What it means to be Métis: University of Ottawa researcher sharpens our understanding of the term

Posted in Articles, Canada, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation on 2017-06-25 22:53Z by Steven

What it means to be Métis: University of Ottawa researcher sharpens our understanding of the term

Research Matters

Sharon Oosthoek

The University of Ottawa’s Brenda Macdougall brings her expertise in Métis and First Nations history to bear on how a group of people become a nation. (University of Ottawa)

Every second Thursday, we will be featuring an Ontario Research Chair (ORC) from one of the province’s universities. ORCs are university research professorships created to drive provincial research and develop excellence, to create world-class centres of research, and to enhance Ontario’s competitiveness in Canada’s knowledge-based economy. See previous profiles here.

More than a century after being hanged for treason, Métis leader Louis Riel still has the power to polarize Canadians along ethnic lines.

Riel was born in 1844 in a fur-trading community known as the Red River Settlement, near modern-day Winnipeg. He came to fame in the fight for Métis rights and culture as the newly-formed Canadian government sought to expand its reach into his people’s prairie homeland.

Riel remains today one of the most studied figures in Canadian history and his “blood line” is still a topic of heated discussion because he was of French and Dene heritage.

“People talk about Riel in fractions all the time—that he is 1/8 Indian and so more white than native” says Brenda Macdougall. “When we discuss him in this fashion, it not only undermines who Riel was, it undermines who we are.”

Macdougall is the province’s first Chair in Métis Research at the University of Ottawa, a position funded by an endowment from the government of Ontario and the University of Ottawa. As chair, and a Métis woman herself, she has thought deeply about what the term means.

Historically, it was the French word for a person of mixed European and Indian ancestry, much like the word half-breed meant “mixed” in English. But Macdougall says the term has evolved over time to mean something more profound: a people who share a history, culture, and geography…

Read the entire article here.

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Contours of a People: Metis Family, Mobility, and History ed. by Nicole St-Onge, Carolyn Podruchny, and Brenda MacDougall (review) [Haggarty]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Canada, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation on 2014-09-26 15:31Z by Steven

Contours of a People: Metis Family, Mobility, and History ed. by Nicole St-Onge, Carolyn Podruchny, and Brenda MacDougall (review) [Haggarty]

The Canadian Historical Review
Volume 95, Number 3, September 2014
pages 463-465
DOI: 10.1353/can.2014.0057

Liam Haggarty
Mount Royal University, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

St-Onge, Nicole, Carolyn Podruchny, and Brenda Macdougall (eds.), Maria Campbell (fore.), Contours of a People: Metis Family, Mobility, and History (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012).

Reflecting on the state of Metis scholarship in Canada, Maria Campbell writes, “It is crucial for us to research and document our own stories and to share and discuss them at a community level. To celebrate them is a part of our decolonizing” (xxv ). That lofty goal is shared by the editors of and contributors to this collection, which both celebrates the work of pioneers in the field, specifically Jacqueline Peterson and Jennifer S.H. Brown, and charts new paths of study. Although firmly rooted in the Western scholarly tradition, it seeks to focus greater attention on family, mobility, and connectedness – themes that will resonate in Metis communities beyond the walls of academia.

In addition to Campbell’s thoughtful foreword, the collection consists of an introduction and fourteen chapters that encompass a wide range of geographies (from the Great Lakes to British Columbia, from Wisconsin to Creole communities in Alaska), timeframes (from the eighteenth century through to the present day), and topics and methodologies (including women’s history, legal history, biography, discourse analysis, and historical geography). By and large, these chapters address ongoing areas of research and familiar questions in the field pertaining to ethnogenesis, cultural distinctiveness, homelands, key events, regional diversity, politicization, and identity. In so doing, they add significantly to the breadth, depth, and texture of Metis historiography and fulfill the editors’ mandate: to trace the contours of Metis peoples and communities, what binds them together, what separates them from others, and what it means to be Metis in specific places, times, and contexts.

Some contributors simultaneously push the boundaries of conventional Metis historiography by adopting innovative approaches that challenge basic assumptions about Metis histories and the lenses through which Metis cultures are often viewed. Historians Nicole St-Onge and Carolyn Podruchny, for example, problematize simplistic interpretations of Metis ethnogenesis by investigating the significance and meaning of “material and emotional ties of kinship and loyalty” (63) to Metis culture and lifeways. Similarly, historical geographer Philip D. Wolfart challenges us to view Metis ethnogenesis and identity aspatially, as concepts bounded not by places visited or land used but by “a system of social obligation and fealty” (121) based on one’s social networks and relationships, while historical and cultural geographer Etienne Rivard asks us to consider the influence that “oral geographies” (144) have had on Metis constructions of identity and senses of place. In the book’s penultimate chapter, Native studies scholar Chris Anderson surveys the challenges associated with translating nuanced interpretations of Metis mobility, communities, and identity into the juridical arena of the Canadian legal system, arguing that although the courts acknowledge the importance of mobility to Metis culture, “older settlement-based understandings” continue to carry greater weight (412–13). Lastly, Native studies scholar Brenda Macdougall explores the concept of ambivalence not only in the formation of Metis identities but also as a trend in Metis historiography that potentially obscures complicated and multifaceted expressions of biculturality, thereby perpetuating simplistic binary understandings of individual and collective identities. By thus situating family, mobility, and connectedness at the centre of Metis culture, these chapters de-centre Euro-centric frameworks of analysis and ways of knowing, and privilege Metis perspectives on the past and present.

