Post Powleyby Ginny Gonneau
Documenting Métis People & Historic Métis Communities in the Great Lakes
Though the Métis homeland is said to stretch from the upper parts of British Columbia to the Ontario-Quebec boarder, much of the literature published on Métis to date, has focused quite largely on communities in western Canada, primarily Red River. This lack of studies on the history of Métis peoples in the Great Lakes perpetuates the myth that the Métis only existed in Red River. As scholars we should concerned, since there is generally very little history written about the Métis, and even less so on the Métis people of the Great Lakes, despite the fact that the Métis are a constitutionally recognized Aboriginal people of Canada. The paper I am here to share with you today is a review of the few published studies, which do exist on the history of Métis people and communities in the Great Lakes. I wrote this paper in 2005 for my Métis Studies course at Carleton University. Since this time, many new studies on this topic have emerged. However, there continues to be a shortage of history documenting the existence of Métis people and communities in the Great Lakes. Things are slowly changing, as documenting the existence of these historic communities becomes a greater priority to the government of Canada and organizations such as the Métis Nation of Ontario. My paper is essentially a literature review will identifies a number of secondary sources which can be used to document historic Métis communities in the Great Lakes. The scope of literature I address range from scholarly studies, to oral history publications, to local history texts.
There are indeed many more sources yet to be discovered, however, finding them requires a painstaking process of reading through local history texts from the Great Lakes region for references to mixed-blood peoples. More work needs to be done in piecing together this history which is scattered and hidden amongst history texts whose titles bear no mention of Métis or mixed-blood peoples.
In my literature review, I examine how historians and researchers have written about Métis people and communities of the Great Lakes through the following questions. Do the authors interpret mixed-ancestry populations of the Great Lakes as having developed a weaker national identity or ethnic consciousness? Or, do they argue that this population did posses a distinct socio-cultural heritage, sense of ethnic identity and nationhood? And according to which authors did Métis ethnogenesis occur amongst mixed-blood peoples in other regions of Canada outside of Red River?
Politics of Mixed-Blood Heritage
Though historians have documented the existence of a mixed Indian/white population in the Great Lakes region, which pre-date those in Red River, this distinct culture, and its people have seemingly disappeared from historical record. In "?Their Habits were Startling': Mixed-Heritage Resistance in the Era of Scientific Racism?, Kathleen Thomas studies what she perceives to be the continued presence of mixed-heritage people in the upper Great Lakes region throughout the nineteenth century. Her article focuses on newspaper articles by a French/Algonquin woman, Elizabeth Baird, who wrote for the Green Bay Gazette in the late 1800s. It is interesting to note that throughout this essay, Thomas does not refer to Elizabeth Baird or her people as "Métis?, she calls them "mixed-heritage? instead. Her reasoning is that mixed-ancestry people like Baird in the Great Lakes region did not refer to themselves as "Métis? but rather: "bros brule?, "voyageur?, "French?, "Canadian? and "French Canadian?. Thomas also does not employ popular terms such as "mixed-blood? because she argues they "perpetuate the myth that cultural differences are genetic, fixed and discernable by the blood in one's veins? . Her choice of the term "mixed-heritage? is very deliberate and unique in comparison to other historians who commonly refer to halfbreeds in this region as "Métis? or "mixed-bloods? peoples.
There is great controversy and debate about whether or not to use the term "Métis? to refer to groups of mixed-ancestry in the Great Lakes, since this form, written with a capital ?M,' is said to refer to those in Red River, who evolved into a distinct political group. I have chosen to adopt Thomas' use of the term "mixed-heritage? or "mixed-ancestry? in some parts of this essay because I agree with her distinction- the term "Métis? was not often used by this population. Although I agree that the term "mixed-ancestry/heritage? in some ways better represents the people of the Great Lakes, since "Métis? was not a political identity they ascribed to, nor was it an identity ascribed to them by others. I do not, however, when referring to mixed-ancestry people of the Great Lakes abandon the term "Metis?, since that would be implying through my use of terminology that this mixed-ancestry population did not develop a national identity and ethnic consciousness. I am aware, as Thomas indicates that the term "Métis? has some rather offensive origins. For example, she writes in "as early as the thirteenth century it was used to describe things?of low birth...then in the sixteenth century to describe hybrid animals, plants and ?mixed-blood' humans. Another sixteenth century dictionary glosses métis by reference to gluttons, barbarians and cabals?. However, the terminology used to refer to Great Lakes Métis continues to be inconsistent due to conflicting views about the ethnogenesis of this population. I choose to employ the term Métis for the purposes of this essay (except in cases when different terms are employed by the author I am discussing) for the sake of consistency and also because this is the term which contemporary mixed-ancestry people of the Great Lakes identify with today. I will return to the discussion of terminology in later parts of this essay.
