We Know Who We Are: Métis Identity in a Montana Community [Book Review]

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2011-01-23 03:50Z by Steven

We Know Who We Are: Métis Identity in a Montana Community [Book Review]

Drumlummon Views: the Online Journal of Montana Arts & Culture
Volume 1, Numbers 1-2, (Spring/Summer 2006)
pages 237-240

Nicholas C. P. Vrooman

Martha Harroun Foster, We Know Who We Are: Métis Identity in a Montana Community, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2006. Maps, tables, photographs, notes, bibliography, index. 306 pages.

Given the dearth of existing titles on the Métis in the United States, it is a real pleasure to read Martha Harroun Foster’s new book. Her work has untangled and explained pieces of a little-understood yet central story to Montana history. When Anglo society took hold of this state in the late 19th and early 20th century, it committed a huge error—the aggressively unjust treatment and tragic denial of our Métis population. This book is a story of one group of Métis families who became sedentary in a specific place upon the demise of the buffalo; the town which grew around them is now known as Lewistown. Foster does a superb job of recounting those families’ struggle to maintain their distinct identity amidst a most often uncaring society.

Yet I have serious concerns. Foster names her group the Spring Creek band, saying they belong to the state’s “longest continuously occupied Métis settlement” (p. 4). Determining “continuous occupation” is a highly charged notion used against Aboriginal peoples (Montana Métis specifically, to this day) throughout the colonial and national period as a judicial determinate to divest land and ignore prior rights of habitation. Historically, native communities shifted in co-relation to ever-changing environmental conditions. Is this how we want to speak of Indigenous community status of land tenure in this era? It also projects, from an external source, the “We’re #1” syndrome of individual supremacy onto one native community. Even applying the insatiable American and Western craving for exceptionalism, Lewistown still is not the “longest continuously occupied Métis settlement in Montana.” Suffice it to say, Métis have been living “continuously” throughout Montana since at least the 1830s and probably before.

I love Lewistown. It exists because it fits within the intrinsic unifying flow of river valleys and ancient roadways through permeable pulsating ecosystems to and fro’ areas of seasonal sustenance and power on an east/west and north/south axis across the Northern Plains. Throughout these environments Aboriginal communities, including the Métis, have long lived and continue to circulate. It is all related. It still exists. It is there to be known. The Medicine Line remains mysterious…

Read the entire review here.

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