Historiography and Red River Settlement

A history of my history with Red River Historiography:

My struggle with Red River historiography began as a student subjected to Manitoba’s Grade 7 history curriculum in 1969. Having been made aware of my Red River history and heritage through oral traditions passed down by successive generations of my family of origin, I suffered ‘cognitive dissonance’ over the discrepancy between what was personally known and the official knowledge I was meant to memorize. My experience was common. Generations of Manitoba Métis have been struck by the under representation of their numerous and accomplished ancestors in formal histories devoted to describing Red River Settlement.[1] A large part of this unease is attributable to experience with continual oppression exerted by colonialism in Canada. Another part, however, may be attributed to cultural continuity: when it comes to communicating history, oral transmission does not fix time in the same  manner as written history.[2] A grandparent’s story can take a grandchild back to one person removed from a temporally distant human source. Time, which by chronological measurement may comprise a 150 year span, can be telescoped in oral communication so as to give a historical actor an immediacy that is difficult to achieve in written history. The sensation is no different than that experienced when a grandparent imparts to a grandchild gossip — by which is meant an intimate report provided by kinsfolk — heard from one neighbour about another.[3] Ancestors then, are conceived as real personages, not as abstractions. There is a tendency to regard the reputations — whether favourable or not — of these relatives in the same manner as the reputations of those who are contemporaries. Instances of apparent misrepresentation are therefore unsettling.

[1] See, for example, Government of Manitoba, From the Past Into the Future: Manitoba Métis Policy (September 2010). See also Robert Briscoe, Rachel Shindman, Melissa Sit, Tracy Wong, “Evolution of the Depiction of the Red River Rebellion in Canadian History Textbooks,” Select subjects in the history of Ontario education website (accessed 27 March 2014), 1-27.

[2] Carol Ezzell, “Clocking Cultures,” Scientific American: A Matter of Time 287, no.3, Special Issue (September, 2002): 74-75; also Harold A. Innis, The Bias of Communication (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1951; reprint, with introduction, 1964), 62-65 (page citations are to the reprint edition).

[3] See Innis, Bias of Communication, 191-192; and Frederick C. Mish ed., “gossip,” Langenscheidt’s New College Merriam-Webster English Dictionary (New York: Langenscheidt, 1996; reprint, 1998), 504 (page citations are to the reprint edition).


In 1996, I sought to address my unease with Red River historiography by undertaking the study of history at the University of Manitoba. There, I learned that by the end of the 20th century and the opening of the 21st, historians were lauding the historiography about the Red River Métis as an admirably done (as in finished) project: a virtually complete body of knowledge, formidable for the extent of the material generated in the course of study and for the thoroughness by which its various aspects had been described and explained.[4] The seeming consensus (there were those who remained skeptical, D.N. Sprague in particular) emerged after the appearance in 1996 of Gerhard Ens’ book, Homeland to Hinterland: The Changing Worlds of the Red River Metis in the Nineteenth Century. Academic consensus appeared consolidated by the time From Rupert’s Land to Canada — jointly edited by Ens, Theodore Binnema, and R.C. MacLeod — was published in 2001.[5] Assertions, proffered in the pages of this preferred interpretation, suggested an academic impasse had been reached with respect to Red River Settlement, and closure imposed on further study, because everything about Red River that was worth knowing was now known. Nevertheless, though historians had filled some gaps in the historiography, in my view, they had also created new ones.

[4] Thomas Flanagan, review of, Homeland to Hinterland: The Changing Worlds of the Red River Metis in the Nineteenth Century, by Gerhard J. Ens, UTP Journals.com, first published in The Canadian Historical Review 79, no. 3 (September 1998), opines, “there is little new to be said.”

[5] Gerhard J. Ens, Homeland to Hinterland: The Changing Worlds of the Red River Metis in the Nineteenth Century (Toronto: University Press, 1996).  Theodore Binnema, Gerhard J. Ens and R.C. Macleod, From Rupert’s Land to Canada: Essays in Honour of John E. Foster (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2001). Trudy Nicks and Kenneth Morgan, “Grand Cache: The historic development of an indigenous Alberta métis population,” in The New Peoples: On Being and Becoming Métis in North America, ed. Jacqueline Peterson and Jennifer S.H. Brown (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1985), 167, used the phrase “Red River myopia” to dramatize a gap that existed in Canadian nationalist historiography—studies of other  Métis peoples had not been undertaken. J.R. Miller, “From Riel to the Metis,” The Prairie West: Historical Readings, 2d ed., ed. R. Douglas Francis and Howard Palmer (Edmonton: Pica Pica Press, 1992), 200, in reviewing New Peoples, noted the phrase and the argument and subsequently—as Googling will illustrate—“Red River myopia” was adopted and adapted (relatively quickly) by numerous academics to deride any study that (and consequently any historian who) focused on Red River; D.N. Sprague, review of Homeland to Hinterland: The Changing Worlds of the Red River Metis in the Nineteenth Century by Gerhard J. Ens, in Great Plains Quarterly 18, no. 2 (1998): 190-191; D.N. Sprague, review of From Rupert’s Land to Canada: Essays in Honour of John E. Foster, ed. Theodore Binnema, Gerhard J. Ens and R.C. Macleod, Native Studies Review 14, no. 2 (2001): 137-138.  See also Frits Pannekoek, “Metis Studies: The Development of a Field and New Directions,” in From Rupert’s Land to Canada, 111, 122, who advises scholars to eschew the “bog of Red River.”


For the historiographical chapter of my Master’s thesis,  “A ‘Perfect Freedom’: Red River as a Settler Society, 1810–1870,″ (2003), I voiced my opinion, by stating my argument in favour of continued study, as follows (pretty much, although I have made minor changes):

The call for a moratorium on further discussion is understandable, given the course chosen and followed by scholars who contributed to the Red River historiography from its genesis to its maturity. Initially, histories that referred to the Métis developed within the constraints imposed by an adherence to the goals of a larger historical project — a historiography devoted to the development of the Canadian State. Conformity to dominant themes that had originated in a preceding hegemonic ideological base [British] restricted interpretive scope.[6] Regarded from within this framework, settlement and the ‘immigrant’ experience were components of a straightforward process: the fulfillment of an expansionist ethic often enunciated as ‘civilizing colonialism.’ From 1763, in Canada, the dominant voicing was British. ‘Anglo Saxon’ triumph over vicissitude was a central motif.[7] Given physiographic and demographic realities, historiographic assertions of superiority required that subjugation of both geography and population be affirmed.[8] Therefore, writers credited ‘proper’ settlers with having overcome ‘primitive’ conditions and with having imposed order on the ‘wilderness,’ through a combination of frugality, industry, and perseverance. Productive communities were presented as the result; the promise of a prosperous future, as assured. Non-Anglo Saxon norms were considered to be non-adaptive, substandard, and undesirable by those entrusted with promoting the image of Canada as having a capable population imbued with superior standards. The assumption was that native and immigrant peoples, once enlightened through education and exposure to the ideal, would naturally strive to emulate it. Assimilation would take place; the desired homogeneous Canadian citizenry, produced.[9] Obstacles to this process — meaning obstinate people — were identified and suggestions made regarding their removal. Resistance was attributed to a stubbornness born of ignorance. The severely recalcitrant were thought to be individuals, who, if too old to change, would eventually die off. A concerted effort was therefore directed at Canadianizing children, primarily through education.[10] Descriptions of their past, in what was designed to be an “entire history of all Canada,” were meant to present “Canadian nationhood” as “in fact, a fruitful experiment of dignity and value.”[11] Regional histories conformed to this view, respectfully commemorating the advent of Canadian nationhood. The historiography devoted to the settlement of Red River was no exception. As early as 1885, professional/ academic historians began the process of “constructing a historical role for the Anglo-Canadian newcomers” in the West.[12] A resultant historiography, devoted to Lord Selkirk and his colony, celebrated Red River as a ‘White’ achievement.[13]

[6] Frances Henry, Carol Tater, Winston Mattis, and Tim Rees, The Colour of Democracy: Racism in Canadian Society (Toronto: Harcourt Brace and Co. Canada, 1995), 7, 13-14. Carl Berger, The Writing of Canadian History: Aspects of English-Canadian Historical Writing since 1900 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986), ix, links the course of Canadian historiography to prevailing ‘climates of opinion.’ In Berger’s assessment, written history “is not an olympian record of past activity; [rather] it reveals a good deal about the intellectual climate in which it was composed.” Reference to intellectual climate was popularized by Carl Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1932), 5, in which he asserts the phrase “climate of opinion” is traceable to the 17th century. Following Becker’s usage, the phrase is meant to underscore the point that intellectual trends change over time; historians can only make sense of arguments put forward in the past if the past intellectual context is understood; misleading results accrue to attempts to understand past pronouncements in light of present opinion. Examples of early texts include: Alexander Ross, The Red River Settlement: Its Rise, Progress, and Present State: With Some Account of the Native Races and Its General History to the Present Day (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1856); Alexander Begg, The Creation of Manitoba, Or, A History of the Red River Troubles (Toronto: Hunter, Rose and Company, 1871); Joseph James Hargrave, Red River (Montreal: John Lovell, 1871); Donald Gunn/ Charles B. Tuttle, History of Manitoba from the Earliest Settlement; And from 1835 to the Admission of the Province into the Dominion (Ottawa: McLean, Roger and Company, 1880); R.G. MacBeth, The Making of the Canadian West, Being the Reminiscences of an Eyewitness (Toronto: William Briggs, 1898); George Bryce, The Remarkable History of the Hudson’s Bay Company: Including that of the French Traders of North-Western Canada and of the North-West, XY, and Astor Fur Companies (Toronto: William Briggs, 1900); A.C. Garrioch, First furrows: A history of the early settlement of the Red River country, including that of Portage la Prairie (Winnipeg: The Author, 1923); and Margaret McWilliams, Manitoba Milestones (Toronto: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1928).

