While the first Native American-European fur trade exchange happened about the year 1000 with Norse (i.e. Viking) entrepreneurs from Greenland, the fur trade didn’t really have a major impact on Native cultures until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The fur trade not only brought new goods into Indian nations, but also resulted in the emergence of a distinct cultural group known as Métis in Canada.

The French approach to American Indians was very different from that of the English, Spanish, and Russian invaders. The French viewed Indians as trading partners and potential markets for their goods. Instead of requiring their Indian partners to learn European ways as a prerequisite for trade, the French learned Indian ways.

Trade between nations was nothing new to American Indians: they had been engaged in trade for thousands of years by the time the French arrived. In what is now Canada, Indian trade involved both ceremonies and kinship. French traders understood this and became participants in the pipe ceremonies and gift giving that preceded formal trading. Since the French traders, all of whom were men, did not belong to any Indian clans, they had to acquire kinship connections through adoption and/or marriage.

Thus an important part of the French-Indian fur trade involved the marriage of the French fur traders into the Indian tribes. The French fur traders adopted many aspects of Indian culture and became as Indian as they were French. William Eccles, in his chapter on French exploration in North American Exploration. Volume 2: A Continent Defined, writes:  “These marriage alliances were regarded favourably by the Indians, since they strengthened the bonds between the two races, but they were frowned on by the royal officials and the clergy, who maintained that the offspring of these marriages combined the worst features of both races.”

One of the consequences of marriage is often children. The children of these fur trade marriages grew up in bilingual, bicultural households and often became important players in the expanding fur trade. While the fathers were often French, there were also Scots and Irish traders who married Indian women. The mothers most frequently came from Algonquian-speaking tribes, most often Cree or Anishinaabe (Ojibwa). Historian Barry Gough, in his biography First Across the Continent: Sir Alexander Mackenzie, writes:  “The descendants of these families became a distinct and important people in Canadian history, the Métis.”

Dan Asfar and Tim Chodan, in their biography Louis Riel, write:  “The Métis were a French-speaking people living in western Canada who drew their ancestry from both whites and Natives. They were the offspring of French fur traders and Native women who married during traders’ sojourns in Rupert’s Land.”

Rupert’s Land refers to the area granted to Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). Asfar and Chodan also report:  “Over time, the Métis (French for “half-caste”) formed a distinct population. They developed buffalo-hunting practices of their own and competed against bordering Natives for hunting grounds.”

From the Native American perspective there was no such thing as race, and thus the Métis were not viewed as an interracial group. Culturally and linguistically, the Métis blended European and Native American features into a new culture. As with other indigenous people, there were a number of different Métis cultural variations. Josephine Paterek, in her book Encyclopedia of American Indian Costume, reports:“The Southern Métis were the offspring of the French coureurs de bois and Ojibway or Cree women; they were typically Catholic and lived in and around the Red River Valley. The Northern Métis, in the vicinity of the Saskatchewan River, were the offspring of Scottish and English traders and Athapaskan women and usually followed the Anglican religion.”

One of the characteristics of Métis men was the wearing of a red, finger-woven sash which was usually about 60 inches in length.

During the nineteenth century there were a number of conflicts between the British and the Métis. In 1814, for example, a conflict known as the Pemmican War broke out in Saskatchewan when the governor attempted to stop the pemmican trade.

After Rupert’s Land became a part of the Canadian Federation and was opened to homesteading, the Métis system of land distribution—narrow, river front lots—did not mesh with the Canadian homesteading squares. The Métis during the 1880s repeatedly petitioned Ottawa for official recognition of their lands and their concerns were ignored.

By the twentieth century, Canada recognized the Métis as a distinct people. In 1901, for example, the Canadian government offered land script to Métis who had been born between certain dates. As a result, many Canadian-born Metis returned to Canada from the United States.

In Canada today, the Métis are recognized as an indigenous people. The United States, with its obsession for race expressed in the concept of blood quantum, does not recognize the Métis.


Huron Government and Law

Long before the European invasion of North America, five Iroquoian-speaking tribes formed a powerful confederation known as the League of Five Nations. The idea for this confederacy came from the prophet Deganawida who had been born to the Huron. The Huron, an Iroquoian-speaking nation, however, never joined the League of Five Nations.

The name Huron was given to them by the French and means “rough, boorish.” They call themselves Wendat, Guyandot, or Wyandot which means “islanders.” Their traditional territory was north of the Lake Simcoe region of Ontario. Their homeland is often referred to as Huronia in many of the historical accounts.

Like the other Iroquian-speaking Indian nations, the Huron were farmers with a slash-and-burn agriculture which was supplemented by some hunting and fishing and by the gathering of certain wild plants for both food and fiber. Corn, beans, and squash provided about two-thirds of the Iroquois caloric intake. By 1630 it is estimated that the Huron, with a population of about 21,000, were harvesting 189,000 bushels of corn from 7,000 acres.

The basic foundation of Huron society, like that of other Iroquois nations, was the clan system. Iroquois society is divided into matrilineal clans which are named after certain animals. Among the Huron there were eight matrilineal clans: Turtle, Wolf, Bear, Beaver, Deer, Hawk, Porcupine, and Snake. The clans were exogamous, meaning the people had to marry outside of their own clan. Children belonged to their mother’s clans.

The Huron were a confederacy of four major tribes: Bear, Rock, Barking Dogs, and White Thorns (also known as Canoes). The people called their confederacy Wendat or People of the Peninsula. The major reason for the formation of the Huron confederacy was protection against common enemies. They were given the name Huron by the French.

There were three levels of government among the Huron: village, tribe, and confederacy. At the village level, clan chiefs organized councils in which older men and women expressed their opinions on matters concerning the village.

Each Huron village council met frequently, often daily, to discuss village affairs. According to anthropologist Bruce Trigger in his book The Huron: Farmers of the North:  “Often there was little business to transact, and the meeting took on the characteristics of an old boys’ club.”

Religion professor Henry Bowden, in his book American Indians and Christian Missions: Studies in Cultural Conflict, reports:  “The council was not so much a governing body as a sounding board for canvassing attitudes and pointing out the popular choice on specific matters.”  Discussions would be continued until consensus was evident.

Among the Huron there were two kinds of chiefs: (1) civil chiefs who were concerned with everyday life and peace, and (2) war chiefs who were concerned exclusively with military matters. Being a Huron chief required both time and an expenditure of wealth. Anthropologist Elisabeth Tooker, in her book An Ethnography of the Huron Indians, 1615-1649, writes:  “Chieftainships, then, were partly elected and partly inherited: a chief was elected from among the relatives of the deceased chief.”

The person who was elected was usually not the child of the deceased chief, but was more often a nephew or a grandson.

In her book Chain Her by One Foot: The Subjugation of Native Women in Seventeenth-Century New France, Karen Anderson reports:  “It would appear that Huron clan leaders had little ability to control the behavior of either women or men who chose to disobey or to not follow the decisions that had been taken in council.”

The Huron recognized four main classes of crime: (1) murder and wounding and injury, (2) theft, (3) witchcraft, and (4) treason. Murder placed an obligation on the relatives to avenge the killing. Reparation payments helped alleviate the possibility of blood feuds. Anthropologist Bruce Trigger notes:  “Huron law did not permit society as a whole to punish individuals.”

Among the Huron, material gifts were often used as a way of restoring peace and mending the social fabric following a crime, such as murder or physical injury. The guilty party (including both the individual and the clan) would pay the victim’s family. According to Henry Bowden:  “Thirty presents was the usual indemnity for killing a man, but the murder of a tribeswoman called for forty gifts.”

In 1649, the Iroquois, well-armed with guns supplied by Dutch traders, attacked and destroyed the Huron. Historian Ian Steele, in his book Warpaths: Invasions of North America, writes:  “Archeologically and anthropologically, the Huron can be regarded as exterminated in 1649 because their sites were abandoned and their culture structures destroyed. Historically, however, many of these people survived the calamity.”


Newfoundland Natives and Early European Invaders

Newfoundland is the world’s sixteenth-largest island and Canada’s fourth-largest. During the more than six centuries of European exploration prior to the establishment of the English colony at Cuper’s Cove in 1610, who lived on the island and utilized its resources included the Beothuk, Mi’kmaq, and Dorset Inuit. The Europeans—Norse, Basque, French, Portuguese, and English—came to the island as explorers, fishermen, and whalers.

The Norse:

 The first recorded contact between the Newfoundland Natives and Europeans came in 986 when the Norse (Viking) voyager Leif Eiriksson, sometimes called “the lucky,” visited and settled an area called Vinland on the northern tip of Newfoundland. Archaeologists have excavated a Norse settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows which dates to this time. The Vikings had some encounters with Native Americans who they called Skraelings (probably Beothuk.) The colonies were eventually abandoned, due in part to opposition from the Native Americans. According to archaeologist David Hurst Thomas in his book, Exploring Ancient Native America: An Archaeological Guide:  “Native Americans had temporarily won out because of superior numbers and an unsurpassed knowledge of the American northland and how to survive in it.”

In the Handbook of North American Indians T.J. Brasser writes:  “The effects of Norse contacts on the natives of Newfoundland during the early part of the eleventh century must have rapidly faded away as a bad dream.”

According to one story, Leif and the other Viking warriors fled their village and cowered behind some rocks when the Skraelings attacked. Freydis Eriksdottir, then nearly nine-months pregnant, tore open her blouse to expose her breasts, then picked up a shield and sword dropped by the fleeing Vikings, and counter-attacked. She succeeded in repelling the attack and defending the brave Viking warriors.


By 1450, Basque whalers were establishing temporary camps on Newfoundland (there are some reports that the Basque were there much earlier). These camps provided the Inuit with more access to European goods.

Writing about the Basque whalers in 1543, William Fitzhugh, writing in Cultures in Contact: The European Impact on Native Cultural Institutions in Eastern North America, A.D. 1000-1800, reports:  “Each summer this operation brought large numbers of ships and larger numbers of whaleboats (shallops) into harbors where whales were hunted, blubber was rendered, and—at the end of the whaling season, in late fall or early winter—casks were prepared for shipment to Europe.”

Twenty to thirty ships would operate in the waters around the island. This operation would involve about 2,000 men who would hunt the whales in small boats, and then tow the dead animal to the shore station where it would be butchered. Native groups were attracted to the whaling camps because of the possibilities for trade. When the crews left in the fall, the natives would plunder the whaling stations for iron, shallops, and other items.


By 1481, English fishing ships from Bristol were working off the coast of Newfoundland. According to some accounts, fish drying camps were established at the shore and there may have been some contacts with the Beothuk.

Italian sea captain John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) sailing for the English king Henry VII explored the coast of Newfoundland, Labrador, and Nova Scotia in 1497 and claimed these lands for the English. Like Columbus, Cabot may have been confused and thought that he was in Asia. His commission from Henry VII was to conquer, occupy, and possess the lands of heathens and infidels.

Cabot made no contact with native people, but did find their fishing nets and some other tools. John Day, an English merchant in Bristol, wrote to Christopher Columbus after Cabot’s return and reported:  “…they found a trail that went inland, they saw a site where a fire had been made, they saw manure of animals which they thought to be farm animals, and they saw a stick half a yard long pierced at both ends, carved and painted with brazil, and by such signs they believe the land to be inhabited.”