Thomas argues that the mixed-heritage people of the Great Lakes region did posses a distinct socio-cultural heritage, sense of ethnic identification and nationhood. Through her analysis of Baird's articles, she reveals this mixed-heritage woman's efforts to resist scientific racism and the erasure her mixed French/Algonquin identity. Through analysis of Baird's "syncretic Algonquin-Catholicism?, Thomas shows one example of how mixed-heritage individual used a non-Native framework (Catholicism) to resist scientific racism, through employing a different conception of "civility? which favoured Algonquin values such as: kinship, sociability and generosity, over notions of racial determinism . In doing so, Thomas reveals how one individual was able to negotiate a mixed-heritage ethnic identity in fur-trade society, when the two: Indians and whites were in conflict with each other.
This article by Thomas demonstrates that, when documenting the existence and development of Metis communities in the Great Lakes, historians must also pay particular attention to the "self-designators? of mixed-heritage peoples, which are often ignored in favour of outsider naming ascriptions. In Baird's writings these include her discussion of her mixed-heritage family, her unique Indian/French lifestyle, her fluency in French and Ottawa, and her religious education as a Native person. Thomas cites as a major problem: if historians are not careful in their study of historical documents, which suggest there were only two racial groups: Indians and whites, they will "falsely conclude that mixed-heritage people vanished from the Great Lakes region? . This is why Thomas concludes, mixed-heritage peoples in the Great Lakes are not recognized as a distinct people today. Her attempt to show the continuation of mixed-heritage peoples is a key element in her argument, since she is trying to dispute that it was not just halfbreeds of Red River that developed into an entity conscious of itself in a meaningful way.
Thomas stresses the importance of context to the study of identifying halfbreeds in the Great Lakes, since it explains why in many cases mixed-heritage peoples are missing from dominant historical records. During the nineteenth century, whiteness was equated with purity and biological superiority, therefore, any amount of Native American blood meant you were tainted and classified as Indian. Thus, Thomas argues there were no in-between or mixed heritage racial categories for halfbreeds to identify with, there were only, "fixed and bounded ?pure' racial categories that equated appearance and behaviour with a single racial identity: ?white' or ?Indian.'? Which is why, she clarifies it appears as though halfbreeds did not exist in the Great Lakes or did not develop a distinct, social, cultural and political identity, similar to those in Red River.
While I do not dispute that this is a major reason why halfbreeds in the Great Lakes appear as though they ?vanished', It is important to point out that throughout this period these notions of race existed across Canada and certainly were not exclusive to this region.
Through an analysis of Baird's self declared mixed-heritage identity versus the labels imposed upon her by outsiders, who viewed her as either Indian or white, Thomas argues that mixed-heritage peoples did a construct a distinct ethnic identification of their own, through mixing their European and Native origins, which over time produced a unique, separate and distinct people. Thomas makes the important observation that, although mixed-heritage people might have outwardly appeared as ?white' or ?Indian' and recorded as such in historical documents, they are recognizable to historians by their "syncretic? identity maintained through the family.
Using Baird as an example, Thomas shows how halfbreeds sometimes used their mixed-heritage appearance to their advantage, as a means to gain a higher social status. However, Thomas makes the distinction that mixed-heritage peoples, like Baird, were not trying to ?pass' per say, "they were simply continuing to adapt and maintain the syncretic lives they had always lived? . Thomas interprets this notion of integrating into white culture as a technique of survival, rather than a means of assimilation, used by mixed-heritage peoples to negotiate their social positioning in a world filled with "contradictions of ?scientific racism.'? For example, though Baird's choice of Victorian style dress might suggest she was trying to ?pass' as white person and erase visible indicators of her Native American heritage to gain a better social standing. Thomas uses Baird's writings in the Green Bay Gazette which clearly assert her pride in being a mix of French and Algonquin to counter these arguments.
Although Thomas succeeded in revealing one woman's mixed-heritage resistance to Euro-American racial labelling, she did not prove that all mixed-heritage peoples resisted the erasure of their mixed-heritage identity in such manner, nor does she show that all such people continued to exist throughout the nineteenth century, apart from the Baird family. That is not to say this study is not an important contribution to the study of mixed-heritage identity in the Great Lakes. Interpretations of Baird's memoirs do help to explain the harmful effects nineteenth century racial determinism had on the public expression of mixed-heritage identities.