[7] See J.L. Finlay and D.N. Sprague, The Structure of Canadian History, 5th ed. (Scarborough ON: Prentice Hall Allyn and Bacon Canada, 1997), 72, for a discussion of the intent of the Royal Proclamation, 7 October 1763. See also Report on the Affairs of British North America from the Earl of Durham, Her Majesty’s High Commissioner, excerpted in “Lord Durham’s Report, February 11, 1839,” Basic Documents in Canadian History, James J. Talman ed. (Toronto: D. Van Nostrand, 1959), 70; and Bruce Curtis, The Politics of Population: State Formation, Statistics, and the Census of Canada, 1840-1876 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 7.

[8] Annual Report of the Department of the Interior for the year 1903-1904 (Ottawa: 1905), excerpted in “The Sifton Immigration Policy, 1904,” Basic Documents in Canadian History, 125; Alison Prentice, The School Promoters: Education and Social Class in Mid-Nineteenth Century Upper Canada (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977); see also, Roger Magnuson, A Brief History of Quebec Education from New France to Parti Québecois (Montreal: Harvest House, 1980), 49-50, 52; J. Brian Bird, The Natural Landscapes of Canada: A Study in Regional Earth Science, 2d ed. (Toronto: John Wiley and Sons, 1980), xxiv; Curtis, Politics of Population, 10, 24-25; and Berger, Writing of Canadian History, 1-8.

[9] Michael Hechter, Internal Colonialism: The Celtic Fringe in British National Development (1975; reprint, with introduction and appendix, New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1999), 6-8 (page citations are to the reprint edition), refers to this as the “diffusion model” of political development and modernization, partly “derived from the work of nineteenth-century social theorists.” He is of the opinion that “as a model of social change this is decidedly optimistic: it does not seem to square with much that is happening in the world today.” See also Umut Özkirimli, Theories of Nationalism: A Critical Introduction (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000), 97-98, 100; Finlay and Sprague, Structure of Canadian History, 206.

[10] See C.A. Dawson and Eva R. Younge, Pioneering in the Prairie Provinces: The Social Side of the Settlement Process, vol. 8, Canadian Frontiers of Settlement, ed. W.A. Mackintosh and W.L.G. Jones (Toronto: Macmillan Company of Canada, 1940; reprint 1974), ix, 34-38, 287 (page citations are to the reprint edition); see also Howard Palmer, “Strangers and Stereotypes: The rise of nativism — 1880-1920,” in The Prairie West, 308-334. The worst efforts were directed at Aboriginal children, who were incarcerated in residential schools. See Norma J. Hall, research essay, “We Were Children: The Provision, Conduct, Legacy and Implications for Reconciliation of Residential Schooling for the Métis,” with appended list of schools, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canada (2012).

[11] According to Berger, Writing of Canadian History, (for instance, but in keeping with the findings of other scholars), founders and supporters of Canada (particularly Anglophiles of Central Canada), deemed the new country deserving of a national historiography — no small task. W.L. Morton, The Canadian Identity, 2d ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972; reprint, 1975), 88, viii (page citations are to the reprint edition), 88; and J.M.S. Careless, Canada: A Story of Challenge, revised ed. (Toronto: Macmillan, 1970), v, enunciate the historians’ goal as, ideally, celebrating “Canadian nationhood” and inspiring a consciousness of “continent-wide Canadian unity,” sufficient to safeguard Canada-wide programs for economic progress.

[12] Lyle Dick, “The Seven Oaks Incident and the Construction of a Historical Tradition, 1816 to 1870,” in Making Western Canada: Essays on European Colonization and Settlement, ed. Catherine Cavanaugh and Jeremy Mouat (Toronto: Garamond Press, 1996), 12, credits George Bryce with shaping the historiography about Manitoba to promote ‘White’ history. The practice continues. See Jacob Forrest, “Commemorating Settlement and Dispossession at Red River,” Making History Matter, Carlton University (accessed 17 November 2014).

[13] Ibid. See also Grant MacEwan, Cornerstone Colony: Selkirk’s Contribution to the Canadian West (Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1977); Keith Wilson, The Red River Settlement (Toronto: Grolier, 1983); and “An ‘Overwhelmingly Métis’ Settlement,” this site. Note: throughout my argument, unless it appears otherwise in a direct quotation, the term ‘White’ is capitalized to reflect its function as signifying a sociopolitical category, not a colour. As well, the category so designated is regarded as non-normative for the place and time — Red River, 1810-1870 — of primary interest. Erica Chung-Yue Tao, quoted in Backhouse, 284-285 n. 10, argues that an alternate approach is appropriate in contexts where — unlike at Red River — the notion of “white supremacy” is reinforced by the numerical, practical or situational dominance of nominal or symbolic representatives of a group upholding the ‘white’ construct.


Laudable, wise, or necessary as the original goals regarding a national historiography might have appeared to be in past circumstances, the methods adopted failed to prevent the problems that confront Canadians of the present [2003]. Whether depicted in a popular, educational, or academic guise, the conception of Canadian history — in which celebration of a nation formed of assimilable immigrants is the overwhelming emphasis[14] — has not generated the promised harmonic accord. Dissension has arisen over the question of how many founding nations Canada owes a debt of gratitude to; whether First Nations peoples should be allowed recognition as Aboriginal with special entitlement; whether ‘the Métis’ [as opposed to Métis peoples] are the be included under this rubric; whether prehistoric migrants are also to be considered as immigrants; and whether the passage of time has erased the need to grant all such questions serious consideration.[15] The vision of Canada as a nation of immigrants, in which peaceful co-existence and progressive world participation is the goal, would seem to require that the past be relegated to the past.[16] Yet, if Pierre Trudeau’s ‘just society’ of 1968 and Jean Chrétien’s resultant White Paper of 1969 attempted to affirm as much, their critics’ ongoing responses indicate that there is no simple way to effect such a proposition.[17] As the discussion in 2002 surrounding Bill S-35 revealed, there is concern that the past constructed about the Red River Métis did not quell expressions of discontent. There are aspects that have not proven satisfactorily “congruent with ‘the national story of Canada'” — at least, apparently, not with one that would have present relevance.[18]

[14] See for example, Donald Creighton, Canada’s First Century 1867 – 1967 (Toronto: Macmillan, 1970); Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, People in Transition: Reflections on Becoming Canadian (Markham: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2001); and Milly Charon, Worlds Apart: New Immigrant Voices (Dunvegan: Cormorant Books, 1989).

[15] [For a recent discussion on the multiplicity of Métis see Christopher Adams, Gregg Dahl, and Ian Peach, Métis in Canada: History, Identity, Law and Politics (Edmonton: Uninversity of Alberta Press, 2013).] See Roy St. George Stubbs, Four Recorders of Rupert’s Land (Winnipeg: Peguis Publishers, 1967), 51, on ‘founding’ peoples. Peter Goodspeed, “Custody Decision on 9,000-year-old skeleton awaited: Natives v. Archeologists — Find suggests Caucasian presence in prehistoric North America,” National Post (7 April 2001), contends, “The skeleton, with its distinct non-native American features immediately undermined the ‘We were here first and you stole our land’ theories.” [Update: see “Kennewick Man,” Wikipedia.]

[16] Edgar McInnis, Canada: A Political and Social History (Toronto: Rinehart and Company, 1947; reprint, 1959), vii (page citations are to the reprint edition), asserts that this course defined Canada’s “unique” character as a nation. See also Glen Williams, Not for Export: Toward a Political Economy of Canada’s Arrested Industrialization, 3d ed. (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1983), 16.

[17] See Thomas S. Axworthy and Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Towards a Just Society: The Trudeau Years (Markham ON: Viking Penguin, 1990), 358-360; see also Geoffrey York, “Postscript,” The Dispossessed: Life and Death in Native Canada (Toronto: Lester and Orpen Dennys, 1989; reprint, Toronto: Little, Brown and Company 1992), 272-278 (page citations are to the reprint edition); and Arthur J. Ray, I Have Lived Here Since the World Began: An Illustrated History of Canada’s Native People (Toronto: Lester Publishing and Key Porter Books, 1996), 332-336.

[18] See Thelma J. Chalifoux, public bill, “An Act to honour Louis Riel and the Metis people,” (09.05.2002 ), not passed, due to debate concluding on the motion for 2nd reading and prorogation on 16 September 2002; and J.M. Bumsted, “Explorations: Revisiting Riel’s Conviction,” The Beaver 82 (June/ July 2002): 6-7. W.L. Morton, “The Relevance of Canadian History,” in Identity, 88, maintains that “Relevance … may be understood to mean the relations between the history of Canada and the histories of other communities.”