In his report, Cabot noted that this area—called Brazil and assumed to be an island—had been discovered earlier by English ships sailing from Bristol.

The English would later use Cabot’s landing in their claim of ownership of North America. Russell Shorto, in his book The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America, writes:  “By the logic of the concept of ‘discovery,’ when the foot of an explorer made contact with soil that had not previously been settled by humans whom Europeans regarded as having a proper civilization, that soil, and all soil stretching out from it for as far as the metaphysical aura of discovery could be made to stretch, came under the flag of the explorer’s sponsoring nation.”

Over 400 European fishing boats gathered off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1578. About 50 houses were built along the shore as a part of their fish-drying stations. The Europeans returned home in the fall with their dried catch. The Beothuk, having had bad experiences with the Europeans, minimized contact, but did manage to steal from the Europeans. Ethnologist T.J. Brasser reports:  “The extremely unfavorable stereotype that Europeans developed of the Beothuk reflects the fact that these Indians were considered a nuisance and of no economic value whatsoever.”


In 1472, the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador were explored by a Dano-Portuguese expedition with two Danish sea captains—Diderik Pining and Hans Pothorst—along with João Vaz Corte-Real. They followed the old Viking route to the area. In a chapter in North American Exploration, Robert Fuson writes:  “In fact, the Portuguese name ‘Labrador’ may have been a result of this voyage, and Newfoundland was afterward called Terra do Bacalhau (Land of the Codfish) for many years.”

While there are some scholars who are skeptical about the claims of this voyage, Fuson also writes:  “These events are well documented and are fully accepted by scholars in Portugal and Scandinavia.”

In 1501, the Portuguese began capturing Beothuks to export to Europe as slaves. Gaspar Corte-Real described these people as having “manners and gestures most gentle.” The Portuguese found that the Beothuk had a broken Italian sword and a pair of Venetian silver earrings, probably acquired from the early expeditions of John Cabot.


In 1507, Norman fishing vessels captured seven Beothuks in Newfoundland and brought them back to France.

Joseph Brant in Canada

During the Revolutionary War, many Indians allied themselves with their old trading partners, the British. For the six tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy, the divided loyalties led to the ritual covering of their council fire so that each nation was free to choose sides. At the 1777 Battle of Oriskany, for example, the pro-British Iroquois under the leadership of Joseph Brant (Mohawk) and Chainbreaker (Seneca) fought against the pro-patriot Iroquois under the leadership of Nonyery Tewahangaraghkan (Oneida). Following the war, the Indian allies of the British expressed anger and disbelief as the British handed over their Indian lands to the Americans. The Americans seemed determined to extract retribution from all Indians regardless of whether they had fought for or against the Americans. As a result many Indians, including many former British allies, fled north to Canada.

In 1783, Joseph Brant accepted new lands along the Grand River, just north of Lake Erie, for the Iroquois League of Six Nations who had remained loyal to the British during the American Revolution. The land was viewed as compensation for their loss of land in New York. Brant was also commissioned as Captain of the Northern Confederate Indians.

In New York, Joseph Brant met with the chiefs of the Iroquois League of Six Nations and invited them to join with him in his reserve in Ontario. He felt that the British government would serve the Iroquois better than the new American government. The chiefs entrusted the decision to the clan matrons. The clan mothers decided that the Six Nations should divide, with half in Canada and half in the United States.

The following year, a group of 1,843 Iroquois Loyalists under the leadership of Joseph Brant settled in Ontario. The group included members from all six of the Iroquois League (though most were Mohawk and Cayuga) as well as some Delaware, Nanticoke, Tutelo, Creek, and Cherokee. The migrants settled in small tribal villages along the Grand River.

The Mississauga sold their land claims to Joseph Brant so that the Mohawk could have clear title to their new territory. Mississauga leader Pokquan announced:  “We are Indians, and consider ourselves and the Six Nations to be one and the same people, and agreeable to a former, and mutual agreement, we are bound to help each other.”

In their new Ontario home, Joseph Brant and others built the Mohawk Chapel (Anglican) in the Mohawk village. The church housed the Queen Anne Silver Communion Plate and Bible which had been given to the Mohawk in 1710 when the chapel at Fort Hunter, New York was built.

In 1785, Mohawk leader Joseph Brant talked with the Mohawk under the leadership of Captain John Deserontyon about joining him at the Grand River. Deserontyon, however, prefered to remain in his own village.

While Joseph Brant was generally recognized by the British as the leader of the Iroquois and other tribes in the Grand River area, there were some Indians who were not happy with his leadership. In 1788, Captain Aaron and Captain Isaac attempted to assassinate Mohawk leader Joseph Brant. When the attempt failed, they fled to the Mohawk village of John Deserontyon who welcomed them to his community.  

 In 1792, two Mohawk men—Hendrick and Kellayhun—murdered a French Canadian trader. The British military commander demanded that the chiefs surrender the two men so that they could stand trial under British law. Instead of surrendering the men, the chiefs asked that they be allowed to cover the grave with gifts for the relatives of the deceased. This was a traditional Native practice in resolving the crime of murder. According to Joseph Brant: “We have forms and Ancient Customs which we look upon as Necessary to be gone through as the Proceedings in any Court of Justice.”

From the Indian view, to accept British legal jurisdiction would be to deny their own sovereignty. The British, on the other hand, viewed the Indians as British subjects and therefore subject to British law. The case was suspended rather than dropped.

In 1793, John Graves Simcoe, the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, drafted the Simcoe Patent which stipulated that all land transactions of the Iroquois Six Nations would have to be approved by the Crown. Simcoe insisted that Indians had always mishandled their land. Mohawk leader Joseph Brant and the other Iroquois chiefs, however, rejected this concept. According to Brant:  “It seems natural to Whites to look on lands in the possession of Indians with an aching heart, and never to rest ‘till they have planned them out of them.”

The Iroquois had sold or leased several large blocks of land to non-Indians because Brant felt that the non-Indians would provide useful models for the Iroquois.

 In 1795, Isaac Brant, the eldest son of Joseph Brant, killed a deserter from the American army. Isaac Brant was known to have a temper, particularly when he was drunk. Furious because a saddle had not been completed on time, he buried a tomahawk in the deserter’s brain. Brant was convicted of murder by a jury, but the Iroquois chiefs insisted that the victim’s grave be covered instead. While the British military commander wanted to send in troops to retrieve Isaac Brant, the governor, wishing to avoid bloodshed, delayed. The situation was solved when Isaac Brant attacked his father in a drunken rage and Joseph Brant killed his son in self-defense.

In 1795, Joseph Brant was authorized by the Six Nations to sell large blocks of land directly to speculators who were lusting after the fertile land. The land was sold for 18 times what the government had offered for it.

In 1798, in order to disrupt the alliance between the Mississauga and the Six Nations Iroquois, the government established a separate agency for the Mississauga at York. The Mississauga protested the change and indicated that they wanted to continue their affiliation with the Iroquois.

In order to show that Indians had military importance to Ontario, in 1798 Joseph Brant convened a muster of 400 Indian warriors and a settler militia company.

Joseph Brant died on his estate near Brantford, Ontario in 1807. He was 67 years old.

Northwest Coast Textiles (Photo Diary)

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The Northwest Coast peoples have a wide variety of garments which are worn during ceremonies and for special occasions. Sometimes the clothes are decorated with crest designs that show the wearer’s clan. Shown below are some examples of Northwest Coast textiles and weaving which are on display at the Portland Art Museum.  



Some neckpieces are shown above.


One of the best examples of Northwest Coast weaving can be seen in the Chilkat Dancing Blankets or Robes (example shown above). These blankets combine the twining of mountain goat wool and cedar bark with the images of mythological creatures. According to some experts, The pattern of the Chilcat blanket came from the Tsimshian and was adopted by the Tlingit, the Chilcat people specializing in its production, owning to the ease with which mountain goat’s wool could be procured in their district.

Traditionally, it would take a year or more to make a Chilkat Blanket. The blankets are woven by the women, but the designs are painted by male artists on special pattern boards.


A pattern board for a Chilcat robe is shown above.


This is another woven robe.


A woven rain hat or canoe hat is shown above.


A button blanket is shown above. This is a Tlingit blanket made about 1900 with pearl buttons and wool cloth. Button blankets were developed during the 19th century. Most are made of dark blue wool with a red pattern. The buttons are sewn individually to create the desired pattern.


A pair of leggings is shown above.  

Northwest Coast Carvings (Photo Diary)

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The Northwest Coast is a region in which an entrenched and highly valued artistic tradition flourished. Northwest Coast art-carving and painting-has a very characteristic style. Most commonly, art is used for portraying the family crest and heraldic figures. Shown below are some examples of Northwest Coast carvings which are on display at the Portland Art Museum.  

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Shown above is a potlatch serving bowl. It is about 12 feet long. The potlatch is an expression of social stratification and so the lower ranking members of the society would be fed from the bowls at the knees and the highest ranking members would be fed from the head. During the several days of the potlatch, the hosts provide the guests with two large meals per day.

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Shown above are some of the decorated wooden boxes. One of the unique items among Northwest Coast Indians are kerfed boxes in which the sides of the box are made by scoring and then bending a single board to form the sides of the box. The single side seam is then carefully fitted and sewn together with spruce root. The bottom of the box is also carefully fitted and sewn to the sides. These boxes are waterproof and some are used for cooking. The watertight boxes can be filled with water and when hot stones are dropped into the box the water can be brought to a boil.

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Shown above are some examples carved serving spoons.

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Shown above are some carved bowls.

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Shown above is a drum with an orca design.


Shown above is a cedar box drum. This drum was made by Tsimshian artist David Boxley about 1990.

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Shown above is an orca carving.

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One of the media used by Northwest Coast artists is argillite. Argillite is a soft stone which is found in the Queen Charlotte Islands. Shown above are some argillite bowls and carvings.

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Shown above are some large carved panels.


A carved hat is shown above.  

Traditional Whaling

The area along the Pacific Coast north of California and between the Cascade Mountains and the ocean, is the home to many Indian nations who traditionally based their economy on the use of sea coast and river ecological resources. This is an area which stretches from the Tlingit homelands in Alaska to the Tolowa homelands in northern California. Prior to European contact in 1774, it is estimated that the population of this area was at least 200,000 with some people estimating it at closer to a million. This suggests that it was one of the most densely populated non-agricultural regions of the world.

Some of the Northwest Coast tribes are actually confederations. The Nuu-chah-nulth (also known as the Nootka), for example, are a confederacy of 14 nations. Each of the tribes takes pride in their political independence and autonomy. The designation of the independent nations as Nuu-chah-nulth (which means “all along the mountains”) was selected by the First Nations leaders in 1978 as the collective term to describe the closely related nations of western Vancouver Island in Canada. The tribes had forged an alliance since 1967 to present a unified political voice. The Makah in Washington are linguistically and culturally related to the Nuu-chah-nulth.