Self-identification is the most significant theme in this study of mixed-heritage peoples of the Great Lakes. Tracing the emergence of halfbreeds in the Great Lakes as a distinct people or "nation? is complicated by the fact that most of these individuals of mixed-heritage parentage did not use the term "Métis? to identify themselves. Historians debate whether or not this an important distinguishing factor in determining whether or not halfbreeds in the Great Lakes achieved ?nationhood' similar to those in Red River. However, Red River continues to be the model by which to compare all other mixed-heritage populations in Canada. The problem is, as Thomas identifies, government officials who made reference to the existence of halfbreeds in this region, often recorded them officially as "Indians? which makes it difficult for historians to document the existence and development of historic Metis communities in the Great Lakes. Thomas argues that in order to identify Metis or mixed-heritage people in this region, historians must study the way in which individuals resisted Euro-American labelling by identifying themselves as different from Indian and white. Thomas shows the need to look beyond theses dualistic racial labels in order to reconstruct the early history of halfbreed communities in the Great Lakes. Historians must not be fooled into believing mixed-heritage people in the Great Lakes did not have an ethnic identity, merely because a mixed-heritage ethnic category did not exist. Unless historians realize this, Thomas argues that the existence of a Métis peoples will continue to be thought of as a western phenomena originating at Red River.
This study also shows that just because mixed-heritage peoples in other parts of Canada did not self-identify themselves as "Métis? does not mean they did not form a distinct socio-cultural culture separate from Indian and white. For example, Baird called herself "French? yet she distinguished herself as different from pure French (Parisians) and Indians . Outwardly, Baird may have appeared to be a "white-washed? Indian, a person clearly caught between two worlds due to her Victorian dress, devout religious beliefs and education. Thomas argues that while Baird may well have been in-between, she was not confused about her identity. She strongly identified with a distinct mixed-heritage culture and history. Thomas notes, Baird was native to land but did not identify as Indian, she was ?civilized' but not a Euro-American settler, for she did not view her land "as frontier barren of civilization? . Therefore, Thomas illustrates Baird embraced both aspects of her mixed-heritage parentage.
This study offers a lot of historical information about the tensions surrounding miscegenation in the nineteenth century. As Thomas states, halfbreeds were believed to be a "single-generation phenomena: a mistake, not expected to continue, and not assumed to have had a heritage? . Baird's newspaper articles provided Thomas with a framework through which to analyze these ethnic and religious tensions. Her study details why European values and culture dominated amongst mixed-heritage peoples of the Great Lakes, which helps to clarify why some aspects of Native American culture were subordinated, revealing an imbalanced mixture of both white and Indian cultures amongst mixed-heritage peoples in the Great Lakes. Though Thomas interprets this to have significant impact mixed-heritage identity, she does tell us if this is unique to the Great Lakes population. At the end of this study, Thomas concludes that mixed-heritage peoples were not wiped out of the Great Lakes as a result of artificial binary ethnic groupings and the suppression of mixed-heritage identities; they continued to maintain their individual mixed-heritage identities well into the late nineteenth century.
In "Métis, Halfbreeds, and Other Real People: Challenging Cultures and Categories?, Jennifer Brown discusses the treatment of Métis in the Great Lakes on the United States side of the boarder by American historiography. Similar to Ontario, Brown finds that the Métis are near to being entirely neglected in historical studies of the American West. Her intentions are to briefly introduce American historians to the ethnic term Métis and to identify who the Métis are in the United States. As Brown indicates, the problem is most historians treat the Métis as a historical people, rather than a contemporary ethnic group or a ?real people'. Her article brings to mind a popular description of the Métis: North America's ?forgotten people'. The mere fact that authors such as Brown need to define the term Métis to an audience of American professional historians underlines an important concern, Great Lakes Métis are even more invisible in the United States than in Canada. She argues that a lack of research is not to blame because many works have been published on the Métis on both sides of the boarder, a great many of them written by Canadian scholars such as herself.
Like Kathleen Thomas, Brown holds "racial dualism?, that is the Indian/white dichotomy, mainly responsible for the invisibility of Métis people in United States. Brown concludes that we must be aware of such false dichotomies because Métis are a "real people? who exist both in the United States and across Canada. Her article, a mere three pages long, dated 1993, ends with an interesting final comment about the diversity and complexity of Métis peoples. She argues that no single side offers an accurate view of Métis history and that is it is only through various interpretations that we gain a fuller understanding of Métis people.