The origins of national discord over representation are traceable. From the beginning, historical explanations of Canadian development tended to attempt to encapsulate, then move beyond, the occurrence of conflict between the Métis and the Canadian government. Early academic works implied that resolution, which saw Métis dissolution, had been final.[19] Achieving such tidy explanation was not an uncomplicated procedure. There was the difficulty of addressing historical records, including archived documents, eyewitness accounts, and personal reminiscences, which attested to the extensive, successful, even “civilized” nature of the Red River Settlement and its inhabitants.[20] As well, these settlers proved perversely persistent in maintaining a stance at odds with Canada. The installation of the Canadian nation in the West was supposed to be a beneficial occurrence. Aboriginal peoples were supposed to ‘advance’ from increased proximity to civilizing influences.[21] Any suggestion that the Métis settlement of Red River, while it existed, had been a ‘normal,’ or even exemplary, example of community development placed Canadian expansionism in an unflattering light.[22] For example, a historical description paralleling the Acadian expulsion (widely regarded as a reprehensible act) was a possibility.[23] The resort to a materialist perspective — in which progress is linear, materially observable, and desirable — circumvented the problem.[24]

[19] McInnis, Canada, vii, contends that, by 1947, such conflicts had been ‘reconciled’ and ‘harmonized’ through an evolutionary process whereby compromise was central to the realization of Canada’s destiny.

[20] James Carnegie, Saskatchewan and the Rocky Mountains: a diary and narrative of travel, sport, and adventure during a journey through the Hudson’s Bay Company’s territories in 1859 and 1860 (Toronto/ Edinburgh: J. Campbell/ Edmonston and Douglas, 1875), 360-361. See also Ross, The Red River Settlement, 142-143, 407. [Apparently historical methods of exclusion included amnesia, given the 140 year silence on the existence of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia — the journal of which was archived as the “Seasonal” rather than Sessional Journal at the Manitoba Archives.]

[21] See Joan Sangster, Regulating Girls and Women: Sexuality, Family, and the Law in Ontario, 1920-1960 (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2001), 175.

[22] See Doug Owram, Promise of Eden: The Canadian Expansionist Movement and the Idea of the West, 1856-1900 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980); and J.M Bumsted, Thomas Scott’s Body and other Essays on Early Manitoba History (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2000), 14, 22, who supplies a précis of Owram’s observations on Eastern expansionist apologists.

[23] R.G. MacBeth, The Selkirk Settlers in Real Life (Toronto: William Briggs, 1897), 10, refers to the settlement as “Western Acadia,” and notes early histories failed to describe fully “its unique and peculiar life and customs.” See also Bumsted, “Revisiting Riel’s Conviction,” 6; and N.E.S. Griffiths, The Acadian Deportation: Deliberate Perfidy of Cruel Necessity? (Toronto: Copp Clark, 1969).

[24] See “materialist,” Langerscheidt’s New College Merriam-Webster English Dictionary, 717, as distinguished from historical or dialectical materialism as enunciated by Marx.


The solution relied on a prominent 19th-century intellectual enthusiasm, which has been carried into the present era, and involves the borrowing of scientific theory for cross-disciplinary application.[25] Through selective interpretation, aspects of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, published in 1859, in The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, were incorporated — most noticeably by British philosopher Herbert Spencer — to bolster the widely held orthogenesis view of human development.[26] Under this conception, the term ‘evolution’ was synonymous with progress, and ‘survival of the fittest’ was the operative principle.[27] Once transferred, however imperfectly, from the realm of biology, evolutionary theory proved capable of furnishing convenient explanation for all manner of observable change.[28] An appearance of legitimacy was conferred to conclusions about any aspect of existence, provided that accompanying descriptions revealed a steady course of advancement towards higher levels of development, while weak and unfit components were ‘sifted’ out of existence.[29] Thus, in the story of the Canadian national advance, it was acceptable to present Métis settlement at Red River as an anomalous historical anachronism belonging to a transitional period between the fur trade and the formation of a transcontinental nation. The period was, in terms of import, pre-‘historic,’ eclipsed as it was by the event of Canadian geographic completion. That the Métis must have been primitive and their community therefore destined to fail, appeared to be a rational assumption based on a predictable result. As the evolutionary representation of Canada accorded the future an ability to determine the past, all that was needed was the fabrication of a Métis construct amenable to meeting the demands of the desired historical/ historiographical outcome (i.e. operational teleology).

[25] Dolores Greenberg, “Energy, Power, and Perceptions of Social Change in the Early Nineteenth Century,” The American Historical Review 95, no. 3 (June 1990): 693-714; and Christopher Lloyd, The Structures of History: Studies in Social Discontinuity (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1993), 15. See also Phyllis Deane, The Evolution of Economic Ideas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 2-3, 5, 85, 95, 98, 103, 105, 107, 110-111, 126-130; and Thomas S. Kuhn, The Road Since Structure: Philosophical Essays, 1970-1993, with an Autobiographical Interview (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), for instances of, and observations on, the continuing penchant for cross-application of theory.

[26] Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (London: John Murray, 1859).

[27] See Herbert Spencer, Programme of a System of Synthetic Philosophy, 10 vols. (London: Williams and Norgate, 1862-1869). Spencer is credited with devising the maxim regarding survival. His theories, developed prior to the publication of Darwin’s text, underlay many core assumptions in nineteenth-century biology, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. See also J. Arthur Thomson, ed., The Outline of Science: A Plain Story Simply Told, vol. 1 (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1922), 55, 163, 179, who defines ‘organic’ evolution as a “preordained”, “continuous natural process of racial change,” and describes theorists of the Le Play school (Pierre Guillaume Frédéric le Play, regarded as  founder of modern sociology) as influential. See also Neil Campbell, Biology, 4th ed. (Don Mills: Benjamin/ Cummings Publishing, 1996), 487.

[28] Thompson, Outline of Science, 55-56, describes even the process of chemical decay as an evolution.

[29] Ibid., 242.


Reduced to an appropriate “status of inert essences,” the historical Métis emerged in the historiography as imbued with an array of interrelated deficiencies.[30] The exact nature of these inadequacies and their relation to each other varied over time in order to accommodate the varying emphases of different writers. The issue of a Métis perception of themselves, as entitled to a consideration regarded as being beyond that given to those who had been designated by John A. Macdonald as “actual” settlers, was dealt with by evaluating the Métis  in accord with conventional Western European ideas of ‘nationality’ and ‘race.’[31] The conflict was enunciated as one in which Whites intent on settlement acted in opposition to nomadic, unsettled Métis.[32] The civilized were pitted against the primitive. From a Spencerian perspective, the consequences were undoubtedly tragic, but even with the best of intentions probably inevitable: after all, in human affairs, the “decrees of a large, far-seeing benevolence” separate the less able from the robust.[33] A supplemental disposition partitioned the Métis population along language lines reflective of the “linguistic territorialism” that preoccupied Canada: French-speaking Métis were presented as distinct from English-speaking Métis.[34] In official representations, the Métis were a “wild people,” whose linguistic orientation governed their intelligence, allegiance, and behaviour.[35] The suggestion was advanced that for the two language groups, near speciation had determined relative levels of primitivism and ability to properly assimilate Anglo Saxon norms.[36] If, in the political conflict between the Métis and the Canadian government, both parties are assumed to have acted “in good faith,” then heritable traits provide an explanation: evolution rendered the Métis subjugation by a ‘superior’ civilization a certainty.[37] Métis ‘pretensions’ to nationalism, as evinced at Red River, lacked the nascent foundations requisite for aspirations to become tenable realities. The only possible future for the West therefore, was Canada.[38]

[30] Ian McKay, The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia (Montreal: McGill University Press, 1994), xvi-xvii. Özkirimli, Theories of Nationalism, 215-217, provides Craig Calhoun’s definition: “‘Essentialism’ refers to a reduction of the diversity in a population to some single criterion held to constitute its defining ‘essence’ and most crucial character” — and a discussion of essence attribution as it relates to theories of nation and identity.

[31] Adams George Archibald and John Alexander Macdonald, quoted in D.N. Sprague, Canada and the Métis, 1869-1885 (Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1988), 89, 91, 98, 107.

[32] A.-H. de Trémaudan, Historie de la nation Métisse dans l’Ouest canadien (Montreal: A. Lévesque, 1935; reprint, as Hold High Your Heads (History of the Métis Nation in Western Canada), trans. Elizabeth Maguet, Winnipeg: Pemmican Publications, 1982), x, xi, 9, 10, 13, 16-17, 115 (page citations are to the translated edition).

[33] Herbert Spencer, quoted in Walter Phelps Hall and William Stearns Davis, The Course of History since Waterloo, 4th ed. (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1957), 246. See Sprague, Canada and the Métis, 2, for comments on a similar perspective in George F. G. Stanley, The Birth of Western Canada: A History of the Riel Rebellions (London: Longman’s Green and Company, 1936; reprint, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978). See also Chairman, remarks, in Report from the Select Committee on the Hudson‘s Bay Company; Together with the Proceedings of the Committee, Minutes of Evidence, Appendix and Index (London: 1857), 246 no. 4414.