As a coastal people, the subsistence activities of the Indian nations of the Northwest Coast emphasized fishing and marine mammal hunting. The marine mammals which they hunted included harbor seal, fur seal, sea lion, sea otter, porpoise, and whale. These sea mammals were often hunted from a canoe.

Whales provided a significant range of important resources, including meat, bone, baleen, sinew, and gut. While whales provided an abundance of food and tool-making materials, they also presented significant challenges to those who hunted them.

The most commonly hunted whales were the California gray whale and the humpback whale. Whale hunting was often felt to be a noble calling and among some tribes, such as the Nuu-chah-nulth, the whaler was always a chief. Preparation for the Nuu-chah-nulth whale hunt took months with the whaler bathing and scouring his body, praying, and swimming in imitation of the actions desired in the whale, his wife holding him on a line. In preparation for the hunt, the whalers would often sequester themselves in a small wooden structure called a chii-asim (shrine). Here the crew would bathe, fast, and pray. Nuu-chah-nulth artist Ki-ke-in reports:

“As the whaling crew prepared themselves to take the life of a huge whale, a spiritual act of the highest order, they prayed, surrounded by their most famous and successful ancestor whalers.”

The Nuu-chah-nulth whale hunting crew was traditionally composed of eight men. The harpooner would stand in the bow with the harpoon to his right pointing forward over the prow. Close to the feet of the first paddler was the first float and it was the duty of the first paddler to throw it overboard as the harpooner made his strike.

Nuu-chah-nulth whale hunters used a harpoon that was up to 18 feet in length with a detachable head of carved elk horn. An extremely sharp point from mussel shell was set in the elk-horn head.  When the harpoon struck the whale, the head would separate from the shaft. The head was connected to the whaler’s canoe with a cord made of nettles and a sinew lanyard. When the wounded whale resurfaced, more harpoons would be plunged into its body.  It was necessary for the whaler to come very close to the whale, for the harpoon was thrust into the whale rather than being thrown. The trick was lying alongside just as the whale was submerging, with the flukes under water. It was more than the harpooner’s skill, however, that led to success: the skill of the crew, particularly that of the steersman, was needed to get the harpooner in place for the kill.

Nuu-chah-nulth artist Ki-ke-in summarizes the whale hunt this way:

“The success in whaling of these great men-their spiritual preparedness, knowledge, and physical strength-meant that they were able to feed their communities and invite neighboring tribes.”

Once the whale had been killed, it was necessary to tie its mouth shut to prevent the carcass from filling with water and sinking. One of the crew would dive into the water as soon as the whale was killed, cut a hole through the mandible behind the bone and another through the upper lip, and then tie the two together with a rope.

Once the hunters had beached the dead whale, it was cut up and distributed according to specific rules. The whaler (the first harpooner) received the “saddle”-the choicest piece of blubber which lies across the back and down the sides of the whale from just in front to just in back of the dorsal fin. This choice piece was placed on a rack in front of the whaler’s house. It was cooked and eaten four days later. The whaler did not eat any of the saddle; instead it was distributed as a feast.

With regard to the importance of whale hunting to the Nuu-chah-nulth, artist Ki-ke-in writes:

“Like our system of beliefs, our history of whaling is one of the great unifying forces in Nuu-chah-nulth communities. Whaling was never far from our grandparents’ thoughts.”

Whaling was important not only to Nuu-chah-nulth men, but to the women as well. A young whaler could marry only the daughter of another whaler as the young woman had to be ready to meet the expectations which the community had for a whaler’s wife. Ki-ke-in reports:

“When her husband was out on the sea whaling, she would lie on a specially prepared mat, as still and quiet as she could be, praying that he would be successful and come home safe.”

The Nuu-chah-nulth acknowledged a deep connection between the whale and the whaler’s wife.

“Stands Like a Porcupine”

In Canada’s Northwest Territories, the mountain area in the South Nahanni River watershed known as Naats’ihch’oh (“Stands Like a Porcupine”) by the Dene-speaking people has become Canada’s 44th National Park. For aboriginal people this is not only an area of outstanding beauty, but also of special spiritual power. While the park was announced in 2008, it was not fully established until August 22, 2012 when the impact and benefit plan was completed with the local Dene and Métis people.  

The new park will be managed in cooperation with the Sahtu Dene and the Métis of the Tulita District. Traditional hunting, fishing, trapping, and spiritual activities are to be allowed in the park. Aboriginal people will contribute to park management and will educate visitors about the region’s natural history and aboriginal peoples.

The South Nahanni River watershed area is home to several endangered species, including woodland caribou and grizzly bears. The area is also known for its moose and Dall sheep. It is also an area which is rich in minerals, so the final boundaries of the park were selected so that most known mineral deposits are outside of the park. While the creation of the new park means that no new mines can be established within the boundaries of the 1,800 square-mile park, existing claims within the park will be respected.

According to Parks Canada:

The South Nahanni River watershed is an incredibly beautiful and ecologically important area in the Northwest Territories. The river starts its journey at its headwaters – the Moose Ponds, in the shadow of Nááts’ihcho’oh (Mount Wilson). The upper part of the watershed accounts for about 1/6th of the Greater Nahanni Ecosystem, and it is important as the source of the river and as habitat for grizzly bear, Dall’s sheep and woodland caribou.

It has long been the home to the Dene and Métis, and it is often the launching area for adventurous visitors to the wilderness. Visitors from the rest of Canada and the world will have the opportunity to see the spectacular landscapes and to hike, canoe, and climb in these new park areas.

The creation of the new park has been met with some criticism. Some people feel that the new park is more about protecting mining interests than in protecting and preserving the environment. Stephen Kakfwi, the former premier of the Northwest Territories says that Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

“has taken the heart right out of it. The middle of it carved out so that mining can happen. That is not a national park. That is a joke.”

Other comments about the park:

“So let me see if I understand this. You create a new arctic national park that leaves 70 per cent of the mineral content of the proposed park outside of the park boundaries and available for mining companies to explore. Sounds to me like you are creating an island refuge and not a viable ecosystem.”

“Exactly my first thought. This park land is protected, while everything surrounding it is scraped away. A weak attempt at trying to balance out the devastation that will occur when the rest of the north is mined. We don’t need this kind of insulting lip service.”

“Not sure what you call it but I call it the best of both worlds”

Dene Spirituality:

Since Naats’ihch’oh plays an important role in Dene spirituality, I thought I would provide some background about the nature of this spirituality.

Among the Dene, individual experience is important in spirituality. Religion is experiential in that a person with a religious experience is considered someone who “knows” rather than as a “believer.”

As with other aboriginal peoples, dreams are an important part of Dene spirituality. However, spiritual power may require more than a single dream. For a person to be considered a prophet or a spiritual leader, others must acknowledge and recognize the power of an individual’s dream. Spiritual leadership is determined by authenticity: the visions and messages must be deemed true.

As with other aboriginal peoples, the vision quest is an important way of gaining spiritual power. During the vision quest, the individual goes alone to a remote place and waits for the vision to come to them. This vision may include songs and rituals. Animals may appear in the vision and provide the seekers with spiritual aid. The animal may appear in its own form or in the guise of a human being.

Dene and Métis:

Dene is often translated as “people” in the Northern Athabascan languages. However, Dene can also be broken into de (“flow” ) and ne (“Mother Earth “). This encompasses the understanding that the Dene people flow from Mother Earth. They are distantly related to the Athabascan-speaking Navajo and Apache in the American Southwest.

The Dene live in the region which they call Denendeh which means “the Creator’s Spirit flows through this Land.” There is an emphasis on living in harmony with the land which is based on respect and knowledge of the land.

The Métis are recognized in Canada as a distinct aboriginal people and are historically the descendents of European fur traders (mostly French and Scots) and indigenous people.

The Archaeology of Head-Smashed-In, Alberta

Archaeology is the study of the past through material remains. One of the goals of archaeology is discovery and description. Discovery and description, however, is only the first step: archaeologists also seek to develop explanations. Understanding the past means that we should try to understand how people lived in the past and why changes occurred. Ultimately, archaeology seeks to understand human behavior. In addition, there is also a concern, some would say an obligation, of communicating archaeological insights to the general public. One way of doing this is through displays at museums and interpretive centers. One of these interpretive centers is found in southern Alberta: the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre.

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Indian people have lived in southern Alberta for more than 11,000 years. By 6,000 years ago, they were using a sophisticated hunting technique that involved driving buffalo over a cliff at Head-Smashed-In. In 1965 archaeologists began their first dig at this site which led to the establishment of the Interpretive Centre which now explains the archaeological findings. The fifth level of the Interpretive Centre, Uncovering the Past, shows the archaeology behind the displays and explains how archaeologists uncover the past.

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Below the impressive buffalo at the top of the cliff there is a replica of the archaeological dig. The replica is a cast of an actual dig. Digging is often done with a trowel, the dirt placed into the bucket, which is then screened to find small items.

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Shown above is the grid used to help record the context of the finds.

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The idea of “dig” in archaeology often means going down many meters. In general, the farther down you go, the farther back in time you go.

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Archaeology is more than just digging up pretty or exotic objects to be displayed in museums: the context of all items is carefully recorded. The photos above shows the notebooks used to record the findings.

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The diorama shown above displays an archaeological dig on the right and the Indian village on the left. This shows what the site was like when it was in use and then what it looks like to the archaeologist. The archaeologists’ job is to use the material remains left at the site to reconstruct what happened there. The amount of detail in this diorama is amazing.

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A hide scraping tool is shown above.

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A series of interactive displays (some of which are shown above) explains some of the different artifacts found at Head-Smashed-In. The displays show not only different types of artifacts, but also how they are made and used.  

Ancient America: Eating a Buffalo

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For the Plains Indians, for many thousands of years, the buffalo (more properly called bison) was a walking supermarket providing them with food, clothing, shelter, tools, and toys. Buffalo were hunted in many different ways: they were killed as they swam across rivers and lakes; they were driven into snow banks where their short legs failed them; they were driven into dead-end canyons where they were easily cornered; they were ambushed as they migrated along well-marked trails; they were herded into corrals; and they were driven over cliffs.  

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Once the buffalo had been harvested, the carcass had to be fully butchered and processed into usable food fairly quickly or it would spoil. In a communal hunt, such as a buffalo jump, processing the carcass was done with an assembly line. Removing the hide and emptying the stomach were crucial in cooling down the carcass and ensuring that the greatest amount of food could be saved for future use.

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In butchering a buffalo, the tongue and internal organs were removed first. These were taken to the camp’s medicine people and then eaten as delicacies. As the people butchered the carcass-a process which would go on around the clock until it was done-they would smash the big marrow bones with heavy stone hammers to extract the tasty and nutritious marrow. This would help replenish the energy of the workers.

The body would be cut into 11 pieces to facilitate transportation: the four limbs, the two sides of ribs, the two sinews on each side of the back bone, the brisket, the croup, and the back bone.

Bison meat is about 65% water, so the Indians would dry the meat to make it lighter and easier to carry. In order to get rid of the moisture, the meat would be cut into thin strips, thus exposing a great deal of the surface area to the drying effects of the sun and air. The thin strips of meat would be hung on simple wooden racks for drying. Drying the meat in very thin strips is also a method of preserving it.