Great Lakes vs. Red River Métis Ethnogenesis: Political Consciousness
One of the main historical debates about mixed-heritage peoples of the Great Lakes is the question of whether or not they developed political consciousness. Jacqueline Peterson is most responsible for bringing this issue to the forefront of Métis historiography. Her studies of so called "other? Métis groups, outside of Red River, are apart of a recent expansion in the historiography of Métis peoples, which has evolved from a narrow focus on western provinces to the study of mixed-heritage communities in the Great Lakes and abroad. Her work has been fairly controversial, since it has challenges the Métis definition and the boundaries of the Métis homeland as defined by some western province Métis nationalists.
Peterson's articles demonstrates that the fur trade spread across Eastern Canada westward, creating trading posts along the major waterways, whereby mixed- ancestry, possibly "Métis? communities developed through the intermarriage between European fur traders and Indian women of various Native tribes. Though she does document the existence of a mixed-heritage population throughout the Great Lakes during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, she argues that these communities developed somewhat differently than Red River, due to the high numbers of American settlement and other reasons. Peterson claims that it took the political awakening of 1817 at the Battle of Seven Oaks to really ?birth' mixed-heritage peoples into a nation or collective entity conscious of itself in a meaningful way.
In, "The People In Between: Indian-White Marriage and the Genesis of a Métis Society and Culture in the Great Lakes Region, 1680-1830,? Peterson examines the social context of Indian-white relations in fur-trade-society. Her interpretations are based on the assumption that mixed-bloods of the Great Lakes did in fact develop into and operate as an ethnic group. She goes on to address the most pertinent question of all: were the mixed-blood peoples of the Great Lakes "Métis?? Her conclusion is that:
In saying this, she raises a question of how essential political consciousness is to Métis ethnogenesis. Is socio-cultural consciousness enough? Peterson dismisses the idea that Great Lakes Métis developed political consciousness, which is not all that surprising. What is more significant is that she interprets Great Lakes Métis as identical in every other way to Métis in Red River, a very bold historical statement.
In, "Many Roads to Red River: Métis Genesis in the Great Lakes Region, 1610-1815,? Peterson further argues that communities of the Great Lakes were near to becoming a group conscious of its collective identity, as Red River came to be. However, a large influx of Anglo-Americans prevented them from decreeing their identity. Other than traveller accounts and other such historical records, Peterson argues historians are not able to interpret much regarding the way in which mixed-heritage trading communities perceived their own identity. Instead, her article focuses on clearing up the misunderstanding that all Métis are descendents of the Red River valley. In the process, she demonstrates that the Métis actually began a thousand miles to the east in the Great Lakes region. Peterson actually documents mixed-heritage communities which pre-date those at Red River. Does this mean the birth of the Métis Nation began in the Great Lakes? Peterson argues it does not. She demonstrates that although the Métis of the Great Lakes were central to the spread of the fur trade, they were not instrumental in the development of Métis nationalism. In other words, they more a starting point than a birthing site of a new people. Hence, the lower case "m? in her use of term métis.
Harriet R. Gorham makes a similar argument in her Masters thesis, "Ethnic Identity Amongst The Mixed-Bloods Of The Great Lakes Region 1760-1830?. Her study focuses entirely on exploring why mixed-bloods of the Great Lakes failed to develop a sense of national identity, similar to Red River. Once again, Red River is being used by historians as the standard by which to measure all other mixed-blood groups, a common theme throughout Métis historiography.
Gorham makes the distinction that, unlike Métis groups in Red River, mixed-bloods of the Great Lakes tended to marry either white or Indian, rather than each other. This is an important difference she claims because "the practise of endogamous or exogamous marriage can reveal whether or not the group proudly defends its ethnic homogeneity or wished to extend and diffuse the group's ethnic identity.? Gorham also argues that the Great Lakes Métis did not secure or identify with a distinct ethnic group. These issues are fundamental she argues to a group's ethnogenesis and therefore, mixed bloods of the Great Lakes cannot be thought of as "Métis,? since this term is used to refer to mixed-blood groups who expressed a unique sense of national consciousness.