[34] William Norton, Human Geography (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1992), 165. See also, Keith A. McLeod, “Bilingualism, Multilingualism and Multiculturalism: A Retrospective of Western Canada since the 1870s,” in Heritage Languages and Education: The Canadian Experience, ed. Marcel Danesi, Keith A. McLeod, and Sonia Morris (Oakville: Mosaic Press, 1993), 36-37; and Stanley, Birth of Western Canada, 8-10 (page citations are to the reprint edition). See “Note(s) on Terminology and Aboriginality,” and “Métis Children of Red River,” this site, which note, “Canadian historians have often asserted that, in the past, ‘Half-breed’ was a term for English-speaking people and that Métis was a term for French-speaking people. That notion is incorrect. ‘Halfbreed’ and Métis were cross-linguistic synonyms. In English, distinctions of cultural or economic affiliation were made by saying “English Halfbreed” or “French Halfbreed” (or Scottish~, Swiss~, Sioux~, etc.). In French the same practice was applied when qualifying affiliation: as in Métis français, Métis anglais, Métis écossais etc.” Further, there was no strict division between ‘French’ and ‘English’ Métis, because “The majority of Métis settlers and their children spoke Aboriginal languages first and foremost, and, in these languages people were often multilingual. … parishes did not operate as sealed social units which maintained religious, linguistic or ‘racial’ identities that superseded current or potential kinship ties. … a minimal number of intermarriages ensured that it appeared that ‘Everybody was related.'”

[35] John A. Macdonald, quoted in Sprague, Canada and the Métis, 49. [See also A Brief History of the term ‘Civilized’ this site, for a note on the meaning of ‘wild’/ sauvage ].

[36] Marcel Giraud, Le Métis Canadien, vol. 1 (Paris: Institut d’Ethnologie, Museum National d’Historie Narturelle, 1945; reprint as The Métis in the Canadian West, trans. George Woodcock, 2 vols., Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1986), xix, 217-226, 229, 276 (page citations are to the translated edition), advances the thesis that the environment can exert an negative influence. He asserted that civilized human beings — meaning individuals of European origin — placed in the wilderness for an extended period of time and interbred with the indigenous sauvage will produce degenerate offspring incapable of self-governance, possessed of a “spirit alien to subordination,” and problematically, permanently “unassimable.” [The theory was earlier voiced by A.P. Reid, Dean of Medicine at Dalhousie (soon to be Superintendent of the Nova Scotia Hospital for the Insane), and supporter of ‘stirpiculture’/ eugenics (the selective breeding of human beings, and sterilization of the ‘unfit’). In 1874, Reid presented his findings in an article published in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain. He asserted that in Manitoba there were nine “mixed races,” which he ranked from “most desirable to least desirable.” In Reid’s opinion, all of these ‘races’ exhibited a “marked change in physique, which was common to all the classes … that quickly followed the removal of Europeans to American soil.” Précis of A.P. Reid, “On the Mixed or Half-Breed Races of North-Western Canada,” paper presented to the Anthropological Institute, 10 March 1874, in The Athenæum Journal of Literature, Science, the Fine Arts, Music, and the Drama (25 July 1874), 397. See also “Notes on Books,” The British Medical Journal (21 June 1890): 1451, which reviews Reid’s book, Stirpiculture, or the Ascent of Man, and observes, “The highest interests of the State are involved in studying the evolution or ascent of man to a higher standard of physical, mental, and moral attainment — conditions absolutely necessary to enable any nation to hold its own in the international competition for existence.” University of Saskatchewan Archives, “Director, Journal Of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain, ‘The Mixed or “Half-Breed” Races of North-Western Canada’, by A. P. Reid, 1875,” (accessed 25 August 2013), has a typed transcript of a description of Reid’s paper presented to the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain by the director of the institute’s journal.] See also Jean Bodin, cited in Olive P. Dickason, Myth of the Savage: And the Beginnings of French Colonialism in the Americas (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1984; reprint 1997), 48 (page citations are to the reprint edition).

[37] Sprague, Canada and the Métis, 2-16, passim.

[38] See George F. G. Stanley, The Birth of Western Canada: A History of the Riel Rebellions (London: Longman’s Green and Company, 1936; reprint, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978); Donald Creighton, The Old Chieftain, vol. 2, John A. Macdonald (Toronto: Macmillan, 1955), and W.L. Morton, Manitoba – A History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1957).


The substitution of a socialization emphasis for that of biological determinism, in histories written by scholars of the 1970s — purportedly presenting “new directions” and offering “reinterpretations” — did not challenge existing histories to any substantial degree.[39] Unfortunate outcomes experienced by Aboriginal populations were explained by a deficiency, if not in the victims, then in their social circumstance. For the Métis, the two European languages remained the only conveyors of cultural norms seen to function as significant variables or indicators of social orientation and future prospects.[40] The role of Aboriginal languages was ignored. This academic stance is consistent with the ‘seed society’ theory,  posited by Louis Hartz in 1964, in which the largely homogeneous ‘fragment’ ideologies of European settlers are seen to have determined the political cultures of the ‘New World’ societies in which they participated.[41] It has been observed that “Hartzian analysis harmonizes almost perfectly with the most common kind of English-Canadian nationalism.”[42] In terminology and conceptualization, it also appears strongly reminiscent of genetic theory. Gregor Johan Mendel’s first principle of segregation and third law of dominance, introduced to the scientific community in 1865, have particular resonance.[43] Independent approaches to understanding population genetics presented in 1908 by Godfrey H. Hardy and Wilhelm Weinberg, and subsequently jointly expressed as the ‘Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium,’ appear to have inspired Hartz’s ‘jelling’ concept — whereby some traits are universalized in a population, which then remains in stasis generation after generation.[44] In Hartz’s description of cultural process, political economic attitudes operate as though equatable with genotype; observed behaviour with phenotype; and the dynamic as consistent with genetic determinism. In its biological incarnation, equilibrium (analogous to Hartz’s stasis) functions as a null model: the conditions for its realization, especially that of isolation, regarded as virtually impossible to achieve in real life. Hartz’s conception has been criticized as equally unrealistic: too static to deal with the historical cultural reality of Canadian regions. It fails to factor in the potential impact of successive waves of migrant arrivals or address the influence of host cultures.[45] In the historiographical application of Hartzian theorizing to Red River, the idea that political orientation may be culturally determined is reasonable enough, but the absence of consideration of Aboriginal influence through participation is both Euro- and andro-centric. For the most part, when Aboriginal men do figure in the historiography conceived in the 1970s, the Métis appear as relatively unimpressive replicas of non-Aboriginal progenitors; more passive and less productive. Aboriginal women, described in terms of their roles — principally as wives and daughters — are presented as defined by the men with whom they are associated.[46] As ‘vessels’ only, to a determinant European social, political, economic, or cultural ‘seed,’ their influence is restricted to that of providing superficial contour, not core substance.[47] Under this ‘new’ conception, Aboriginal heritage — deemed in earlier histories as responsible for innate behavioural responses — seems capable of imparting only a limited set of highly site-specific survival skills. In the absence of reciprocal exchange, Europeans appear inviolable, while acculturation, assimilation, or obliteration appear to be the lone alternatives available for Aboriginal peoples engaged in extended contact with carriers of ‘Old World’ traits.[48]

[39] Glyndwr Williams, “Epilogue,” in Old Trails and New Directions: Papers of the Third North American Fur Trade Conference, ed. Carol M. Judd and Arthur J. Ray (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980), 309, 313.

[40] See John E. Foster, “The Country-Born in Red River Settlement, 1820-1850,” Ph.D. dissertation (University of Alberta, 1973), 25.

[41] Louis Hartz, ed., The Founding of New Societies: Studies in the History of the United States, Latin America, South Africa, Canada, and Australia (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1964). See Jennifer S.H. Brown, Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Families in Indian Country (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1980), xvi–xvii, for a discussion of her application of Hartzian analysis in the study of Hudson’s Bay Company and North West Company workplace relationships and the “social and domestic relations that developed within them” – i.e. social reproduction.

[42] H.D. Forbes and R.D. McRae, cited in Ian Stewart, “All the King’s Horses: The Study of Canadian Political Culture,” in Canadian Politics, 2d ed., ed. James P. Bickerton and Alain-G. Gagnon (Peternorough ON: Broadview Press, 1996), 88, see also 86.

[43] See Campbell, Biology, 238-259: Mendel found that, where character is inherited from two contrasting varieties of a source plant — in his study, peas — the character of one parent will be dominant, the other will be recessive, though each contributes an equal amount of genetic information.

[44] See Peter J. Russell, Genetics 5th ed. (Menlo Park: Benjamin/ Cummings, 1998), 721-723; and Campbell, Biology, 419-420.

[45] Stewart, “All the King’s Horses,” 85, 88.

[46] See C. M. Judd, “Native Labour and Social Stratification in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Northern Department 1770-1870,” Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 17 (1) (1980): 305-314; Sylvia Van Kirk, ‘Many Tender Ties’: Women in Fur-Trade Society in Western Canada, 1670-1870 (Winnipeg: Watson and Dwyer, 1980), 8; and Denis Fuchs, “Embattled Notions: Constructions of Rupert’s Land’s Native Sons, 1760 to 1860,” Manitoba History 44 (Autumn/ Winter, 2002/ 2003).

[47] See Stewart, “All the King’s Horses,” 79-80. James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, vol. 1, 1791 (Toronto: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1906; reprint, ed. Ernest Rhys, 1951), 593 n.2 (page citations are to the reprint edition), indicates that this conception of women had a history. Prior to 1800, “distinguished naturalists” had determined “that our species is transmitted through the males only, the female being all along no more than a nidus, or nurse … which notion seems to be confirmed by that text of scripture … Heb. vii. 10.”