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The dried meat would be stored in hide containers known as parfleches. Parfleches were made from stiff, untanned hides that were folded into a large envelope. The food would be packed in the parfleche as tightly as possible to keep out as much air as possible, thus reducing spoilage. Properly cured and packaged dried meat could last for months, and even years.

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The hides would be processed into robes or tanned hides for lodge covers or clothing.

Stone Boiling:

One of the common methods of cooking is known as stone boiling. A bowl-shaped pit would be dug into the hard earth. It would then be made watertight by pushing a fresh buffalo hide, fleshy side up, into the bottom of the pit. The pit would then be filled with water. Large heavy cobbles would be heated in a nearby fire until they glowed red. They would then be carried on a forked stick to the pit. By continually replacing the rocks as they cooled with hot rocks, the water would get very hot. Food would then be added and cooked.

At the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in southern Alberta, the local stone was not suitable for heating for this process and so the cobbles were brought in from some distance away.

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This diorama at the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump shows the use of stone boiling to render fat from the bones. Notice that the material stacked up on the right is buffalo dung (commonly called buffalo chips). Since trees tend to be scarce on the Great Plains, dried buffalo dung was the standard fuel used by the Plains Indians.

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This display at the First Peoples Buffalo Jump in Ulm, Montana shows stone boiling.


Grilling meat on a spit over an open flame was a quick, easy way to cook buffalo. It was often done, but it was not the preferred way of cooking. Native Americans viewed grilling as an inferior way of preparing meat as it resulted in the loss of much of what makes meat so great to eat: fat.

Earth Ovens:

A common way of cooking buffalo involved earth ovens. A pit-deeper and with steeper sides than the pit used for stone boiling-would be dug. In many cases this pit would be shaped like an inverted bell. Rocks would be placed at the bottom of this pit. At Head-Smashed-In, local sandstone was used for this.

In some cases the rocks would be heated before being placed in the pit and at other times a fire would be built over the rocks in the bottom of the pit to get them red hot. Once the hot rocks were ready, the meat would be added. Usually, the meat would be wrapped in a covering of either hide or local vegetation to keep the meat from getting covered in dirt. At Head-Smashed-In, the local vegetation was small branches of local willows, Saskatoon bushes, or conifers. Dirt was then piled on top of the protected meat and a fire was built over the pit. After several hours, sometimes the next day, the pit would be uncovered and the people would feast.

Personal note: I had buffalo prepared this way at the Kalispel Powwow many years ago. It was the best buffalo I have ever tasted, and I have eaten a lot of buffalo.


Making pemmican out of buffalo is a way of preserving it so that it can be stored for a very long time. Once the flat sheets of meat have been thoroughly dried, they can be used in making pemmican. Using stone hammers, the meat would be reduced to almost a powder, then mixed with fat. Berries would then be added to the mixture. On the Northern Plains, Saskatoon and chokecherries were most frequently used.

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Dried Saskatoon and Choke Cherry berries were mixed with finely pounded buffalo meat to make pemmican.

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At times, wild Bergamont would be added to the pemmican for additional flavor.

When all of the ingredients-powdered meat, fat, berries, and other flavorings-had been thoroughly mixed, the mash was then placed in heavy bags made of buffalo hide. These bags were made from several pieces of hide sewn together to make a large sack which would hold 40 to 50 kilograms (88 to 110 pounds) of pemmican. In the dog days prior to the horse, the bags would have been somewhat smaller.

Pemmican is a dense, nutritious, storable food that often served as a staple. Later, during the fur trade era, pemmican became the staple of the fur trappers and both Indians and Métis produced it as a trade good.

The North-West Mounted Police

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The North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) was formed in 1873 to administer law and order in the Northwest Territories (present day Alberta and Saskatchewan). The Mounties, as they came to be called, used consultation and negotiation to avert conflict rather than seek it.  

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In Alberta, one of the concerns was to put a stop to the illegal liquor trade to the Blackfoot and other Indians. The infamous Fort Whoop-up, located in Alberta, supplied whiskey to both Canadian and American Indians. Shortly after the establishment of Fort Macleod in Alberta, five men were arrested and tried for having liquor in their possession. This resulted in fines and confiscation of their equipment and supply. The arrest of the whiskey traders had an immediate effect upon the relationship between the NWMP and the First Nations peoples. Within a year, the whiskey trade had stopped. With the sale of alcohol halted, the Indians made rapid strides in restoring order to their lives and replenishing their horse herds.

When the NWMP first arrived at the Oldman River in Alberta to establish Fort Macleod, the members of the Blackfoot Confederacy were a little concerned about their presence. They showed neither hostility nor friendship in the beginning. In order to establish friendly relations with the tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy, Commissioner Macleod met with tribal members. Macleod and Chief Crowfoot reached a gentlemen’s agreement to work together to maintain peace in the area. Chief Crowfoot spoke:

“My brother, your words make me glad. I listened to them not only with my ears but with my heart also. In the coming of the Long Knives, with their firewater and quick-shooting guns, we were weak and our people have been woefully slain and impoverished. You say this will be stopped. We are glad to have it stopped. We want peace. What you tell us about this strong power which will govern good law and treat the Indian the same as the white man, makes us glad to hear. My brother, I believe you, and am thankful.”

Unlike the American military approach to Indians which relied on hard power (i.e. the use of superior numbers and firepower) to force Indians to their will, the NWMP sought a semblance of fairness in their dealings with the tribes. Unlike the situation south of the border, the NWMP administered justice for both Native peoples and non-Native peoples. While crimes against Indians in the United States were ignored by authorities, the NWMP sought justice regardless of whether the victim was Native or non-Native.

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By 1876, the North-West Mounted Police were operating out of four stations and collateral outposts. Fort Macleod was built in southern Alberta to offset American incursions in the whiskey and fur trade. Fort Walsh was established 160 miles to the east, just across the provincial border in Saskatchewan. The presence of Forts Macleod and Walsh virtually ended the liquor traffic within a year.

The Mounties and the Sioux:

Following the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana, a number of Sioux fled into Canada to escape the American army. In Saskatchewan, North-West Mounted Police superintendent James Walsh visited the Sioux refugees at Wood Mountain. He estimated that the group had 2,900 people (500 men, 1,000 women, and 1,400 children), along with about 3,500 horses and 30 U.S. government mules. The Indians told him that they were looking for peace and that they had been driven from their homelands by the U.S. army. Walsh instructed the Indians on the law as it would affect their stay in Canada and was assured by the chiefs that they would not use Canada as a base for renewed hostilities against the Americans.

In 1877, Four Horns, a civil and spiritual chief, led his Sioux band of 57 lodges across the border from the United States seeking refuge in Canada. Traveling with them was a band of Yanktonai under Medicine Bear from the Fort Peck Agency in Montana. The Indians were destitute and reported that they had to consume their horses during their march to Canada. North-West Mounted Police superintendent James Walsh met with them and explained the conditions under which they might remain in Canada.

That same year, Sioux leader Sitting Bull brought 135 lodges of his people north from the United States to find refuge in Canada. Travelling with Sitting Bull was a small band of Sans Arc Sioux under Spotted Eagle and Minneconjou Sioux under Swift Bird. They settled in the White Mud River area in Saskatchewan. Here they found that buffalo still roamed the plains in greater numbers than in the United States.

Major James Walsh of the North-West Mounted Police met with Sitting Bull and told him that the Sioux would now have to obey the queen’s laws and in return they would receive the queen’s protection. He warned the Sioux that they were not to return to the United States to hunt or to steal. Sitting Bull agreed to the terms offered by Walsh and declared his intent to remain in Canada. Major Walsh genuinely felt that the Sioux had been badly treated by the United States.

Under pressure from both the United States and Canadian governments, North-West Mounted Police superintendent James Walsh attempted to meet with Sioux leader Sitting Bull to convince him to meet with an American delegation to discuss his return to the United States. Sitting Bull’s son had just died and the chief was in mourning and not interested in a council.

At this time, three Nez Perce warriors (Half Moon, Wep-sus-whe-nin and Wel-la-he-wite) arrived asking the Sioux for help in a battle against the American army which was taking place just south of the border. The Nez Perce, a Plateau area tribe, had never been Sioux allies and had often engaged in battle against them. The Nez Perce who arrived at the Sioux camp did not speak Sioux and were not fluent in Plains Indian sign language. They tried to indicate Snake Creek (the location of the battle) using the signs for “water” and “creek”, but the Sioux thought they were talking about the Missouri River. This was a long distance away and the Sioux felt that it was too far away for them to be able to assist the Nez Perce. The arrival of three more Nez Perce men-Peopeo Tholekt, Koo-sou-yeen, and James Williams-helped straighten out the confusion. Major Walsh cautioned the Sioux that if they went to the aid of the Nez Perce they would lose their privilege to live peacefully in Canada.

The Sioux finally met with North-West Mounted Police superintendent James Walsh and gave him their response to his request that they meet with an American commission:

“Why do you come and seek us to go and talk with men who are killing our own race? You see these men, women, and children, wounded and bleeding? We cannot talk with men who have blood on their hands. They had stained the grass of the White Mother with it.”

However, Walsh convinced Sitting Bull and 25 others to come with him to Fort Walsh.

At Fort Walsh, the Sioux met in council with an American delegation. The Sioux leaders included Sitting Bull, Bear’s Cap, Spotted Eagle, Whirlwind Bear, Flying Bird, Iron Dog, Medicine Turns-around, The Crow, Bear that Scatters, Yellow Dog, and Little Knife. Only Bear’s Cap shook hands with the Americans. Traditionally this type of council meeting would begin with a pipe ceremony, but this was not done.

The Americans told the Sioux that none of those who had surrendered had been punished for hostile acts and all had been received as friends. In offering peace with the Sioux, the Americans asked that they give up their guns and horses, conditions which were not acceptable to the Sioux.

Sitting Bull responded to the Americans by telling of his affection for Canada and even pausing to shake hands again with the Canadians. He concluded:

“You come here to tell us lies, but we don’t want to hear them. Go back home where you came from.”

Among those who addressed the American delegation was The One that Speaks Once, the wife of Bear that Scatters:

“These are the people that I am going to stay with and raise my children with.”

The Americans were insulted and offended by allowing a woman to speak to them in council.

In 1880, Major Walsh, the Northwest Mounted Police officer who had been dealing with Sitting Bull’s Sioux was reassigned. Sitting Bull had trusted Walsh and Walsh had a genuine concern over the fate of the Sioux refugees. Lief N.F. Cozier replaced him and began to pressure the Sioux to return to the United States. He persuaded the young Sans Arc Sioux leader White Eagle of the futility of staying in Canada.

In 1888, the superintendent of the North West Mounted Police reported that there were now about 170 Sioux living in the area around Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. He reported that they were primarily Minnesota Sioux who did not have a treaty with Canada.

Riel Rebellion:

In 1885, the Riel Rebellion broke out in Saskatchewan. The Métis, angered by the refusal of the Canadian government to confirm their riverlot claims along the Qu’Appelle and South Saskatchewan Rivers, organized their own provisional government with Pierre Parenteau, Sr. as president, Gabriel Dumont as military adjunct, and Louis Riel as people’s council.