These nuanced and innovative analyses also raise important questions that remain underrepresented in Metis historiography. The collective identities informed by ideas of mobility, family, and historical consciousness, for example, are about exclusion as well as inclusion. Who, then, is being left out of Metis communities through ethnogenesis and identity making? To what extent do gender and class relations, as well as other markers of difference, intersect Metisness? How have Metis identities been instrumentalized to exclude as well as include certain individuals and groups? These questions may lie largely beyond the scope of the text but they are nonetheless important to the type of decolonized scholarship Campbell calls for. Understanding the contours of a people requires us to engage both external and internal relations of power.

As a whole, this collection represents a valuable addition to Metis and Aboriginal historiography, and it is a fitting tribute to Peterson, Brown, and other pioneers in the field. By surveying a broad geographic area and covering a wide range of topics…

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Contours of a People: Metis Family, Mobility, and History

Posted in Anthologies, Anthropology, Books, Canada, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2014-04-21 00:43Z by Steven

Contours of a People: Metis Family, Mobility, and History

University of Oklahoma Press
520 pages
Illustrations: 12 B&W Illus., 8 Maps, 16 Tables
6.125 x 9.25 in
Paperback ISBN: 9780806144870

Edited by:

Nicole St-Onge, Professor of History
University of Ottawa

Carolyn Podruchny, Associate Professor of History
York University, Toronto

Brenda Macdougall, Associate Professor of History and Geography
University of Ottawa

Foreword by: Maria Campbell

Offers new perspectives on Metis identity

What does it mean to be Metis? How do the Metis understand their world, and how do family, community, and location shape their consciousness? Such questions inform this collection of essays on the northwestern North American people of mixed European and Native ancestry who emerged in the seventeenth century as a distinct culture. Volume editors Nicole St-Onge, Carolyn Podruchny, and Brenda Macdougall go beyond the concern with race and ethnicity that takes center stage in most discussions of Metis culture to offer new ways of thinking about Metis identity.

Geography, mobility, and family have always defined Metis culture and society. The Metis world spanned the better part of a continent, and a major theme of Contours of a People is the Metis conception of geography—not only how Metis people used their environments but how they gave meaning to place and developed connections to multiple landscapes. Their geographic familiarity, physical and social mobility, and maintenance of family ties across time and space appear to have evolved in connection with the fur trade and other commercial endeavors. These efforts, and the cultural practices that emerged from them, have contributed to a sense of community and the nationalist sentiment felt by many Metis today.

Writing about a wide geographic area, the contributors consider issues ranging from Metis rights under Canadian law and how the Library of Congress categorizes Metis scholarship to the role of women in maintaining economic and social networks. The authors’ emphasis on geography and its power in shaping identity will influence and enlighten Canadian and American scholars across a variety of disciplines.

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One of the Family: Métis Culture in Nineteenth-Century Northwestern Saskatchewan by Brenda Macdougall (review)

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Canada, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation on 2013-09-12 00:53Z by Steven

One of the Family: Métis Culture in Nineteenth-Century Northwestern Saskatchewan by Brenda Macdougall (review)

Canadian Ethnic Studies
Volume 44, Number 3, 2012
pages 147-148
DOI: 10.1353/ces.2013.0012

Frits Pannekoek, President and Professor of History
Athabasca University, Athabasca, Alberta, Canada

Brenda Macdougall, One of the Family: Metis Culture in Nineteenth-Century Northwestern Saskatchewan (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2010)

For the last several decades, scholarship in Métis genealogy has matured to the point that it can proudly claim a leading position in the field of prosopography, a field first identified in medieval studies. It has become an instrument to divine an understanding of Métis society, its construction, its past and its continuity. Macdougall has built carefully on the scholarship of amongst others: Jennifer Brown, Sylvia Van Kirk, John Foster, Gerhard Ens, Doug Sprague, Heather Devine, and Nicole St. Onge. Her book deals with Métis culture in 19th century Northwestern Saskatchewan largely around Ile a La Crosse, a real and symbolic centre to the people of the Northwest. It is organized into seven chapters with introduction and conclusion, for a total of nine chapters.