[48] See Foster, “Country Born”; Van Kirk, Many Tender Ties; and Brown, Strangers in Blood; also Frits Pannekoek,  A Snug Little Flock: The Social Origins of the Riel Resistance 1869-70 (Winnipeg: Watson and Dwyer, 1991). All of these works originated as doctoral theses in the 1970s.


The official affirmation of a multicultural designation for Canada in 1982 rendered arguments that relied on an assumed otherness in human beings increasingly inappropriate.[49] It had become clear that stereotypical notions based on ethnicity and nationality, although once thought of as providing an adequate, because scientific, basis from which to develop descriptions, would furnish no useful understanding.[50] Beginning in 1983, with the publication of The Genealogy of the First Metis Nation: the development and dispersal of the Red River Settlement, 1820-1900, D.N. Sprague illustrated that depictions of the Métis, which found explanation for their community’s disintegration in an inherent peculiarity, conformed to “myth.”[51] In Canada and the Métis, 1869-1885 of 1988, Sprague demonstrated that, in effect, Métis primitivism, nomadism, and “non-adaptability” constituted theoretical expediencies.[52] A problematic taxonomy, devised with a complicit reliance on concepts of ‘race’ to distinguish presumed gradations of métissage — with the result that an individual appearing as Métis at one point in the historiography might figure as non-Métis at another, if not as someone else entirely — could be added to the list.[53] However, by the mid 1990s, Ens’ contribution seemingly affected closure to the debate that ensued within established Canadian academia, following Sprague’s challenge to the accepted “hierarchy of credibility” built on the “defense of Canada” tradition.[54] Homeland to Hinterland does supply a politically correct solution — the argument that the Métis practised ‘agency.’ But, the stance adopted merely transfers the orthogenesis version of evolutionary theory into the realm of economics.[55] Because the Métis had the ability “to choose courses of action, and acting upon their choices to bring about certain structural changes,” they are seen as the adaptive, but unwitting authors of their own collective ‘failure.’[56] The necessity of addressing instances of untoward conduct in those with whom the community was actively engaged in conflict is obviated. The teleological interpretation of western Canada is preserved. The solution is neither perfect, nor necessarily desirable. It does not resolve central contentions regarding the portrayal of past actors in Canadian history.

[49] McLeod, “Bilingualism, Multilingualism and Multiculturalism,” 33: the policy, first broached in 1969 with the Official Languages Act, was fully incorporated as a concept in the revised Constitution of 1982. Isaac Saney, “Canada: the black Nova Scotian odyssey: a chronology,” Race and Class 40, no. 1 (July/ September, 1998): 78-91, first published in shinpiking magazine (February/ March, 1998), points out that some normative standards remained solidly ‘Anglo Saxon.’

[50] See Peter Burke, “Models and Methods,” History and Social Theory (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992), 25, also 134.

[51] D.N. Sprague and R.P. FryeThe Genealogy of the First Metis Nation: the development and dispersal of the Red River Settlement, 1820-1900 (Winnipeg: Peguis, 1983), 28 n. 69. Graeme Turner, British Cultural Studies: An Introduction, 2d ed. (London: Routledge, 1996; reprint 2000), 18-19 (page citations are to the reprint edition); and Graeme Patterson, History and Communications: Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, the Interpretation of History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), 165-169, show that myths are biased constructs that explain, legitimate, and sanction existing social orders by justifying and rationalizing power structures.

[52] Sprague, Canada and the Métis, 16-17.

[53] See P.J.R. Mailhot and D.N. Sprague, “Persistent Settlers: The Dispersal and Resettlement of the Red River Métis, 1870-1885,” Canadian Ethnic Studies 17, no. 2 (1985): 9-10. See also Brian Martin Gallagher, “The Whig Interpretation of History at Red River,” M.A. thesis (University of British Columbia, 1986). Nahoway/ Margaret Sinclair is an example of confused status. Questions arising from contradictory historical assertions regarding Nahoway’s identity, that of her parents, husbands and offspring,  fuel seemingly endless genealogical debates among her descendents (of which I am one). [Instances of individuals whose integration into Aboriginal society is downplayed or misrepresented in historiography include Nahoway’s relatives, such as John Spencer in Historie de la nation Métisse dans l’Ouest canadien by A.-H. de Trémaudan; Isaac Cowie in Indian Fall by D’Arcy Jenish; and members of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia and treaty commissions — see Norma Hall, with Clifford P. Hall, and Erin Verrier, A History of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia/le Consiel du Gouvernement Provisoire (Winnipeg:  Manitoba, Department of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, 2010), 10; and “4) Treaty Process,” this site.]

[54] Howard S. Becker, “Whose Side Are we On?” in Intersections: Readings in Sociology, compiled by Susan Prentice, ed. Ralph B. McNeal Jr. and Kathleen A. Tiemann (Boston: Pearson, 2001), 26. D.N. Sprague, review of Homeland to Hinterland: The Changing Worlds of the Red River Metis in the Nineteenth Century, by Gerhard J. Ens, in Great Plains Quarterly 18, no. 2 (spring, 1998): 190. Thomas Flanagan, Riel and the Rebellion: 1885 Reconsidered (Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1983), and Metis Lands in Manitoba (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1991), provides a concerted defence of the traditional, Canadian nationalist view.

[55] Gerhard J. Ens, “Metis Agriculture in Red River during the Transition from Peasant Society to Industrial Capitalism: The Example of St. Francois Xavier, 1835-1870,” in R.C. Macleod, ed. Swords and Ploughshares: War and Agriculture in Western Canada (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1992); and Gerhard Ens, “Dispossession or Adaptation: Migration and Persistence of the Red River Metis, 1835-1890,” Historical Papers: A Selection from the Papers Presented at the Annual Meeting Held at Windsor (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988), 120-127, introduce the thesis. Robert L. Heilbroner, The Nature and Logic of Capitalism (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1985), exemplifies the transfer-of-evolutionary-theory-out-of biology-into-economics approach.

[56] Lloyd, Structures of History, 94, and n. 14.


Aside from the fact that the importation of a seriously flawed biological theory into other disciplines raises questions as to the utility of the ensuing ideas, acceptance of Ens’ argument for agency requires that the representation of the Métis — in which their conformity to a pre-capitalist ‘peasant society’ model is assumed — be credible.[57] Homeland to Hinterland fails on that point. Economists, working together with anthropologists, sociologists, social psychologists and political scientists, designed the peasant society model to facilitate the study of diverse communities judged to be working below economic potential[58] The discipline of economics shares the same foundations as anthropology and the other social sciences.[59] Although in these fields, “schemes of evolutionary stages” are regarded as having “long been out of style,” there is a “subtle legacy” that lingers on.[60] Thus, the supposition that economies tend inexorably towards increased complexity and an ever more perfect adaptation to the environment remains operational. This view, entirely consistent with the currently discredited evolutionary theory propounded by Jean Baptiste Lamark in 1809, incorporates an essentially nineteenth-century ‘peasant’ to ‘industrial’ sociocultural dichotomy — a trans-disciplinary adaptation of the ergodic principle — in which spatial distance from urban centres is confused with temporal distance from contemporary reality[61] In order to accommodate the examination of temporally and geographically removed populations subject to varying amounts of political, cultural, and social restraint, the current [2003] model of subsistence level peasantry is very loosely defined. Because the definition is so broad, it is possible to apply the label to almost any group in which individuals supply their table from their own garden plots, fields, or pastures — a condition which has left at least one commentator perplexed as to where, exactly, the difference between a subsistence level peasant and a commercial farmer might lie.[62] Although the Red River Métis did practice agriculture and animal husbandry, and made personal use of the produce, they do not fit the peasant designation on one crucial, definitive point: In peasant societies, successive generations must experience exploitation by outsiders over an extended period of time.[63] According to the argument presented in Homeland to Hinterland, the existence of a burgeoning bourgeoisie within the Métis community is undeniable post 1840. After that date, the pre-capitalist peasant model ceases to function as the defining paradigm. Yet, that peasant condition was apparently only operational as of 1820.[64] Twenty years (typically considered one generation) is an insufficient span in which to posit extended, multi-generational exploitation. The Métis would appear more properly categorized as Colonial era settlers, a variety of pioneer for whom the time frame of one generation for the realization of a farm after the British yeoman — freeholder — settlement model is a routine expectation.[65]

[57] George E. Marcus and Michael M.J. Fischer, Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 80-81, 87, 97; and Norton, Human Geography, 56, 85, 129-131, counter the idea that implementing capitalist modes of production follows an unvarying progression. See also Greenberg, “Energy, Power, and Perceptions of Social Change”; and Campbell, Biology, 397, 421-422, 427, 482. Biological analogies often demonstrate either a lack of awareness of basic evolutionary theory or a failure to adjust to changes which have occurred, particularly since the 1940s. Paul A. Samuelson and Anthony Scott, Economics, 5th Canadian ed. (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1980), 6-8, advise that in the field of economics “Logical reasoning” and “shrewd weighing of empirical evidence” are key, and fallacious preconceptions out of place. Ens, Homeland to Hinterland, 5, 70, does not adequately explain his assertion of conformity to the peasant model, nor how rates of migratory behaviour exclude other possible designations.