The war breaks out at Duck Lake when Métis warriors along with their Cree and Sioux allies meet the North-West Mounted Police and a group of volunteers at Duck Lake. Within twenty minutes, the Mounties were defeated and began to pull out. The Métis and their Indian allies began to pursue them, when Louis Riel rode in front of the firing line and yelled:

“Let them go. We have seen enough bloodshed today.”

At the end of the battle, the Mounties and their militia allies lost 12 men and had 11 more wounded. The Métis, on the other hand, lost only five. Only through the intervention of Louis Riel did the Canadian forces manage to escape total destruction.

The rebellion was short-lived and the Métis and their Indian allies were defeated by a large Canadian military force and the North-West Mounted Police.

In Alberta, Blackfoot Chief Crowfoot rejected an invitation from the Cree to join their rebellion. He remained loyal to the North-West Mounted Police.

Religious Suppression:

In 1884, Parliament outlawed both the potlatch of the Northwest Coast peoples and the Sun Dance of the Plains tribes. The North-West Mounted Police were in charge of enforcing the ban against the Sun Dance.

In 1889, North-West Mounted Police urged the Department of Indian Affairs to define which dances, if any, that Indians would be allowed to participate in. The police would then be able to enforce these laws. After visiting the Kainai Sundance, Sam Steele, the Superintendent of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, wrote to his superiors asking them to discourage the ceremony.


In 1904, King Edward VII conferred the title Royal upon the North-West Mounted Police. In 1920, their jurisdiction was extended throughout the entire nation and they became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

First Nations Artifacts (Photo Diary)

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The Fort-Museum of the North West Mounted Police in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada has a building dedicated to First Nations artifacts. Fort Macleod was first founded on an island in the Oldman River in 1874 as a post for the newly formed North West Mounted Police (who would later become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police). The Blackfoot Gallery tells the story of local First Nations people.  

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Shown above is a diorama of a pishkin (buffalo jump).

The Blackfoot Nation (also known as the Blackfoot Confederacy) consists of three tribes: the Blackfoot tribe (Siksika), the Blood tribe (Kainai), and the Peigan tribe (Pikani). All speak the same language and call themselves Soyi-tapi (Real People).

Currently the Blackfoot (Siksika) have a reserve located east of Calgary and have a tribal population of about 6,000. The Kainai, whose name means Many Chiefs, have the largest reserve in Canada. There are about 10,000 Kainai. Pikani means Scabby Robes and their reserve is centered around the town of Brocket. There are about 3,500 Pikani in Canada. The South Piegan, known officially as Blackfeet, have a reservation in Montana which has about 10,000 tribal members. (The tribe name Peigan or Piegan is spelled differently, depending on which side of the border they are living).

The displays include photographs and paintings as well as First Nations artifacts and clothing.

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Shown above is an Indian-made saddle. While the stereotype is that Indians rode horses bare-back, nearly all Indian museums have examples of Indian-made saddles.

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Arts of Adornment:

This exhibit explores the artistry of First Nations decorative work as an expression of Native Spirituality.

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The Nez Perce In Canada

On October 5, 1877, following six days of siege by American army troops and artillery known as the Battle of the Bear Paw, Nez Perce Chief Joseph delivered his rifle to Colonel Nelson Miles and officially surrendered. According to the official army accounts a total of 418 Nez Perce surrendered: 87 men, 184 women, and 147 children. Among those who surrendered was Halahtookit (Daytime Smoke), the son of Captain William Clark, and his daughter and granddaughter. For most history books, this marked the end of the Nez Perce War, one of two officially designated Indian wars.  

On October 22, 1877, North-West Mounted Police Superintendent James Walsh met in council with the Nez Perce near Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan. Meeting in the center of Sitting Bull’s Sioux camp, the Nez Perce chief White Bird recounted the struggles of his people and how they had come to seek asylum in Canada. Walsh counted 290 Nez Perce refugees living among the Sioux: 90 men and 200 women and children. The story of these refugees-nearly half of the Nez Perce who had survived their long battle from Oregon and Idaho, through Yellowstone National Park, and across Montana-is often omitted from the history books.

The Battle of the Bear Paw:

A few miles from Canada, in Montana’s Bear Paw Mountains, the Nez Perce bands stopped to rest. This was an area well known to them from their buffalo-hunting and trading expeditions onto the Plains. They called the area Tsanim Alikos Pah (Place of the Manure Fires), and they knew that Canada lay but forty miles away.

In the morning, Wotolen told the people that he had had a dream about this place and that in the dream the sky had been dark with the smoke of battle and that the waters of the creek were running red with blood. When the scouts reported that they had seen American troops coming, many of the Nez Perce begin to hurriedly pack. Looking Glass, the primary military leader, told them that there was no hurry, that there was plenty of time. Once again, Looking Glass was wrong and Wotolen’s vision was correct.

At the beginning of the attack, there were a number of Nez Perce who were away from the camp and they did not return. Some people had started to break camp and at least 40-70 people on horseback fled from the camp, driving a number of horses before them. Joseph told one of his daughters to catch a horse and join the others who were fleeing north. He called out to those who were fleeing, telling them to hurry.

One group of Nez Perce, under the leadership of the veteran war chief White Bird, used the cover of night and a snowstorm to escape from the soldiers. White Bird, a respected medicine man and leader, was about 49 years old at this time. Throughout the conflict he had been consistent in his determination to flee to Canada. Under the cover of darkness, they gathered their blankets around them and left on foot. While it was reported that some of the soldiers saw them, they did not fire. Wotolon would later report:

“We carried only a little grub. We could not travel fast because of the women and children.”

White Bird reported that 103 warriors, 60 women, and 8 children escaped. No dogs came with them, which was highly unusual. For ten days the people travelled with little food and often in blizzard conditions.

The American army wanted to portray the Battle of the Bear Paw as a great American victory and the end of the Nez Perce war. Therefore, the army downplayed the escape of many of the Nez Perce, particularly those in White Bird’s band. Historians have suggested that the American military leaders did not really know that nearly 300 people had escaped from the battle site. Army correspondence mentions that “a few” Indians got away.  

Regarding the “few” who got away, the army set out detachments of soldiers to either kill or capture any Nez Perce they could find. The army also recruited Assiniboine and Gros Ventre warriors to seek out and kill any Nez Perce who had not surrendered. Colonel Nelson Miles would write:

“the Assinboines are killing the Nez Perces as I sent them word that they could fight any that escaped and take their arms and ponies.”

Colonel Miles promised local residents 25 horses from the Nez Perce here plus $500 for bringing in White Bird dead or alive.

Canada and Indian Refugees:

By 1877 Canada was no stranger to Indians seeking asylum from American military aggression. Following the War of 1812, the Dakota wars of the 1860s, and the more recent 1877 Sioux War, many Indians had crossed the international boundary-known as the Medicine Line-to escape the American military. Canada had a different approach to its relations with the Indians. While the United States sought military solutions which required a great show of force using thousands of soldiers and emphasized retaliation rather than justice, Canada used just a handful of men known as Mounties: the North West Mounted Police.

The North West Mounted Police had been formed in 1873 to administer law and order in the Northwest Territories. The Mounties, as they came to be called, used consultation and negotiation to avert conflict rather than seek it. The Mounties sought fairness in their dealings with the tribes.

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Shown above is the original uniform of the North West Mounted Police.

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The photograph above shows the current Mountie uniform.

The Nez Perce in Canada:

Following the Battle of the Bear Paw in Montana, Nez Perce refugees began to cross the Medicine Line into Saskatchewan, Canada to arrive at Sitting Bull’s Sioux camp. The Nez Perce were wary as the Sioux had been traditional enemies, but the Sioux welcomed them and took them into their lodges, providing them with food and clothing.

In 1878, an American scout, Christopher Gilson, visited the refugee Nez Perce in Saskatchewan. Gilson had been asked by Colonel Nelson Miles to find Chief Joseph’s daughter, Kapkap Ponmi. He located her and presented her with a photograph of her father. He reported back to the Americans that the Nez Perce were ready to return home. According to his report:

“They are anxious to come back and begged me to bring some one of their tribe to see them so they could return. Joseph’s daughter is well and wants to see her father.”

As a result of Gilson’s report, three Nez Perce prisoners-Yellow Bull, Husis Kute, and Esoweaz- travelled from the Nez Perce prison camp in Kansas to White Bird’s camp in Saskatchewan. The Americans wanted them to dispel rumors that Joseph’s people had been ill treated.  The three prisoners travelled without military escort.

The three men had not been selected at random, but were men felt by the Americans to be respected men of influence who could convince White Bird to return to the United States. Yellow Bull was White Bird’s brother-in-law; Estoweaz was a respected warrior known for his truthfulness; and while Husis Kute was actually Palouse, he was viewed as a spiritual leader.

The three emissaries found the Nez Perce camped with the Sioux at the Sandy Hills. After meeting with the three for more than a week, White Bird and seven others travelled to the North West Mounted Police station at Fort Walsh to meet with the American negotiators. The American spokesman, First Lieutenant George William Baird, told White Bird:

“Joseph and his Indians will be put on a good Reservation, and have an opportunity to live comfortably.”

He goes on to say:

“If you want to go back with me, I will take you down, and you will go to the same Reservation as Joseph. The Americans are your friends, and want you to go back to your old home, and if you don’t, you will go to some other good reservation.”

Husis Kute said:

“Joseph does not want to go further south, because it is not healthy; his people die even at Leavenworth. Joseph surrendered just to save his people, so why should he go further south and let his people perish?”

The Americans attempted to persuade White Bird by telling him that if he were to join Joseph in Leavenworth, then Joseph might be allowed to return to Idaho, but that if White Bird did not go south, then Joseph would not be allowed to return home. In reality, the Americans had no intention of letting Joseph’s people return home, but fully intended to keep them as prisoners in Oklahoma.

White Bird concluded the council saying:

“You go back and bring Chief Joseph to Idaho. I will know. I will hear of it. Do this, and I am promising to surrender. I will come to Idaho if I have to go afoot.”

In a later interview with Duncan MacDonald of The New North-West, White Bird said:

“The United States recognizes Indians as nations and not slaves. Why does she want to coop us up in a bad climate that will cause us to die in a short time.”

In 1878, a group of 29 Nez Perce led by Wottolen left Canada. With the group was Kapkap Ponmi (the daughter of Chief Joseph), Yellow Wolf (who was a member of Joseph’s band), Peopeo Tholekt, and Black Eagle (Wottolen’s son). There were only five warriors in the group, each of whom had about 10 cartridges for his weapon. This small band made their way through Montana by killing livestock here and there for subsistence. At the Middle Clearwater River, soldiers from Fort Missoula attempted to block the Nez Perce passage to Idaho. A detachment under the command of First Lieutenant Thomas Wallace engaged the Indians in battle and claimed to have killed six and wounded three.

In 1879, Wottolon returned to White Bird’s camp in Saskatchewan after an attempt to lead his people back to Idaho. Phillip Williams then left on foot with about a dozen people. Some of them found refuge with the Flathead in western Montana.