The book argues that the Métis families of the Northwest are “wahkootowin.” This, according to Macdougall, is a Cree “worldview linking land, family, and identity in one interconnected web of being.” The first chapter deals with the social landscapes of the Northwest, the second with the social construction of the Métis family, the third with residency and patronymic connections across the Northwest, the fourth with family acculturation and Roman Catholicism, and the fifth with family labor and the Hudson’s Bay Company. Two later chapters deal with free trade and the culture it contributed.

Macdougall’s contributions are significant and considerable. As noted, she used “wahkootowin” to explain the complex set of interrelationships amongst a people. She explains how marriage patterns, work lives, and religion were all mutually reinforcing and how these complex relationships or “wahkootowin” defined life. Family mattered a great deal and a study of the family structures evidences a pattern that persisted and deepened over four generations. The volume is rich in detail and anyone with roots in Northern Saskatchewan will leave with a deeper understanding of themselves. It is, to a degree, an insider’s study, but for the scholar of Métis genesis, it is now the best explanation of how a people and an identity emerged in the Saskatchewan interior.

The book is, however, not without its problems, although some will consider these its greatest strengths. First, it will be very difficult for people outside the region or new to Métis studies to read the book with any real enjoyment. The genealogical data is dense and will be in the eyes of some a major obstacle to understanding “wahkootowin.” Others, however, will find the nuanced tapestry of family information a highly compelling background to the family networks that Macdougall argues are so foundational to an understanding of the Métis. Most Métis scholars will ponder these connections and will use the questions Macdougall asks to further their own family reconstructions regardless of region or Aboriginal cultural roots.

The real question that will be posed by many is whether the findings are replicable. Are the complex interconnections of Northwestern Saskatchewan to be found in Northern Manitoba at Rossville for example? Macdougall rightfully makes much of the Catholicism of the Ile a La Crosse community, and points out how Protestant mixed bloods were probably purposefully excluded. Would the Methodist community at, for example, Rossville, the community at White Fish Lake, or that at Stanley mission have been equally exclusionary to Catholics? Would English-speaking, Protestant mixed-blood communities have differing structures? Would “wahkootowin” take on a different texture in these communities? Would the Hudson’s Bay Company have a different relationship given the dominance of Protestants in its hierarchy? Would there be Protestant Catholic intermarriages? Macdougall, I would suggest, would likely say not, but were Irene Spry still alive she would suggest that intermarriages would and did occur. A more careful reading of Anglican and Methodist archives might pose new questions. What is important is that Macdougall has moved the discussion on Métis culture from one of class, or one focusing on ethnicity to one that requires an understanding of complex Aboriginal cultural norms rather than one requiring a complex understanding of European or Euro American ones. Macdougall demands much of her readers, and those who accept the challenge will be well rewarded…

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One of the Family: Metis Culture in Nineteenth-Century Northwestern Saskatchewan

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Canada, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Monographs, Religion on 2010-04-07 03:57Z by Steven

One of the Family: Metis Culture in Nineteenth-Century Northwestern Saskatchewan

University of British Columbia Press
360 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-7748-1729-5

Brenda Macdougall, Chair in Métis Studies
University of Ottawa

One of the Family

In recent years there has been growing interest in the social and cultural attributes that define the Metis as both Aboriginal and a distinct people. The study of Metis identity formation has also become one of the most innovative ways to explore cultural encounters and change in North American history and anthropology.

In One of the Family, Brenda Macdougall draws on diverse written and oral sources and employs the concept of wahkootowin—the Cree term for a worldview that privileges family and values relatedness between all beings—to trace the emergence of a distinct Metis community at Île à la Crosse in northern Saskatchewan. Wahkootowin describes how relationships in the nineteenth century were supposed to work and helps to explain how the Metis negotiated with local economic and religious institutions while creating and nurturing—through marriage choices and living arrangements, adoption and the selection of godparents, economic decisions and employment—a society that emphasized family obligation and responsibility.

This path-breaking study showcases how one Metis community created a distinct identity rooted in Aboriginal values about family and shaped by the fur trade and the Roman Catholic Church. It also offers a model for future research and discussion that will appeal to anyone interested in the history of the fur trade or Metis culture and identity.

Table of Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Note on Methodology and Sources
  • Note on Writing Conventions
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: “They are strongly attached to the country of rivers, lakes, and forests”: The Social Landscapes of the Northwest
  • Chapter Two: “The bond that connected one human being to another”: Social Construction of the Metis Family
  • Chapter Three: “To live in the land of my mother”: Residency and Patronymic Connections Across the Northwest
  • Chapter Four: “After a man has tasted of the comforts of married life this living alone comes pretty tough”: Family, Acculturation, and Roman Catholicism
  • Chapter Five: “The only men obtainable who know the country and Indians are all married”: Family, Labour, and the HBC
  • Chapter Six: “The HalfBreeds of this place always did and always will dance”: Competition, Freemen, and Contested Spaces
  • Chapter Seven: “I Thought it advisable to furnish him”: Freemen to Free Traders in the Northwest Fur Trade
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix
  • Glossary
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index of Names
  • Index of Subjects
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