Before Confederation

The Metis, because of their superiority over the Indian tribes, dominated them without the abuse of force. Sometimes, during the hunt, the Indians declared war on the Metis or stole horses from them.

Satisfaction was required. In case of a refusal, the Metis Nation went to war with the wrong-doers. But it should be noted that they never were the aggressors. Their combats were ones of defence or protection of rights. With God's help, they were always victorious over the tribes who attacked them. As a primitive people, simple, trusting, placed by Providence amidst a happy abundance of resources, and not overly ambitious, the Metis had almost no government. However, when they went on a buffalo hunt, naturally, there sometimes rose among them conflicts of interest. So, to keep order in their ranks and guard against horse stealing or enemy attacks, they organized themselves and set up camp. A chief was chosen, twelve councillors were elected, with a public crier and guides. The soldiers formed groups of ten. Every hunter was a soldier. Each group of ten chose a captain.

When the moment came for the military organization, strictly speaking, the chief gave notice; the first soldier to arrive began by indicating whom he wanted for captain. Nine of those who approved his choice followed him. In this way the captain of each group of ten found himself the leader of men determined to follow hime everywhere since his leadership was the result of their confidence in hime and their unanimous choice.

Buffalo hunting was done on horseback. It was wonderful to see hundreds of steeds rearing, whinnying, prancing, pawing the ground with eager hooves, the gleam in their eyes asking for free rein, tossing their heads and making all sort of impatient movements; and those first-rate riders, seated with confidence on their little saddles of soft leather as if on chairs, amidst the beadwork flowers that ornamented them, the elegant handles of their many-thonged whips on their wrist, gun in one hand, reins in the other, restraining their fiery horses, sparing them until the moment they were within reach of the buffalo herd.

The captains directed the ride, constantly on the watch to see that no one dashed ahead before the captain in charge gave the word. The order given, the cavalcade bounded forward. As if obeying the command, a swirling cloud of dust went with it. The buffalo, taking off in terror, devoured the prairie miles, but were soon overtaken by the brisk horses. The riders charged pell-mell into the herd choosing the fattest animals; each one fired, everyone fired, trying not to hit one another, being careful of men and horses.

I have seen these hunt. I have taken part in them. They are terrifying. Only the hunters' skill, their extreme attention, and above all, Providence, could prevent the mishaps risked when these hunts took place.

From a distance it was the superb spectacle of a fusillade in a cloud.

The hunter's council made laws. They were called the Laws of the Prairie. The Council was a temporary provisional government. It was also a tribunal which dealt with infraction of the laws and all contentions between people of the camp.

The captains with their soldiers carried out the orders and judgments of the Council.

In ordinary matters the Council acted according to the authority entrusted to it; but in matters of greater importance it had recourse to the people and based its decisions on the majority voice of all the hunters.

This was the condition of a new people, civilized, and enjoying its own government based on true conceptions of public freedom and equality. This provisional government, with its simple structure, was formed for the general good, paid no salary and was organized everywhere that a caravan gathered together, and ceased to exist when it was dispersed. It was similarly organized in every Metis settlement wherever enough diversity of interests tended to cause difficulties, or where dangers had to be averted or hostility repelled.

The Metis establishments were the foundations of future civilizations. Their locations are so well chosen that everywhere, they became centres on which immigration depends for the spread of colonization.

The Laws of the Prairie followed the Metis as the rules in mines follow the miners in their work.

The Hudson's Bay Company was surrounded by Metis government all through the fertile zone. It did not resent this. On the contrary, its traders and hunters, in the camps, in the "wintering-over" quarters, in the Metis settlements, hunted, traded, and carried on business under the Prairie Council and under the protection of Metis laws.

And for the Company this was a rampart behind whose shelter it was good to be, because not so long ago the Indians were in a much less civilized state than the Canadian Government found them; they were numerous and often at was with one another. War parties were encountered everywhere. The Crees, the Blackfoot, the Sioux of Minnesota, Dakota or Montana vied for the victor's plume. What made them more to be feared during the last thirty years was that, in their contacts with the Whites and all kinds of adventurers, they became much better armed than previously.

It would have been impossible otherwise for the Company to have carried on, without the constant expense necessary for the upkeep of a considerable armed force.

The Metis are the men who, with arms, tamed the Indian nations and then pacified them, maintaining good relations with them in favour of peace. It is they who, at the price of their blood, brought tranquillity to the North-West.

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 4

Return toThe Metis Man
Copyright Michael J. Durocher, 1997