White Bird’s people moved west to establish a new camp near a quarry along the banks of Pincher Creek near the edge of the Piegan Reserve in Alberta, Canada. Here, in an area between the Piegan lands and the North West Mounted Police station, the Nez Perce constructed cabins of poplar and pine logs. This became known to the non-Indians in the area as the “Nez Percy camp.”

Over the next decade, the Nez Perce lived peacefully in the Pincher Creek area. There were some minor disturbances, such as in 1888 when a Nez Perce identified as Fish Hawk was convicted of drunk and disorderly conduct and sentenced to one month of hard labor. Thirty-four days later, Fish Hawk was again arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct, found guilty, and again sentenced to one month of hard labor.

In 1892, Nez Perce leader White Bird was murdered by Hasenahmahhikt, known to the non-Indians as Nez Perce Sam. Nez Perce Sam apparently thought that White Bird, who was known as a shaman, had exerted evil influence on his family, and killed him with an ax. Sam struck White Bird four times with the ax, three times in the face. He was given a jury trial, found guilty, and sentenced to be executed.

The Methodist missionary at Fort Macleod, the Reverend John Maclean, was convinced that Nez Perce Sam had acted in defense of his family in murdering White Bird. At the annual Manitoba and North-West Church conference, the attendees voted for a resolution asking clemency for Nez Perce Sam and submitted a petition to Ottawa with more than 700 signatures asking for commutation. The Macleod Gazette responded:

“to see a lot of christian [sic] ministers, headed by two missionaries, begging for this man’s life on these grounds is silly in the extreme. The men who propose such things should have long ears and eat grass.”

The following year Nez Perce Sam died of natural causes in prison. Some say that, depressed, he starved himself to death.

In 1895, Pete Sam and Jack Sam, the sons of Nez Perce Sam, were arrested for breaking into a home and stealing clothes. They were sentenced to a month in jail.

In 1898, Sarah, described as the “last Nez Perce woman” in the Pincher Creek area, died from tuberculosis. Her daughters were sent to the Nez Perce Reservation in Lapwai, Idaho to live with relatives.

In 1995, a reunion of the relatives of the Nez Perce who had sought asylum in Canada following the 1877 Nez Perce war was held in Brocket, Alberta. The Canadian descendents of Chief White Bird’s band joined with their American counter parts in observing, sharing, and celebrating their familial relationships and cultural past. Nearly 200 Nez Perce from the Lapwai, Colville, Umatilla, and Piegan Reservations attended. Elder Horace Axtell led a Seven Drum Ceremony.

The Mi’kmaq and French Missionaries

Until the sixteenth century the Mi’kmaq, one of the northernmost tribes on the Atlantic coast, lived a traditional lifestyle based on hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants. Then the Europeans began to arrive, bringing with them manufactured trade goods and the illnesses of European society, smallpox and Christianity. Smallpox tried to kill the people and Christianity tried to kill the Mi’kmaq culture.  

Traditional Culture:

The Mi’kmaq followed a seasonal subsistence round: their migratory pattern was to hunt inland during the fall and winter and then to spend the summer on the seashore. In the fall they would disperse into small groups to hunt moose and caribou. They also hunted partridge, waterfowl, seals, rabbit, beaver, otter, and porcupine. In addition to using the bow and arrow, they also used deadfalls and snares in hunting.

In hunting moose, the Mi’kmaq would use birchbark callers to attract the animals. Sometimes they would make the call of a female moose and then take water in a birchbark container and let it fall from some height. The noise would make the bull moose think that a female moose was urinating, something that attracted the male.

In the spring the Mi’kmaq would gather in large groups at traditional camping places on the coast and the rivers. Here they would take advantage of the abundant shellfish, and the spawning smelt, herring, and salmon. Groups at this time might have as many as 200 people. In fishing for cod, smelt, trout, and salmon, the Mi’kmaq would use bone fishhooks and nets. Occasionally fishing weirs were used. There are some reports that the Mi’kmaq raised fish in artificial ponds.

The Mi’kmaq were a sea-going coastal people who paddled their ocean-going canoes far out into the open waters of the Atlantic hunting for whales and porpoises. Both the Mi’kmaq and Beothuk seagoing canoes were unusual in that they had a rise amidships which allowed the craft to be leaned over 35 degrees without shipping water. This made it possible for hunters to bring on board a 300-pound porpoise.

With regard to navigation in open water, the Mi’kmaq charted their directions by the stars, using the North Star as a stationary point of reference.

In some areas, the sea-going canoes were rigged with sails for long journeys. While the sails were sometimes made from bark, the hide of a young moose was more common. Some canoes, such as those of the Beothuk, appear to have had keels and used stone ballast, particularly when rigged with sails.

Early European Contacts:

There were only sporadic contacts with the Europeans during the sixteenth century. The first recorded contact between Europeans and the Mi’kmaq was in 1519 when European fishing boats began trading with the Mi’kmaq in what is now Maine and the Canadian Maritime Provinces. It is quite probable that there were earlier, unrecorded contacts between the Mi’kmaq and English fishermen from Bistol in the 1480s and the Vikings in the 1000s.

In 1593, Richard Strong, the captain of an English ship that was fishing off the coast of Nova Scotia, landed at Cape Breton in search of fresh water. They traveled inland and found that the Mi’kmaq had round ponds in which they were keeping live fish.

While there were relatively few accounts of contacts between the Mi’kmaq and the European invaders during the sixteenth century, it is clear that a number of Europeans visited them and perhaps lived with them for a while. In 1609, Marc Lescarbot published his Histoire de la Nouvelle-France. Lescarbot, trained as a lawyer, provided a detailed description of many aspects of Mi’kmaq life.

The Indians generally viewed the French as physically stunted, with repulsive hair on their faces and bodies. Since many could not speak the Indian languages very well, the Indians assumed that they must be mentally retarded. And finally, the French salted their food making it inedible and many of their customs, including their symbolic cannibalism, seemed utterly barbaric.

The Missionaries:

During the seventeenth century, the French claimed what they called New France under the Discovery Doctrine, a legal doctrine which states that Christian nations have a right, and possibly an obligation, to govern all non-Christian nations. While their primary concern was in making money through the fur trade with the Indians, they often justified this by claiming that they would also convert the Indians to Christianity.

In 1610, Samuel de Champlain asked the Recollets-an ascetic branch of the Catholic Franciscans-to send a missionary to work among the Indians. The Recollets did not prove to be very successful in gaining converts and were soon replaced by the Jesuits.

In 1634, the Jesuit missionary Father Julien Perrault described the unique culture of the Mi’kmaq in what is now Nova Scotia. In his report he told how they lived with the seasons, how they dressed and behaved, and what they looked like. Reflecting his Jesuit bias, he reported that

“what they do lack is the knowledge of God and of the services that they ought to render to him.”

In 1634, the Jesuit mission to the Mi’kmaq on Cape Breton Island was closed as the native population had dwindled. The Jesuits decided that Cape Breton was not a productive area for teaching and conversion. The Jesuit missionaries were sent inland.

In 1661, Father Chrestien Le Clercq, a Recollet priest, published Nouvell Relation de la Gaspésie which provided a detailed description of the Mi’kmaq (also called Souriquois and Gaspésians by other early writers). He had spent 12 years living among the Mi’kmaq, teaching them the Gospel. He learned the Native language and the people described how their nation had been settled long before by visitors from overseas.

Le Clercq notes that the Mi’kmaq had writing:

“I noticed that some children were making marks with charcoal upon birchbark, and were counting these with the finger very accurately at each word of prayers which they pronounced.”

He also notes their expertise in cartography by reporting that they had

“much ingenuity in drawing upon bark a kind of map which marks exactly all the rivers and streams of a country of which they wish to make a representation.”

In 1711, the English military took control of Port Royal from the French. This ended the French missionary work among the Mi’kmaq. Unlike the French, the English made no attempt to cultivate any good will among the Mi’kmaq and did not engage in the traditional gift-giving. This led to conflicts between the British and the Mi’kmaq.

17th Century Jesuits in New France

French exploration into what would later become New France (and which would eventually become Canada) began in 1534 with Jacques Cartier. In 1540, King Francois I announced his intention to establish a colony in order to exploit the resources of the area, and justified this colony in religious language and with the idea of bringing new souls to their god. As with other European countries, the French did not acknowledge any validity to aboriginal religions, possible land ownership, and ability to govern themselves. Under the Discovery Doctrine-a legal doctrine stating that Christian monarchs had a right, and possibly an obligation, to rule all non-Christian nations-the French assumed that their religion and government was superior to the religions and governments of the Native Americans.

The Company of New France, a joint stock company modeled after the English and Dutch companies trading in the East Indies, was given a royal charter in 1602. This charter included exclusive trading rights from Florida to the Arctic Circle and westward along all rivers flowing into the “Fresh Sea” (the Great Lakes). In exchange for the trade monopoly, the Company promised to settle 4,000 colonists in New France over the next 15 years. The Company was also to see to the conversion of the natives.

One of the first missionary groups to begin working with the Native peoples in New France was the Jesuits. The Jesuits are members of a Catholic male religious order known as the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits, who are sometimes called “God’s Marines,” have a reputation for accepting orders to live and proselytize anywhere in the world, even under extreme conditions.

The Jesuits arrived in New France in 1611 and began to learn the native languages as a way of carrying their message to the people. The Indians found the Jesuits to be different from the other Europeans they had encountered as they did not seem to want land, furs, or women. They only wanted to live in an Indian household so that they could learn the language. Initially the Jesuits, who were often called Blackrobes, were well-liked because of their quiet manners. However, the Indians considered them to be poorly educated and perhaps somewhat retarded as they had little understanding of the spiritual world.

As the Jesuits were learning the Indian languages so that they could begin their spiritual mission, France was making plans to send more colonists and to redeem more souls for the Church.

In 1625, three Jesuit priests and three lay brothers arrived in New France. They were financed by Henri de Lévis, duc de Ventadour. Father Charles Lalemant, former professor of grammar, literature, and mathematics at the Jesuit college in Paris, is placed in charge of the mission. Later historians would call this small group of determined, disciplined, highly trained, and militant members of the Society of Jesus the shock troops for conversion. The French merchant in the colony, however, did not welcome the Jesuits as they feared that converting the Indians would interfere with the fur trade.

Two years later, the Compagnie de la Nouvelle France (Company of the 100 Associates) was organized and sought a royal charter giving it a fifteen-year monopoly on all commerce except for fishing in New France. The charter excluded all religions except for the Catholic Church. The Jesuits were given the position of spiritual advisors to the colonies and the Récollets, who had also had missionaries in the area, were banned. The investors in the company acted more out of religious devotion and patriotism than out of a concern for profits. The investors, as well as the King and his ministers, envisioned the creation of a Catholic French society in which the Native people would be molded by French ideals.

All of the furs were to be sold to the company’s agents and the profits from this enterprise were to be used to sustain the Jesuit missionary efforts. Unlike the Récollets, the Jesuits saw no advantage in assimilating the Indians into French culture. They did not wish to alter Indian culture any more than was necessary for them to convert to Christianity.

In 1631, the Jesuits in New France began publishing an annual report on their missions. These reports can be considered to be “truthful” propaganda which fed French curiosity about the Indians and the New World.