Gorham's interpretations operate on the premise that a national political consciousness is more significant to a group's ethnic identity, than socio-cultural consciousness. By socio-cultural consciousness I mean: a shared language, history, culture, and way of life, dress and so on. She argues that it is the "Métis of Red River who first expressed their sense of distinctive ethnic identity as the ?New Nation' at the Battle of Seven Oaks in 1816.?
However, Gorham conveniently leaves out the fact that not all those who fought in this battle came from Red River. Therefore, descendents of the Red River valley should not be the only ones accredited in the birth of Métis nationalism. It would be interesting and important to do a study of those who fought in the Battle of Seven Oaks, the Riel Rebellion of 1870 and the Northwest Rebellion of 1885 to investigate where these individuals came from.
Although Gorham decidedly marks Red River as the birth of Métis nationalism, her study does recognize that some of the roots of Métis national consciousness can be found amongst mixed blood in the Great Lakes region. She indicates that many Red River Métis can trace at least some of their ancestors back to traders from the Great Lakes region . The focus of her study is however, primarily about why mixed-bloods in the Great Lakes did not unite into an ethnic group. She examines their social, political and economic environment, their mating and marriage patterns and their lack of self-ascription, in efforts to come to some historical understanding of why they failed to achieve nationhood. Her research cites several missing ?ingredients' needed to produce ethnic consciousness among Great Lakes Metis, such as: higher rates of intermarriage, outsider recognition as a distinct ethnic group, isolation from white settlers, closer proximity between settlements and a strong mixed-blood leader without ties to white government agencies .
In the final pages of her conclusion, she suggests that further research is needed to determine the extent to which mixed-bloods in the Great Lakes resisted white domination and assimilation, in efforts to retain their mixed-blood identity. Kathleen M. W Thomas' article is an example of one study which has responded to this need. It is highly probable that Gorham came across similar studies in her research which gave evidence of this resistance, otherwise why else would she mention this as an area in need of further research? More than likely, she ignored this information since it did not fit within the argument of her essay. Readers must keep in mind that the questions which historians set out to answer shape and influence how these scholars conceptualize their subject. Gorham's essay for example, is based on the premise that mixed bloods in the Great Lakes did fail to develop ethnic consciousness, therefore, this sets a basis for the way in which she addresses the contents of each source in her analysis.
Gorham also calls attention to the lack of culturally specific studies which examine gender roles among mixed-blood peoples in the Great Lakes. She hints that they might lead historians to a better understanding of how culture was transmitted between generations and developed over time in this region. This raises another interesting question in need of further research. Did the patriarchal structure of fur-trade-society in the Great Lakes destroy the passing of a distinct ethnic identity from one generation to another? Gorham also poses some larger historical questions for consideration: Can historians apply contemporary concepts of ethnogenesis to groups such as mixed-bloods of the Great Lakes who lived in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? Should anthropologists and historians re-examine some of their assumptions and theories regarding the birth of mixed-blood cultures?
One problem with Gorham's analysis is that she argues "the channelling of potential candidates into ?go-between' roles? hindered the development of a strong sense of Métis identity amongst mixed-bloods in the Great Lakes. I would argue the opposite, since this liaison role commonly held by mixed-bloods of the Great Lakes throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is a significant feature of this region's distinct mixed-heritage culture. The one thing that remains common to all historic Métis communities is their central tie to transportation systems. As shippers, guides and interpreters of the fur trade, mixed-bloods of this region canoed the waterways of the Great Lakes to transfer goods from east to west, north to south. Since many mixed-bloods were channelled into this role, it became a signifier of their mixed-blood identity.
Métis Family History in Ontario obtained through Oral Tradition
Many of the historical records of Métis peoples in Ontario and the rest of the Great Lakes region are hidden within historical texts, such as local histories of Ontario's pioneering families. Since the Métis of the Great Lakes are under researched and lacking published accounts of their peoples, historians have had to dig amongst local histories to recover historical data about the Métis in this region. Fortunately, books like The French and Pickerel River, Their History and Their People have been written to record the history of pioneer families in the Great Lakes, many of whom, not surprisingly, are found to be Métis.
This particular book authored by William A Campbell, is helpful in documenting the history of mixed-heritage families from the French and Pickerel River area. It includes historical information and pictures about the generations of Thompson and Desrochers families, known to be "Indian? in the text. However, the author notes that these families were of mixed Indian and Scottish-English descent, originally of Saginaw, Michigan. They reportedly came by sail boat, first to the Ojibway Saugeen River Reserve in 1905 located on the Bruce Peninsula near Sauble Beach but according to the article, "the reserve?was only a stop for the family for a short time, similar to many other Indian families migrating to Canada from the U.S.A at that period of time?. The question remains whether or not this mixed-heritage family or others like in this area, recognized themselves as Métis or as a group equivalent to that term.