[58] Cliton R. Wharton Jr., ed., Subsistence Agriculture and Economic Development (Chicago: Aldine Publishing, 1969), v-vi.

[59] Deane, Evolution of Economic Ideas, xiii, 7, 71-73, 75, 80, 84, 87-88, 90-91; Samuelson and Scott, Economics, 6, 906-919; and Robert Heilbroner and Aaron Singer, The Economic Transformation of America: 1600 to the Present, 3d ed. (Toronto: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1994), 162.

[60] Johannes Fabian, cited in Marcus and Fischer, Anthropology as Cultural Critique, 97, provides a critique of distorting conventions adopted by social scientists.

[61] Ibid. See also H.C. Brookfield, Colonialism, Development and Independence: The Case of the Melanesian Islands in the South Pacific (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 9; and Campbell, Biology, 417.

[62] Wharton, Subsistence Agriculture and Economic Development, 14-19, 458.

[63] Ibid., 123.

[64] Ens, Homeland to Hinterland, 27, 172-173.

[65] See Norton, Human Geography, 243; Leslie Hannon, Redcoats and Loyalists 1760-1815 (Toronto: Jack McClelland, 1978), 53; also C.T. Onion, ed. “yeoman,” The Shorter Oxford Dictionary, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933), 2466, who defines yeoman as “4. A man owning and cultivating a small estate; a freeholder under the rank of gentleman … a countryman of respectable standing, a farmer”; and, in the same source: “settle I,” 1855, nos. 3a-b, 4a-b; “settle II,” 1855, nos. 1-2; “settler,” 1856, no. 1; “settling,” 1856, no. 1, in which the emphasis is on establishing stability and permanent residence. For historical usage of terms applied to Red River Métis see Geo. Simpson and W. Caldwell, “Minutes of Evidence”, “Appendix, No. 2 (A)”, “Appendix, No. 3: Deed of Land to Joseph Monkman,” as well as George Gladman, “Appendix, No. 8,” and P.W. Classon, “Appendix, No. 16,” in Report from the Select Committee, 68 nos. 1232-1235, 308-309 nos. 5578-5579, 361, 371, 392, 444; John A. Macdonald, quoted in Flanagan, Riel and the Rebellion, 62, who argued in the House of Commons in 1870 that “Those half-breeds had a strong claim to the lands, in consequence of their extraction, as well as from being settlers”; and n. 83 below. Notably, where the term ‘peasant’ is absent from these primary sources, ‘settler’ — “properly so called” — ‘yeoman’ and ‘farmer’ are formally and informally applied to people “settled” in Red River, regardless of origin. ‘Freehold’ recognition of settler land holdings — Métis and otherwise — was in fact granted by The Manitoba Act, 1870.


The portrayal of the Métis as peasants, rather than settlers, marks a significant departure from previous depictions in academic historiography about Red River.[66] It is not coextensive with influential works, published prior to Homeland to Hinterland, in which the settlement is regarded as one of many British proprietary colonies.[67] Take, for example, authoritative histories such as George F.G. Stanley’s publications of 1936 and 1963: respectively, The Birth of Western Canada: A History of the Riel Rebellions, and Louis Riel.[68] Notable examples of more recent studies are: ‘Many Tender Ties’: Women in Fur-Trade Society in Western Canada, 1670-1870, written by Sylvia Van Kirk: The Genealogy of the First Metis Nation, compiled by Sprague and R.P. Frye in 1983; and A Snug Little Flock: The Social Origins of the Riel Resistance, 1869-1870, from Frits Pannekoek in 1991. The divide between these previous texts and Ens’ contribution constitutes a “space,” meriting historical investigation.[69] In affirming that acknowledgement of the colonial context is appropriate, previous works in the historiography about the Métis point to an opening for further inquiry. As Robert J. Coutts demonstrates with his research — published in 2000 as The Road to the Rapids: Nineteenth-Century Church and Society at St. Andrew’s Parish, Red River — adherence to the earlier representation continues to yield cogent results.[70] Revisiting the historical record, re-placing the Red River Métis within the colonial context, and studying them as participants in the ethos of their time, removes them from the realm of museum cabinet curiosity and allows the Settlement the same consideration that has been granted to other communities formed under similar conditions world-wide. Re-engaging in the process of questioning and answering provides an opportunity to investigate the dynamics of nation building, regional development, and identity construction from a perspective that allows for new and potentially helpful insights.

[66] Historical allusion to the condition of peasants — through references to “serfdom” — traces principally to the hyperbole of critics of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s proprietary governance — characterized as a ‘despotic’ monopoly. In some instances, drawing parallels with oppressed peasantry also signalled a disdain (even hatred) for French Catholics of Quebec (whose institutions many Protestants from Ontario did not wish to see installed the West). See, for examples, Ross, Red River Settlement, 252; “Correspondence, The Hudson’s Bay Company (to the Editor of the Globe) No. V,” Toronto Daily Globe (6 September 1856); “The Hudson’s Bay Blue Book,” Toronto Daily Globe (23 October 1857); “Present Unsatisfactory Condition of Red River,” Nor’-Wester (15 February 1861), 2, columns 3, 4, and 5; “Annals of the Great Trade State — The Hudson’s Bay Company,” New York Times (27 November 1897).

[67] Douglas Sprague and Ronald Frye, “Manitoba’s Red River Settlement: Sources for Economic and Demographic History,” Archiavaria 9 (winter, 1979-1980): 179.

[68] George F.G. Stanley, Louis Riel (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1963; reprint, 1972).

[69] Joan Wallach Scott, Proloque, “After History?” History and the Limits of Interpretation A Symposium (20 February 1996).

[70] Robert J. Coutts, The Road to the Rapids: Nineteenth-Century Church and Society at St. Andrew’s Parish, Red River (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2000), xii.


Works by social historians have demonstrated that, regardless of heritage, in groups identified as ‘racially’ distinct during the Colonial period, individuals intent on settlement were able to construct either identities or communities in which their social concerns, aspirations, and endeavors paralleled those of contemporaries who were designated as White.[71] Accounts of Red River Métis penned prior to Homeland to Hinterland are consistent with this view.[72] Even Marcel Giraud — a writer prone to representing the Métis as “primitive” — observes that “Métis society was in fact little different from that of the white settlers.”[73] In the current Canadian context, adhering to a viewpoint in which past cultures are analyzed in a manner that demonstrates how White they were might foster a recognition of the humanness of the ‘other.’ However, it might also perpetuate a sense of their being “imperfect approximations” of a mythic Anglo Saxon population.[74] The existence of difference has been identified as contributing to the creation and perpetuation of colonial rhetoric, itself an exercise in power, which propagates one view by silencing another.[75] What is needed is an approach that allows for illumination of difference but avoids imposing deterministic assumptions, whether these be thought of as cultural “biases” or “conventions” or as societal “mainstream” currents of normative evaluation.[76] It is preferable to accept that culture is a contested, continuously constructed reality; that the site of contestation between antagonists inhabiting unequal power positions is that of ‘identity’; and that the Western European perspective is not necessarily advantaged in terms of achieving understanding.[77]

[71] See Adele Perry, “‘Fair ones of a purer caste’: white women and colonialism in nineteenth-century British Columbia,Feminist Studies 23 (fall, 1997): 501-524; Sylvia Van Kirk, “Tracing the Fourtunes of Five Founding Families of Victoria,” BC Studies: Native Peoples and Colonialism, 115/ 116 (Autumn/ Winter, 1997/ 1998): 149-179; Saney, “Canada: the black Nova Scotian odyssey”; Judy Clancy-Smith and Frances Gouda,  Domesticating the Empire: Race Gender, and Family Life in French and Dutch Colonialism (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998).

[72] See, for example, Van Kirk, “Quite English in Her Manner,” Many Tender Ties, 145-172.

[73] Giraud, The Métis in the Canadian West, vol. 2, 205.

[74] Thomas L. Haskell, Objectivity Is Not Neutrality: Explanatory Schemes in History (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1998), 281. See also Henry et al, Colour of Democracy, 22, 27, 39.

[75] Edward Said as presented in Marcus and Fisher, Anthropology as Cultural Critique, 1-2; and James Clifford, “On Orientalism,” in The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), 255-276.

[76] Innis, Bias of Communication, 34, 61-62, 132; Haskell, Objectivity is not Neutrality.

[77] Clifford, “On Orientalism,” 21-54; Marcus and Fischer, Anthropology as Cultural Critique, 123; Aletta Biersack, “Local Knowledge, Local History: Geertz and Beyond,” in The New Cultural History, ed. Lynn Hunt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 94, 96. Özkirimli, Theories of Nationalism, 196-197; Henry et al, Colour of Democracy, 18, 23. See also Norma Hall, “Interpreting Identity: A Case Study of Semantic Paradox in Red River Historiography, Part I,” research paper (Memorial University of Newfoundland, 24 March 2005), posted to doing canadianhistory n.0 WordPress, continued in, “Part II“, “Part III“,”Part IV,” and “Part 5.”