In 1634, the Jesuits increased their missionary planning. According to their revised plan, missions were to be opened among the major native groups beginning with the populous and centrally located Hurons. In addition, Jesuit residences were to be established at Quebec and Trois-Rivières, and natives were to be encouraged to settle near them for instruction in everything from agriculture to Catholicism.

In 1634, the Jesuit missionary Father Julien Perrault described the unique culture of the Mi’kmaq. In his report he told how they live with the seasons, how they dressed and behaved, and what they looked like. Reflecting his Jesuit bias, he reported that

“what they do lack is the knowledge of God and of the services that they ought to render to him.”

In 1637, Pope Urban VIII threatened excommunication for Catholics who deprived native peoples of their property or freedom. All of the European powers, however, simply ignored this edict.

Unable to cure the Huron of smallpox, the shaman Tonneraouanont lost face among his people in 1637. When he broke his leg and died from the resulting infection, the Jesuit Jean de Brébeuf assigned the calamity to evidence of the power of the Catholic God and attempted to assume the role of tribal shaman. While the Huron viewed the Jesuits as powerful shamans, many felt that the Blackrobes were responsible for the deaths. From the Huron viewpoint, the Jesuits engaged in incomprehensible rituals which seemed to be causing death among their people. Many Huron leaders called for the execution of the Jesuits as evil shamans. However, the desire to maintain good trading relations with the French was stronger than the desire to kill the Jesuits.

In 1639, the Jesuits built Sainte-Marie as a special compound and headquarters for their mission work. The Jesuits appeared to maintain a favorable attitude toward Indian religions. They recognized certain concepts that might be comparable between Indian religions and Christianity and used these in converting the Indians.

1638 Map of New France

A 1638 map of New France is shown above.

In 1640, the Jesuit mission at Sainte-Marie was staffed with 30 men, 15 of which were priests. From this headquarters new missionary expeditions were to be sent out.

In 1640, the Jesuits established a mission among the Nipissing. All of the sick children whom they baptized recovered, which seemed to show that the Jesuits had great power and their missionary efforts were relatively successful. Two chiefs-Mangouch and Wikassoumint-also converted.

In 1641, the Jesuit mission to the Mi’kmaq on Cape Breton Island was closed as the native population had dwindled. The Jesuits decided that Cape Breton was not a productive area for teaching and conversion and the missionaries were sent inland.

Montreal was founded in 1642 with great enthusiasm and hope by its devout and zealous backers, les Messiurs et Dames de la Société de Notre-Dame de Montréal pour la conversion de Sauvages de la Nouvelle France. They hoped to create a New Jerusalem, blessed by God, and composed of citizens destined for heaven. The Jesuits labored diligently among the Indians with the intent of incorporating them into this community.

By 1646 there were about 500 practicing Huron Christians. The Jesuits were using a number of different methods to get the Huron to convert. The Jesuits consciously attempted to impress the Hurons with their technological superiority and greater knowledge, including the ability to predict eclipses. There was also a practical side to conversion from the Huron perspective. They had discovered that Christians were treated better than were non-Christians when they traded with the French, and they were also paid higher prices for their furs.

By 1648, Christians had become a majority in the Huron village of Ossossane. While the Christians in this village had been free to behave as they wished when they had been a minority, the Jesuits now directed them to forbid non-Christians the right to practice their traditional religion if they wished to remain in the village.

By 1649, there were 18 Jesuit priests and 30 of their assistants working among the Huron. The Jesuits reported that thousands had been baptized.

In 1665, the Jesuits persuaded a group of Oneida to settle alongside several French families at La Prairie, thus establishing the Indian community of Caughnawaga. Among the Oneida was Catherine Gandeaktena, an Erie woman who had been captured by the Oneida. She had converted to Catholicism and was influential in persuading others to convert.

The Jesuits sent Fathers Jacques Fremin, Jean Pierron, and Jacques Bruyas out to evangelize among the Mohawk and Oneida in 1667. They reported:

“The whole country of the Iroquois was at that time so overcome with fear of a new French army that for several days fourteen warriors had been constantly on the watch…But, by the great good fortune for them and for us, instead of being enemies to them, we were Angels of peace”

In 1667, the Jesuits also traveled to other parts of New France. In Ontario, they established a mission to convert the Ojibwa. Jesuit Father Claude Allouez visited the Nipissing at Lake Nipigon. He found a number of Christian Indian families who had not seen a missionary for nearly 20 years.

In that same year, Father Allouez contacted the Plains Cree in what is now Saskatchewan. He characterized them as being kind, docile, and more nomadic than other tribes. They lived by hunting and gathering wild rice. Two years later, Jesuit Father Dablon tried to convert the Plains Cree. However, as they were nomadic, it made it difficult to convert them.

In 1697, the Jesuits established a Huron community near the fall of the Saint Charles River in Quebec. A chapel honoring Our Lady of Lorette was constructed. In the new community, the Huron continued to live in longhouses and agriculture remained in the hands of the women. The men contributed to the defense of New France by continuing to fight against the Iroquois Confederacy.

The 19th Century Red River Rebellion

In 1670, Prince Rupert, a duke, three earls, and other nobles subscribed to the Company of Adventurers of England Trading Into Hudson’s Bay and were granted a royal charter from the English Crown. This was the birth of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). The grant consisted of all lands which drain into Hudson’s Bay and HBC was given all of the powers of a sovereign nation to govern this territory which was called Rupert’s Land.

The European fur traders-mostly French and Scots with a few Englishmen-quickly understood that trade with Indian nations depended upon relationships and that one of the best ways to establish relationships with the First Nations was to marry a native woman. One of the consequences of these marriages was children who were often raised in two cultures. By the nineteenth century the Métis were recognized as a distinct people. The Métis are generally seen as an ethnic group of mixed Cree, Ojibwa, Saulteaux, French Canadian, Scots, and English.  

In the nineteenth century the Métis established a community along the Red River in what is now Manitoba, Canada. Inspired by the seigneurial system of New France, the Métis used a riverlot system in which there were parallel lots along the river which were 6 to 12 chains in width (1 chain = 66 feet) and which then stretched back from the river as far as two miles. This provided each family with a variety of natural resources which they could use.

While the Métis were mainly French or Michif-speaking, there were also some Anglo-Métis (often the descendents of the Scots traders associated with the North West Company). Most of the Métis were Catholics.

In 1867 the Constitution Act officially proclaimed the Canadian Confederation which was initially made up of four provinces: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. The expansion of Canada was blocked by Rupert’s Land which was controlled by HBC. Two years later HBC relinquished Rupert’s Land to Canada. Canada appointed an English-speaking governor for the new territory, an appointment which was opposed by the French-speaking Métis.  The new governor was well-known for his anti-French sentiments.

Canada 1869

The transfer of jurisdiction from HBC to Canada was not seen as favorable by the Métis who feared that Canada would not recognize their land rights and their riverlot system. In 1869, the Métis established a regulatory council and seized the HBC’s Fort Garry without bloodshed. The Council, under the leadership of Louis Riel, drafted a List of Rights and established a provisional government. Their flag was a fleur-de-lys with a four-leaf clover and bison on a white background.

Metis government

The Métis provisional government is shown above.

The List of Rights was composed of fourteen points, which included a bilingual legislature and chief justice, and a recognition of Métis land claims. Most of the English-speaking people in the region viewed these rights as reasonable.

The Métis provisional government met with some opposition from a pro-Canadian faction. An Orangeman (i.e. Protestant) named Thomas Scott threatened to kill Louis Riel, was arrested, tried, and then executed.

Shooting Thomas Scott

An artist’s depiction of the shooting of Thomas Scott is shown above.

In 1870, the Métis provisional government, with Louis Riel as its president, negotiated with the Canadian government concerning the Manitoba Act which provided provincial status. The Act also gave the French language and Roman Catholic confessional schools official status. The Act recognized the Métis riverlot system, their hay privileges, and their common grazing rights.  Riel declared:

“no matter what happens now, the rights of the métis are assured by the Manitoba bill: it is what I wanted-my mission is finished.”

Louis Riel

Louis Riel is shown above.

Following the formation of the province of Manitoba, a military expedition known as the Wolseley Expedition composed of Canadian militia and British regular soldiers under the leadership of Colonel Garrnet Wolseley was sent to Manitoba to enforce federal authority. Easterners demanded that Wolseley’s expedition be used to arrest Louis Riel and end what they considered a Métis rebellion. The Canadian militia had expressed a desire to lynch Riel. Riel, fearing for his life, fled to the United States.

In 1875, Louis Riel was formally exiled from Canada for five years. In spite of being exiled, Riel is often called the “Father of Manitoba” and was elected to the Canadian House of Commons three times even though he never assumed his seat.

Riel Statue

A statue of Riel in Manitoba.

Canada tody

Present day Canada is shown above.

A new Catholic saint – but is she American, Canadian or …..

( – promoted by navajo)

With the impending canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha – the 17-century Mohawk woman who tended to the sick and elderly will be celebrated as a saint in the Catholic Church.

But where does she hail from? Follow the dispute after the jump ….

In a discussion that almost reminds one of when a baseball player (who played for multiple teams) is elected to the Hall of Fame – but then disagreements arise over which cap he should wear – where this woman hails from has a multiple-choice:

a)  An American (as she was born in New York)

b)  A Canadian (as she migrated to modern-day Québec with a Jesuit mission, and is buried there).

c)  A European, because “The Jesuits were the ones that worked with her, and if you wanted to go that way: they would be taking her back to France”.  Or …..

d)  Given that she died in 1680 at age 24, then simply this: “When she walked this Earth, there was no border. We recognize her as we recognize ourselves, as North American Indians,” said Ronald Boyer, 73, deacon of St. Francis Xavier Church in Kahnawake, Québec.

Ancient America: The Vikings

Shortly after the Norse colonization of Greenland under Erik the Red in 986, there were reports by the Viking sea kings of three new lands to the west of Greenland: Helluland (Baffin Island and the northern part of Labrador); Markland (central and southern Labrador); and Vinland (Newfoundland and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Over the past fifty years or so, archaeology has revealed over 300 years of sporadic contact between the Greenlandic Norse and various Indian, Inuit, and other Native American peoples, concentrated primarily in the Canadian Arctic.

Viking Map 1

The Sagas:

Archaeology involves much more than just digging holes to find neat stuff to put into museums. While archaeology uses material culture as a means of understanding the past, it also uses oral traditions as well. With regard to the archaeology of the Viking presence in North America, the story begins with oral traditions describing the Viking ventures into this region.

The Icelandic sagas are based on oral traditions. They are stories of events which took place in the period between 930 and 1030, an era known as söguöld (Age of the Sagas) in Icelandic history. The stories describe voyages, migrations, and feuds. The sagas focus on history, particularly genealogical and family history. These are stories from a time when Iceland was a remote, decentralized society with a rich legal tradition.

Sometime after 1190, these stories were written down in Old Norse. They existed in a pure oral form for at least two centuries. In the twentieth century some scholars, trained to trust only written history and only that history which was recorded at the time it happened, refused to look at the Sagas as history, but saw them only as literature, as fictive accounts of a mythical past. On the other hand, some archaeologists have long viewed oral traditions as important data for understanding the past.  In 1960, archaeologists finally uncovered a site in Newfoundland which verified the accounts in the Sagas.