Charlie Thompson's picture which appears in the book is helpful since it shows the visible signs of mixed Indian-white heritage. The article mentions briefly that Charlie Thompson, one of the three brothers who are noted as pioneers on the lower French River, "was a Chippewa chief in his own right? . This is puzzling to the historian who must then question what this statement means in regard to how the Thompson family saw themselves- were they Indian or were they Métis? Campbell, the author writes that Charlie's prized possession was a peace-pipe, which he often showed to his friends, sharing the history of where it came from. At the same time, Campbell talks a great deal about Charlie's occupation as a guide in the French and Pickerel river area. Charlie's wife is also recorded to be Indian woman named Elizabeth (Arkewize). Their children, arguably Métis, are said to have intermarried with other mixed-heritage families in the area: the Solomons, the Delamorandieres and the Desrochers. Further research needs to be conducted in order to find out if these mixed-heritage families saw themselves as separate and distinct from Indian, and white groups. However, it is particularly interesting that the Thompson family left the Ojibway Saugeen River Reserve to live separately as family on the north shore of Georgian Bay, but whether or not this was because they viewed themselves as different from local Indian population, due their mixed-ancestry, remains unanswered.
Other mixed-heritage families, such as those of the Burleigh Falls Métis settlement, outside present day Peterborough Ontario, are documented in published local histories, one being a document published in part by the Kawartha branch of the Ontario Métis and Non-Status Indian Association (1978). This publication talks a great deal about a man named Jack Jacobs (Silver Fox) of Irish and Ojibway descent who relocated from his family from the Curve Lake area to establish a Métis settlement at Burleigh Falls. There he owned a fishing camp and lodge called the Summerset Hotel, which largely catered to American visitors. The operation served as a primary revenue source for the Jacobs as well as the wider Métis community of thirty families during the tourist season. The publication notes that, guiding gave way to more rigorous effort in the fall and winter as the men first left the water to hunt and trap, spending the remainder of the year in the wood lots. This article is interesting because it shows how the people of Burleigh Falls Métis settlement came to view themselves as separate from Indian and white. The publication documents their political consciousness as unique ethnic group, through their efforts to lobby for better housing and employment opportunities for the people of their community. The article notes that they took collective action in summer of 1972 when, "the Métis and the non-status Indians of Burleigh Falls organized to appeal the proposed increase in leasing charges proposed by the Trent Canal Authority, and to ask for assurance that Burleigh Falls would remain as a Métis community?.
Methodological Issues in Tracing Métis Roots: Origins of Great Lakes Métis
In "Some Questions and Perspectives on the Problem of métis Roots,? John E. Foster discusses one of the most significant problems in tracing Métis roots: few records were produced by Métis people, apart from materials authored by Louis Riel. No such leader existed in the Great Lakes and so there are no comparative Métis authored records left behind for the documentation of Métis history in this region. The problem this poses is, most records have been created by ?outsiders' and then interpreted by ?outsiders' whose perspectives do not reflect those of the Métis peoples in the Great Lakes. Therefore, Foster argues there is a need for a reconstruction of Métis history.
Despite, the growing interest in the ethnogenesis of Métis peoples, Foster notes that the origins of Metis people are still not readily understood. In fact, they have become more complex. He credits Jacqueline Peterson extensive studies, for much of the progress which has been made in understanding the emergence of Métis peoples in the Great Lakes region. He notes that up until recently most of the records analyzed by historians have produced qualitative information, which is problematic since it leaves considerable room for false interpretation. To correct this, Foster writes that historians can use quantitative data, such as census records, to compare findings and assess the validity of these studies. To gain an even fuller understanding of the origins of Métis peoples, he suggests incorporating oral histories into historical narratives (when possible), as a way of preserving "values and attitudes which span generations.?
His article concludes that there are a variety of distinct Métis communities. Therefore, historians need to view the Métis as peoples, who have diverse and complex origins. To identify the origins of these distinct societies, he proposes historians examine three key social spheres: the world of adult men, adult women and family units . Each of these three "distinct worlds of experience? he argues, can illustrate the shared experiences among these individuals which distinguish them as a group separate from others.