In decentering the perspective, attention must be paid to terminology. First, it is not prudent to regard language usage from 1810 to 1870 as commensurate with 2003. There is no reason to believe that it was consistently employed during the period under study, or subsequently. Nor is it reasonable to expect expressions to have been consistently understood between groups who, although they may have had the ability to converse in a language familiar to both, came from divergent cultures that had developed vastly different conceptions of time, space, and reality.[78] Second, the use of terms that serve to privilege groups purported to represent the Anglo Saxon is counter productive (because a form of colonialism — and if carried into the present, a form of social and cultural neo-colonialism). Instances where terminology reinforces a culturally determined social intent — a shared understanding of what constraints a signifier places upon the signified — must be identified.[79] For example, in past usage, in post-Confederation Canada’s Manitoba, settler was often synonymous with homesteader. Settler was reserved for members of a specific sociopolitical group that regarded its culture as essentially agrarian in derivation and continued orientation.[80] Even if migratory, unable to practice agriculture effectively, or engaged in occupations decidedly non-agrarian, members of this group retained the designation.[81] Members of other groups — “anything wot isn’t our sort of chaps” — regardless of the similarity of their behaviour, were identified instead by terms such as nomad, squatter, alien, or by an occupational description, such as trader, or labourer.[82] Given past attitudes regarding what constituted appreciable activity, and who could be counted as active, it is not surprising to find that women were relegated to a nebulous category of their own.[83] In order to gain the appellation of homesteader, the observance of an established ritual was required. Women and children were excluded, except as adjuncts to men.[84] Regardless of attributed gender or age, in order to be accepted as a legitimately designated settler, it was necessary to convincingly deny any cultural heritage that did not conform to that deemed appropriately Canadian.[85] For present purposes [meaning writing in 2003 about Red River history], a different denotation and connotation is more practical: The term settler applies to an individual who, as a member of a historical community, sought, either through association with or through the possessive designation of, a specific geographic area, the recognition of their right to freely inhabit it.[86] How people arrived in the area does not affect the terminology. The type of habitation, whether it involved tents, sod huts, or frame houses, does not alter entitlement to the name. Likewise cultural norms, including those regarding land use, are not determinants.[87] What matters is that a group of individuals demonstrated a like-mindedness in their persistent occupation of a particular area over a significant period of time. The duration of occupation is regarded as significant if historical, archaeological or oral records indicate that, to the participants, the occupation was, at some point, intended to be permanent.[88]

[78] See Mary Black-Rogers, “Varieties of ‘Starving’: Semantics and Survival in the Subarctic Fur Trade,” Ethnohistory 33, no. 4 (Fall, 1986): 353-383; also Kuhn, Road Since Structure, 91-94.

[79] See Tina Loo, Making Law, Order, and Authority in British Columbia, 1821-1871 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994), 6-12; Turner, British Cultural Studies, 17-18; Haskell, Objectivity is not Neutrality, 280-281; Wallach Scott, “After Hitory?”; and Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob, Telling the Truth About History (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1994), 58. Instances of concern include the utilization of systems that describe time and space with reference to the subject. See, for example, “Parishes of Assiniboia,” this site.

[80] W.L. Morton, “Relevance of Canadian History.”

[81] Sean T. Cadigan, Hope and Deception in Conception Bay: Merchant-Settler Relations in Newfoundland, 1785-1855 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), xi, 4, 5, illustrates that acceptance of this usage continues. In his account, Newfoundland “settlers … almost invariably made their living in the fishery.”

[82] Unnamed British sailor, quoted in Wharton, Subsistence Agriculture and Economic Development, 177, likely archetypal. See also Ross, Red River Settlement, 198-199

[83] See J.L. Granatstien, Who Killed Canadian History? (Toronto: Harper Collins, 1998), 56, 62, who notes that, according to his conception of national history, “most of Canada’s history had been made by men, however unfair that might have been.”

[84] See Sarah Carter, Capturing Women: The Manipulation of Cultural Imagery in Canada’s West (Montreal/ Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997), 192-193; “Document #5: Dominion Lands Act [1872],” in Documenting Canada: A History of Modern Canada in Documents, ed. Dave De Biou and Bill Waiser (Saskatoon: Fifth House, 1992), 60-61; and Thomas E. Hill, “Special Homestead Regulations, in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba,” in Making Money from the Soil, The Open Door to Independence, What to Do — How to Do, On City Lots, Suburban Grounds, Country Farms: The Provinces of Canada, Counties and Districts, Cities, Towns and Villages, with Population, Climate, Soil, Agricultural Productions and Possibilities (Toronto: McLeod and Allen, 1915), 55.

[85] See W.W. Swanson and P.C. Armstrong, Wheat (Toronto: MacMillan Company of Canada, 1930), 14; Wellington Bridgeman, Breaking Prairie Sod: The Story of a Pioneer Preacher in the Eighties with a Discussion on the Burning Question To-Day, “Shall the Alien Go?” (Toronto: Musson Book Company, 1920); also Howard Palmer, “Reluctant Hosts: Anglo-Canadian Views of Multiculturalism in the Twentieth Century,” in Readings in Canadian History: Post Confederation, ed. R. Douglas Francis and Donald B. Smith (Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Wiston of Canada, 1982), 123-139. See also the experience of rancher Matonekesekuawekemow/ John Colfield Sinclair of Norway House, described in “4) Treaty Process,” this site.

[86] See “settler,” Langenscheift’s New College Merriam-Webster English Dictionary, 1072, for an example of a current [2003], equally inclusive definition; Norton, Human Geography, 268, 270-273, for like usage in the discipline of human geography; Alexander Begg, Dot It Down: A Story of Life in the North-West (Toronto: Hunter, Rose and Company, 1871), 181, for examples of corresponding past usage of the term at Red River; and n. 65 above. Harold Wheeler, ed., “settler,” The Waverly Pictorial Dictionary, vol. 6 (London: Waverly Book Company, [c. 1922]), 3894, furnishes an example of exclusive past usage whereby the term ‘settler’ is reserved for describing citizen agents of colonial expansion. See also Harriet Cowan, quoted in W.J. Healy, Women of Red River; being a book written from the recollections of women surviving from the Red River era (Winnipeg: Russell, Lang and Co., 1923), 21, a Métis woman, who describes Red River Métis families acting as colonizers of Oregon as “British settlers.”

[87] Cadigan, Hope and Deception, viii, iv, xi, 4, 5, 22, 26, illustrates the non-determinate nature of land use with regard to the application of a settler designation. Unlike the “farmer-settlers” of Upper Canada, the “fishing ones” of Newfoundland, because located on a land mass that is “generally a barren, tundra-dominated island of thin soil, vast rocky barrens, and cold, foggy weather,” established “households almost completely dependent on the fishery.”

[88] N.-J. Ritchot, “The Journal of Rev. N.-J. Ritchot March 24 to May 28, 1870,” in Manitoba: The Birth of a Province, ed. W.L. Morton (Winnipeg: Manitoba Record Society Publications, 1965; reprint, 1984), 149 (page citations are to the reprint edition), cites Sir George Cartier as confirming a corresponding definition. Cole Harris, “Introduction,” The Resettlement of British Columbia: Essays on Colonialism and Geographical Change (Vancouver: UBC Press 1997; reprint 2000), xi-xxii (page citations are to the reprint edition), comes close to suggesting a similar definition, although his discussion of marginalization is predicated on maintaining a culturally centrist perspective. Coutts, Road to the Rapids, 49, 82, 194; Irene Spry, ed. “The ‘Memories’ of George William Sanderson 1846-1936,” Canadian Ethnic Studies 17, no. 2 (1985): 116; Mailhot and Sprague, “Persistent Settlers”; and Sprague, Canada and the Métis, ix n. 1, 17, 90, all plainly identify the Red River Settlement Métis as settlers. See also n. 65 above. Disavowing Métis and First Nations peoples entitlement to the settler designation may be suspected of having exacerbated distortion in the historiography about development in the Canadian West. See “‘Settler’: Upsetting the semantics of superiority,” this site. In some instances, there is a tendency to selectively conflate Métis activity with that of the Selkirk Settlers and elide Métis presence. As a result, Métis accomplishments and activity post 1826 are ascribed to a mythic community made up of a non-Aboriginal, largely no longer present, yet supposedly dominant population of ‘actual’ settlers.


Under the above definition of settler, superfluous distinctions based on vainglorious claims to pan-situational superiority are erased. This is not to introduce a distinction without a difference. Particularly as pertains to intent, critical differences remain between transient sojourners, together with ‘forced’ or ‘free’ migrants — people essentially engaged in a passage of relocation — and principally or seasonally sedentary settlers.[89] The point is that Canada, as a nation formed of settlers, is populated by people who, through whatever means, have established a profound connection to the land, whether in its real physiographic or an ‘imagined’ sense.[90] They are people whose histories include displacement and migration. It is therefore possible to compare distinct settler groups from different time periods who inhabited the same space, such as: the Hopewellian/ Selkirk Peoples, who lived in what is now Manitoba from about 2,200 years ago to approximately 1700 (or alternately, the Blackduck people, from approximately A.D. 700 to at least A.D. 1300); the Red River Métis of 1810 to 1870; and the New Icelanders of 1875 to 1881 (to give but a few examples).[91] Conversely, comparisons can be made of settler groups inhabiting different geographical spaces at corresponding times, for example the small landholder producers of Red River and those of central Ontario between the years 1861 and 1871.[92] Comparison on the basis of similarity of circumstance is possible as well.

[89] See Norton, Human Geography, 118; and Hall, “Chapter 3,”  “A ‘Perfect Freedom’.”

