigned to it under this name outside of Manitoba and Keewatin. We have a territory of almost 1,195,720 acres. If we divide this number by the total number of Metis and Indian population (supposing they are both equal in number) each group would own an equal part. The hypothesis we are making, quite close to reality, gives to both the Metis and Indians each about 597,860 acres.

To make any kind of estimate of the value of the virgin lands of the North-West before Confederation, let us use the first figure that comes to mind - let us say that this land is worth fifteen cents an acre to the Indians. Using this estimate as a starting point, the Indians of the North-West withe their 597,860 acres of surface area possess a basic fund of $89,679,000.

But here is another point to consider in making these rough estimates. The Metis, while not having the gift of using the land with the skill and resources of an advanced civilization, were nevertheless improving it, ploughing, fencing and using it to much better advantage than the Indians; that is to say that while the Indians could reasonably ask fifteen cents for this acre, the Metis has good reason to expect thirty cents for his.

The Metis half of the North-West, 597,860 acres, was then equivalent to a capital of almost $179,358,000.

That is how rich the Metis were in the basic money value of their land before Confederation.

The Authorities cannot say that I exaggerate. Neither can they claim that my calculation is unrealistic, nor that what I argue is without foundation. For the Metis with the Indians were then enjoying the North-West just as Confederation is enjoying it today, now that it has stolen our land from us.

We did not borrow money on our land. But we could have done so. In the meantime, we lived as we had always done in our immense country, where the wealth in skins was, we could say, inexhaustible, where game of all kinds abounded, where the lakes and rivers were a source of well-being in the quantity and quality of fish that filled their waters, where even wild fruit contributed to the nourishment and maintenance of the children of the land.

And, how priceless to our animals and horses was the luxurious grass of the Manitoba plains and the renowned prairies of the fertile zone of the North-West!

What shall I say of the famous trade in buffalo robes? The bison literally covered the plains of the North-West. This resource alone was incalculable.

Moreover, the Metis cultivated the land for their needs. Their gardens and their crops were something to envy.

The enumeration of possessions that my pen touches on lightly at this moment is not as imaginary as certain people might believe. It is based on facts and realities to which the greatest part of the Metis people and thousands of immigrants can attest, since I speak about a state of affairs that existed fifteen years ago and even several years before that. Who, then, would refuse to admit that while enjoying their part of the North-West as they enjoyed it before Confederation, the Metis lived as richly as if their lands, evaluated as above, at $179,358,000 would have given them each year a revenue of (would it be too much to say) 3 percent, and to record in their favour the total amount in interest of around $5,381,740 (five million, seven hundred and forty dollars). I address businessmen, and capitalists. Will they, on my behalf, please answer all those stubborn, ignorant or dishonest newspapers in Ontario, that for fifteen years have written about my work and my actions only to calumniate, to lead into error and ramble incoherently. It is true that the North-West was locked up by the Hudson's Bay Company and by England who supported that Company. Markets were unavailable and products could not be exported. Because of that it was useless to devote effort to agriculture exclusively and entirely.

The Hudson's Bay Company, as a commercial society, invested with authority to govern, controlled all the riches of the North-West. It absorbed these unceasingly, continually depriving the country of public improvements and progress, which so much wealth gave them a right to expect from its administrators.

Under the yoke of the Hudson's Bay Company's adventurers it was impossible for the Metis to develop as a people; but their homeland was of such natural wealth that it would have been difficult for the Company, greedy as it was, to impoverish them individually. The floods at Red River, the grasshopper and smallpox in the North-West, afflicted the Metis on several occasions. But those years of suffering and setbacks were the exception.

The happy changes which the popular movement of 1849 had brought about, by abolishing the claimed legal monopoly of the Company, and the freedom of trade enjoyed since that time, daily increased our opportunities for well-being. When the Authorities arrived in the North-West in 1870, they found a people which, if left to itself, would have been at ease, not only then, but for many years to come. They found the Metis, who, in their own home and having their land to themselves, had like any other people, a great future ahead of them.

The memoir written here was taken from the following source.
Hold Your Head High: History of the Metis Nation in Western Canada. Written by A.H. deTremandam. 1936

Translated by Elizabeth Maquet. 1982

Part 3

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Copyright Michael J. Durocher, 1997