Foster emphasizes that the development of the Métis population in the Great Lakes needs to be studied on its own terms and in its own context, apart from Red River. He argues, "it remains to be determined if the distinctions between the métis of the Upper Great Lakes and the Northern Plains were such that two should be considered separate social groups?. However, it quite clear by Foster's own study and others that the two populations developed differently from one another. Foster illustrates the need for historians to accept the possibility of further subdivisions within Métis populations. In other words, scholars need to see past the ?Red River myopia'. Not only do Métis populations differ regionally, he argues, they differ within regions as well. For example, subdivisions can be drawn amongst the buffalo hunting, trapping and fishing Métis peoples of the Northern Plains.
Again, Red River is highlighted, in this article by Foster, as the community which is documented for having developed into a separate ethnic group distinct from white and Indian. Therefore, naturally Foster uses it as a comparative model for other mixed-blood populations in his discussion. Since, it is identified as model Métis community, it is quite logical that he apply the factors which led to its emergence as a nation to other populations who eventually came to see themselves as Métis or some equivalent. However, Foster does question if this model can be applied to other populations such as those in the Great Lakes. Since the events and circumstances which led these peoples to view of themselves as a separate people were not the same. Foster calls special attention to the role of ?freemen', which he indicates may give evidence of how the Métis in the Great Lakes developed a sense of separateness and group identity. He draws attention to the fact that, unlike Red River, it is difficult to identify the particular events which led to the formation of a population of Metis peoples in the Great Lakes. Foster recommends a closer examination of this population's shared experiences, since in his mind; it might lead historians to a better understanding of how existing self-identifying Métis peoples of the Great Lakes came into being. In other words, it might solve the mystery of when this population began to recognize itself as Métis or as group equivalent to this term.
Methodological Issues in Documenting Historic Métis in Ontario
In "Documenting Historic Métis in Ontario? authors Gwen Reimer and Jean-Philippe Chartrand identify: what sources and methods historians should use to document the existence, and development of historic Métis communities, how to identify Métis people in Ontario historic record, and what the social and cultural indicators are for identifying a Métis community. While Reimer and Chartland do not tell us when or where historic Métis communities existed in Ontario, they do provide us with valuable suggestions as to how to find these answers.
As the authors note, studies of historic Métis communities in Ontario are needed now more than ever, especially since the Powley decision, a recent case which affirmed Métis peoples constitutional right to hunt, as a distinct Aboriginal group recognized under Sect. 35 of the Constitution Act 1982. As a result of this ruling, the Métis Nation must now define who a Métis is in order to begin determining how to apply existing Métis rights to hunt in the province of Ontario. Reimer and Chartland indicate that this involves research by historians and anthropologists, since one of the current measures which qualify a person as Métis, is the requirement to, "demonstrate ancestral connection to a historic Métis community,? which if defined as "a group of Métis with a distinctive collective identity, living together in the same geographic area and sharing a common way of life.?
Although the President of the Métis Nation of Ontario states that Métis communities "are a matter of historical record,? Reimer and Chartland highlight the fact that there are relatively few published studies on Métis people in Ontario and many problems associated with identifying Métis people, as a recognizable ethnic group, in Ontario records. Despite this, the authors write from the premise that a mixed European/Aboriginal population did exist, at least historically, among the Great Lakes in Ontario during the fur- trade period. However, they draw attention to the fact that well supported studies regarding the extent to which this population gave birth to a new culture and how their communities were formed, are absent.
On March 31, 2005 Reimer gave a presentation on this article at 3rd Annual Hudson's Bay Company Chair Métis Symposium, entitled: "Expansive Terrains: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Understanding Metis Culture and Society?. At this talk she identified the five historical indicators of Métis ethnogenesis: evidence of ?self ascribed' or ?other ascribed' Métis or halfbreed identity, evidence of intermarriage and mixed-descent, evidence of distinct social, cultural and economic patters, such as evidence of geographic proximity and evidence of political consciousness. One of the most interesting ethno-historical questions she raised was, how can historians distinguish a fur trade post, that being an occupational community, from a Métis community, formed as a result of a group's similar ethnic identity? Reimer questioned how can historians separate this population's fur-trade identity from their ethnic identity as mixed-blood individuals. Interestingly, she noted that after the collapse of the fur-trade, many trading post populations in the Great Lakes grew into Métis communities or settlements. This may be an important trend to consider in documenting the development of historic Métis communities in Ontario. Another important factor she identified is class. Métis men in the Great Lakes tended to remain in the ?servant' class, that is, the lower ranks of the fur trade company hierarchy. Through examining the characteristics of these settlements, Reimer demonstrated that a distinct and identifiable social life unique to post communities existed. However, she calls into question at what point can historians call these occupational dwellings Métis communities? In other words, did they consciously choose to live near each other or was it merely for occupational purposes? It could be argued that these were clusters of Métis families who often remained in the settlements for generations and after the fur-trade continued to maintain these separate communities. Reimer concludes that written historical record can point to if, how and when a mixed-ancestry fur-trade community became a Métis (ethnic) community.