[90] See Norton, Human Geography, 54-56; and Cornelius J. Holtorf, e-monograph, “Sites of Memory,” and “Monumental Past: The Life-histories of Megalithic Monuments in Meckleburg-Volpommern (Germany),” Ph.D. diss. (University of Wales, 1998), for discussions of human actual/ physical and imagined/ spiritual connections to land.

[91] See The Archeology of Northwestern Ontario 1: The Prehistoric and Fur Trade Periods (Ontario Ministry of Culture and Recreation Historical Planning and Research Branch, 1980), 8-15; Olive Patricia Dickason, “A Historical Reconstruction for the Northwestern Plains,” Prairie Forum 5, no. 1 (spring, 1980): 24; and Steinthor Heidersson, “A Promised Land not so Prosperous: The Exodus from New Iceland 1879-1881,” submitted to Canadian Social History 11.489, L01, University of Manitoba, 21 March 2002.

[92] See Gordon Darroch, “Class in nineteenth-century, central Ontario: A reassessment of the crisis and demise of small producers during early industrialization, 1861-1871,” in Class, Gender, and Region: Essays in Canadian Historical Sociology, ed. Gregory S. Kealey (St. John’s Committee of Canadian Labour History, 1988), 49-71; and Kenneth Michel Sylvester, The Limits of Rural Capitalism: family, culture, and markets in Montcalm, Manitoba 1870-1940 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 5, 7-9, 12-15.


The circumstance of imperialism, empire, and colonialism and the place of Red River Settlement’s Indigenous peoples — socially, politically, economically, and culturally — within that context can be interrogated. Comparison to similar contexts world-wide allows for new avenues of research as well as the incorporation and testing of theory applied in those other contexts.[93] As a starting point, because Red River Settlement was created within the context of a monopolistic privilege secured on the basis of Royal prerogative to serve external (continentally speaking) and geographically removed economic interests (the Hudson’s Bay Company), the repression of a pattern of general economic development deemed ‘normal’ for European societies — in particular the application of laissez-faire principles — has been argued to have been artificially extended. Comparison with communities in similar political economic environments is instructive, allowing ‘fresh air’ to infuse a historiography previously deemed closed due to completion, and apparently slated to stagnate.[94]

[93] One of D.N. Sprague’s criticisms of historiography about Red River and the Métis, that for the most part was ignored, was the deficiency in theory. See D.N. Sprague, “The Cultural Bias of Metis Studies,” review of The New Peoples: On Being and Becoming Métis in North America, ed. Jacqueline Peterson and Jennifer S.H. Brown, Prairie Fire: A Magazine of Canadian Writing 8, no. 2 (summer, 1987): 67-68, in which he objects that in ignoring colonialism as a context, The New Peoples succeeds only in establishing that historians had sacrificed critical thinking — opting instead for weak theoretical underpinning and an obsession with detail. Sprague, review of From Rupert’s Land to Canada, 137-138, repeats the criticism, remarking, “Judging by most of the article-length research reports sandwiched between the historiographical inventories, more serious cerebral activity is needed. If these essays provide a fair sample of the current range and depth of these branches of western Canadian studies, the inescapable conclusion is that the field tends towards excessive detail, avoidence of theory, and an anti-critical bias with respect to any and all institutions of the economy and state.” Sprague’s criticism resonates with that of Joan Wallach Scott, Gender and the Politics of History, rev. ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 17, 41, 56–67, 77, who decries “history’s atheoretical stance” generally. Both suggest that many historians practice a form of antiquarianism or tourism of the past. I would argue that this is a form of historical practice that is not innocent of impinging theory, though I agree with Sprague and Wallach Scott that in practice such theory is not examined critically. When it comes to historians: First, I do not regard theory as distinct from, or superior to, hypothesis. Second, I do not equate historical hypothesis – as an untested guess – with naive conjecture offered on the basis of someone else’s untested observation or some set of popular beliefs. Third, I hold that historians’ observations back hypotheses, in that perusing historical sources supports the logic of forming a hypothesis (even one that does no more than privilege a bias/ prejudice and thereby replicates a “deep structure of explanation” [Frank Tough, “Race, Personality and History: A Review of Marcel Giraud’s ‘The Metis in the Canadian West’,” Native Studies Review 5, no. 2 (1989), 56.]). Fourth, historiographical hypothesis/ theory is persistently provisional: because it can never be finally proven it cannot transmute to ‘truth.’ That is a condition historiography cannot escape. No matter how many historians reach conclusions that accord with a theory, there is no guarantee that another historian will never find evidence that contradicts the theory, and, logically, a theory is subject to disproof if even one historian finds one piece of evidence that disagrees with the theory’s predictions/ prescriptions. In my opinion, because every historian brings a set of theoretical constructs to their work, because history has been assembled as a discipline, and because historical method takes place at the level of theory (there is no physical, actual past in the present to experiment on), historiography is chock-full of theory — good and bad, for good or ill. The use and misuse of theory is a calculated strategy.

[94] See Stanley, Birth of Western Canada, 19-21; Ian McKay, “The crisis of dependent development: class conflict in the Nova Scotia coalfields, 1872-76,” and Gregory S. Kealey, “Introduction,” in Class, Gender, and Region, 9-48, 1-7. E. Ellice, in Report From the Select Committee, 328 no. 5824, identifies the HBC — noted in Finlay and Sprague, Structure of Canadian History, 62, as having been granted a charter for the “pretended control” of Rupert’s Land in 1670 — as “the last proprietary government in existence” as of 1857. The status was maintained to 1869. Arthur S. Morton, A History of the Canadian West to 1870-71, Being a History of Rupert’s Land (The Hudson’s Bay Company Territory) and of the North-West Territory (Including the Pacific Slope) (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1939), 820, observes that the way in which the Red River Settlement functioned as of 1857 “baffled” statesmen in England: “Possessed with the idea that the Company was the government of a continental domain, they found it hard to grasp the fact that it did not govern. No taxes, no definite postal service, other than the Company’s expresses, and none to the United States, empty jails, and no school system; yet there were magistrates, and the young were being educated.” Ronald Robinson, John Gallagher, and Alice Denny, Africa and the Victorians: The Official Mind of Imperialism 2d ed. (London: Macmillan, 1981: reprint, 1985), 496, (page citations are to the reprint edition), in describing West African colonies note that, in those locations as well, “the British never really governed … Their rule over them was much more a function of indigenous political economy than the … highly superfìcial formal imperial context.” Cadigan, Hope and Deception in Conception By, 19-20; and Kevin Major, As Near to Heaven by Sea: A History of Newfoundland and Labrador (Toronto: Penguin Books, 2001), 77, describe Conception Bay as Newfoundland’s first proprietary colony by charter of James I of England to the Newfoundland Company in 1610. Finlay and Sprague, Structure of Canadian History, 126, note that subsequently in Newfoundland, “a society developed without any of the accompaniments of British colonial tradition. By 1820 there were still no political institutions — representative or otherwise.” I categorically reject any suggestion that comparing the Red River Métis to any other group is analogous to comparing “apples and oranges” (a criticism levelled by one of the examiners at my M.A. thesis defence). Human political economic behaviour is human. Period.


It was not until 2010, with the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia project, that I discovered how intrinsically deficient Red River historiography (including my own) really was when it came to examining, recording, and recounting Red River history.[95] With this site I am attempting to address that gap — though from outside of formal academia (meaning unaffiliated with any institution), on my own time and, as of 2013, at my own expense.[96]

[95] See Historiography and the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia, this site. The project revealed that historians had managed to ‘lose’ a legislature for 140 years.

[96] Many thanks to WordPress: without the free blog option, the information presented at Provisional Government of Assiniboia would not be accessible (and might never have been written, as I would have had little incentive to accumulate and organize it — as it is, the tedium of the work is offset by contacts made with readers).


As of 2014, academically speaking, in my view, it is still the case that “history has not been kind” to the Red River Métis. Demonstrably, there is “an overwhelming desire on the part of Métis people, the public and public servants for more information about Métis history, culture and circumstances.”[97] Yet, there is little evidence of interest (measured by way of course offerings, or of experts in the field) at university-level history departments in Manitoba, in forwarding such learning and promoting research into the significance of Manitoba Métis history to the province, to Western Canada, and to the nation as a whole.[98] The struggle is still in place. My unease continues.[99]

[97] Government of Manitoba, From the Past Into the Future: Manitoba Métis Policy (September 2010), 9.

[98] The availability of courses devoted to Manitoba’s past — as Assiniboia and Rupert’s Land — in the history departments of the province’s universities appears to have virtually disappeared since 2003. No effort has been made to forestall attrition due to losing such notables in the field as Ed Rea, Doug Sprague, Jack Bumsted, Gerry Friesen (University of Manitoba), Jennifer Brown (University of Winnipeg), and Gerhard Ens (University of Brandon).

[99] Bizarrely, in 2009, Steven Harper, as Prime Minister of Canada, proclaimed “we … have no history of colonialism” in Canada. See David Ljunggren, “Every G20 nation wants to be Canada, insists PM,” Reuters (posted 25 September 2009).



Published 25 March 2014


As of August 2015, posted online as a free e-book:

Cover Page Capture

Norma J. Hall, A Casualty of Colonialism: Red River Métis Farming, 1810–1870 (2015).







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