Reimer's presentation and her article co-written with Chartrand are significant because they introduce new questions to the field of Métis historiography and establish important socio-cultural identifiers, essentially tools, for historians to use in documenting historic Métis communities in Ontario. With these tools, ethnohistorians can begin to assess the degree to which Métis identity and historic Métis communities developed during the fur trade period in Ontario. This article offers up and coming new researchers, as well as present ones, some direction in beginning a new field of research on Métis peoples in Ontario and their respective communities.
There are some definite themes throughout the historiography of Métis peoples in the Great Lakes, the first and most apparent is the inconsistent use of terminology. This is one of the major differences between Métis peoples of Red River and the Great Lakes. Historical studies on the communities of Red River generally use consistent language, referring to the population mostly as "Métis? (note: capital ?M') and in some cases "halfbreeds?. Historians refer to Métis peoples of the Great Lakes as "mixed-bloods?, "metis? (note: lower case ?m'), "mixed-heritage? and "mixed-ancestry?. In many cases, the authors do not provide a solid explanation of why they chose these different variations of the term "Métis?. Many in fact do state why "Métis? is not a term which can be ascribed to the mixed-blood populations of the Great Lakes. This is most likely because it is easier for historians to agree on incorrect designations for a group identity than it is to agree on a correct one. I too struggled with the issue of language and appropriateness of the term Métis for mixed-heritage peoples of the Great Lakes. I used the term "Metis? for the purposes of this literature review because in my view the mixed-heritage peoples of the Great Lakes do have a contemporary national identity and ethnic consciousness. Historically, I also agree that they did not posses the same political consciousness as the Red River Métis community due uncontrollable floods of American settlement, however that what due to circumstances beyond their control. "Métis? is a term which I feel represents mixed-ancestry peoples of the Great Lakes because like Red River this population has evolved (perhaps more slowly) into a distinct ethnic group who recognizes their separateness from Indian and white communities. This brings me to the second most prominent theme found throughout the historiography of Métis peoples in the Great Lakes, which is, the use of Red River as the standard model by which to compare all other mixed-heritage populations in Canada. Métis peoples of the Great Lakes should instead be studied on their own terms and in their own context, separate from Red River.
It is interesting that Ontario, a province previously excluded from the confines of the Métis homeland, is now taking the lead in defining who the Métis are, in Canadian courts. Perhaps, the gains they have made for the Nation, in terms of establishing the Métis people's Aboriginal right to hunt & fish for food, has had a positive effect on western views of eastern Métis populations. Now that these rights have been recognized and affirmed the onus lies on historians, researchers and anthropologists to identify Métis peoples and historic Métis communities in Ontario record. However, as this literature review has shown documenting the ethnohistory of Métis in Ontario is challenging due to the fact that relatively few records of mixed-blood populations exist from this region and methodologies for this research are only beginning to develop in this new subject area.
Brown, Jennifer S H. "Metis, Halfbreeds, and Other Real People: Challenging Cultures and Categories.? History Teacher 27 (November 1993): 19-26
Campbell A. William. The French and Pickerel Rivers, Their History and Their People. Journal Printing: Sudbury Ontario.
Chartrand, Jean-Philippe and Reimer, Gwen. "Documenting Historic Metis in Ontario.? Ethnohistory 51: 3 (Summer 2004): 567-607.
Foster E. John, "Some questions and perspectives on the problem of métis roots? in The New Peoples: Being and Becoming Métis in North America (Manitoba: University of Manitoba Press, 1985): 72-91
Gorham R. Harriet, "Ethnic Identity Amongst the Mixed-Bloods of the Great Lakes Region 1760-1830? (master's thesis, Carleton University, 1985):1-197
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"The Métis Settlement of Burleigh Falls,? sponsored by Kawartha branch of the Ontario Métis and Non-Status Indian Association & published by Quinte Web-Press (February, 1978): 18-32.
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