L’Anse aux Meadows:

The only confirmed (that is, accepted by most archaeologists) Viking site in North America is at L’Anse aux Meadows located in Newfoundland. The site was settled about 1000 and was occupied for only about a decade. The site appears to correspond with the Leifsbuðir described in the sagas.

L'Anse site

The archaeological remains of a hall at L’Anse aux Meadows is shown above.

The site contains eights buildings, of which seven were grouped into three complexes. Two of the complexes are composed of a large, multi-roomed hall which is flanked by a small, one-room hut. The third complex, the southernmost, has a third structure: a small, one-roomed house which is larger than the huts but smaller than the halls. The eighth building at the site is a small hut, located away from the others, on the other side of the brook and closer to the shore.

The three large halls at L’Anse aux Meadows are distinctly Icelandic with regard to the number of rooms and their placement, the type of interior walls, and the placement of roof-support posts, doors, and fireplaces. Stylistically, the large halls appear to have been built in the eleventh century.

Each of the three halls contained a workshop. In the southern hall, the workshop was a smithy where iron was forged. Iron production at the site appears to have been limited to a single smelting episode. Only a very small quantity of iron seems to have been produced and this was most likely used to make new boat nails.

The middle hall had a small carpentry shop which faced toward a sedge-peat bog. The archaeologists have found hundreds of pieces of carpentry debris outside of this shop.

L'Anse hall

L'Anse Hall 3

L'Anse doorway

L'Anse inside

L'Anse inside 1

L'Anse Inside 3

Shown above are photos of a reconstructed hall at L’Anse aux Meadows.

The construction of the buildings at the site indicates that they had been built for year-round use. They do not appear to have been seasonally occupied buðir (booths).

Overall, archaeologists estimate that 70 to 90 people lived at the site: 36 to 54 in the two larger halls, about 24 in the smaller hall, and 7 to 14 in the small house and huts.

One of the interesting pieces of information from L’Anse aux Meadows comes from what was not found at the site. At Norse sites with large halls, such as those found at L’Anse aux Meadows, there are usually a number of outbuildings for the animals. While the Vikings are often portrayed in the popular media as warriors, they were actually farmers for whom their cows, sheep, and goats were important to their subsistence. At L’Anse aux Meadows, archaeologists did not find any byres, animal pens, or corrals. If they had domestic animals with them, they must have been left out in the open, or perhaps slaughtered before stabling was required.

The lack of evidence regarding animals suggests that, unlike the Viking efforts in Greenland, this was not a colonizing effort. While the site was occupied year-round, it was not intended to be a self-sustaining colony which depended on farming for its livelihood.

L’Anse aux Meadows was a location from which the Vikings launched parties to explore areas farther away. It appears to have been a base which may have housed three ship crews. Archaeologists have found unequivocal evidence that they went south to warmer, more hospitable areas where butternuts grew on large trees and grapes grew wild.

Butternut trees, a type of North American walnut also known as white walnut, are not indigenous to Newfoundland. The area closest to Newfoundland in which butternuts are found is the Saint Lawrence River Valley. At L’Anse aux Meadows, archaeologists found butternuts and a large butternut burl which had been cut with a metal tool. Since butternuts grow in the same area as wild grapes, whoever picked the nuts and brought the wood back to L’Anse aux Meadows must have come across grapevines as well. Once again archaeology provides proof that the Saga stories of the Norse encountering wild grapes is not a myth, but was based on reality.

L'Anse boat 1

Viking Boat 2

A reconstruction of a small Viking boat at L’Anse aux Meadows is shown above.

Contact With Indians:

The archaeological records do not reveal very much about the interactions between the Vikings and Native Americans. However, there are a number of stories in the Sagas about contact with the Natives whom they called Skraelings, a derogatory term which was used to describe a number of different people. The Native Americans who confronted the Vikings were very different than anyone they had ever encountered. The Indian people who dealt with the Vikings were probably Algonquian-speaking, most likely the ancestors of the Montagnais, Naskapi, and Beothuk.

According to one story, Leif and the other Viking warriors fled their village and cowered behind some rocks when the Skraelings attacked. Freydis Eriksdottir, then nearly nine-months pregnant, tore open her blouse to expose her breasts, then picked up a shield and sword dropped by the fleeing Vikings, and counter-attacked. She succeeded in repelling the attack and defending the brave Viking warriors.

In another story, Karlsefni and his people had sailed to the mouth of the river in an area which they called Hop. According to the Sagas:

And early one morning, as they looked around, they beheld nine canoes made of hides, and snout-like staves were being brandished from the boats, and they made a noise like flails, and twisted round in the direction of the sun’s motion.

Then Karlsefni said, “What will this betoken?” Snorri answered him, “It may be that it is a token of peace; let us take a white shield and go to meet them.” And so they did. Then did they in the canoes row forwards, and showed surprise at them, and came to land. They were short men, ill-looking, with their hair in disorderly fashion on their heads; they were large-eyed, and had broad cheeks. And they stayed there awhile in astonishment. Afterwards they rowed away to the south, off the headland.

Another story in the Sagas describes trade with the Skraelings:

Now when spring began, they beheld one morning early, that a fleet of hide-canoes was rowing from the south off the headland; so many were they as if the sea were strewn with pieces of charcoal, and there was also the brandishing of staves as before from each boat. Then they held shields up, and a market was formed between them; and this people in their purchases preferred red cloth; in exchange they had furs to give, and skins quite grey. They wished also to buy swords and lances, but Karlsefni and Snorri forbad it. They offered for the cloth dark hides, and took in exchange a span long of cloth, and bound it round their heads; and so matters went on for a while.

Stories of encounters with Native Americans who had superior numbers and could hold their own in a fight with the Vikings discouraged permanent Norse settlements in North America.

Other Sites:

Viking Landing

A re-enactment of the Viking landing in North America is shown above.

While L’Anse aux Meadows is the only Viking archaeological site known in North America at this time, the Sagas certainly describe many other possible sites. According to the Sagas, the Vikings and their cattle settled at several of these sites and remained in them at least through the winter.

With regard to the land called Hop in the Sagas:

Karlsefni proceeded southwards along the land, with Snorri and Bjarni and the rest of the company. They journeyed a long while, and until they arrived at a river, which came down from the land and fell into a lake, and so on to the sea. There were large islands off the mouth of the river, and they could not come into the river except at high flood-tide.

With regard to their settlement at Hop, the Sagas say:

They had built their settlements up above the lake. And some of the dwellings were well within the land, but some were near the lake. Now they remained there that winter. They had no snow whatever, and all their cattle went out to graze without keepers.

Map Viking

A map of the Viking world is shown above.

While the last recorded voyage to North America was made by Thorfinn Karlesfni, who was married to Gudrid (the widow of Leif’s brother Thorstein), about 1015, there were numerous hunting and trading expeditions into the area between 1050 and 1350. Some of these expeditions travelled into Hudson’s Bay. The need for timber often motivated the Greenland Norse to make the voyage to Markland. In 1347, one ship drifted off course after having made a trip to Markland and eventually reached Iceland.

Canadian Indian Opposition to Copper Mining

One of the strongly held policies among the Euro-American colonial powers was that aboriginal peoples should not be allowed to develop any mineral resources on their land. This policy is clearly seen in a nineteenth century case involving copper in Ontario, Canada.  

In 1846, a number of Native people from Manitoulin Island approached the Indian Superintendent with specimens of copper and asked that all future mining operations in Native territory be subject to government regulation. The Superintendent reported to his superiors:

“The Indians have a very high idea of the value of these things, and have requested me to beg of His Excellency that any mines which may be discovered shall not be subject to the enterprise of private individuals, but that the matter be taken into the hands of the Government and that they, the Indians, may receive whatever portion His Excellency may be pleased to award them.”

At this same time, the Quebec and Lake Superior Mining Association was organized to begin operations on the shore of Lake Superior.

In 1848, Lord Elgin’s (the British official in charge of Indian affairs) agent held an assembly of Indian leaders, local entrepreneurial interests, and mining interests to discuss mining on the north shore of Lake Superior. Ojibwa leader Shingwaukonse (Little Pine) once again explained how the miners destroyed the Ojibwa hunting territories. The chief was then asked by what authority he claimed these lands. He replied that the British had always negotiated treaties with Native peoples and that no treaty had ceded the lands.

Chief Peau de Chat also testified at the assembly. He concluded his testimony by saying that he wanted a fair evaluation of his land’s worth, that he wanted an offer to be made by the government for his mining locations, and arrears payments for the loss of minerals.

The Indian agent reported that the Natives had never been deprived of their proprietorship of the land:

“there does not appear a doubt but that the present race are the proprietors of the vast mineral beds and unceded forests, from Grande Bateure (Grand Batture) near Missisangeeny River on Lake Huron, to the Boundary Line at Pigeon River on Lake Superior.”

The agent recommended canceling all non-Indian  mining locations at Garden River.

In 1849, the Indian commissioner drew on American precedents to view aboriginal peoples as mere occupiers of the land. This concept was quickly exploited by non-Indian developers to suit their own purposes: on the basis of the Indian commissioner’s proposals, the government denied the Native population rights to resources other than fur.

Based on the view that Native Americans were only the occupiers of the land, rather than owners of the land, the Quebec and Lake Superior Mining Association renounced all obligations to recognize Native rights to minerals or water. They argued that the cost of exploration to find valuable minerals made it impossible to view Native people as anything more than convenient labour.

Native people disagreed with the view of the mining associations. In Ontario, Ojibwa and Métis leaders decided to take over the operations of the Quebec and Lake Superior Mining Association at Mica Bay if Native claims were not met. Under the leadership of Shingwaukonse (Little Pine) and Nebenagoching about 30 Ojibwa and Métis warriors knocked on the door of the mine’s manager. Two days later, 160 non-Native men, women, and children left the mining camp. The government responded by sending a detachment of the Rifle Brigade to repossess the Mica Bay mine, but inclement weather stopped the party. The government, with its threats of armed response, eventually recaptured the mine for the association.

In 1850, an editorial in the Toronto Globe stated:

“The principle of depriving the Indians of lands which they could not use, in order that white men should teach them to bring forth the fruits God has provided for the sustenance of man, may be an unjust one; but like many unjust principles, it has been ratified and sanctioned by time and common practice. It is now too late to discover and blame it.”

According to the Globe, the Ojibwa were wanderers who had no claim to any land, mineral, timber, or fishing rights.  

One of the leading proponents of Native rights to minerals, timber, and fishing rights was Ojibwa chief Shingwaukonse who died in 1855. As chief he had attempted to restore the Ojibwa people some measure of their independence with the nation state. The government recognized Ogista, Shingwaukonse’s son, as the new head chief of the Garden River band. However, the Anglican Church, at Shingwaukonse’s request, recognized Buhkwujjenene as chief.

According to oral traditions, Ogista initially lacked experience and he had also failed to attain the vision necessary to assume the heavy burden inherited from his father. He needed spiritual power to become chief, yet when he fasted as a youth he had grown ill. Instead of obtaining the needed vision,he had attempted to gain respect by adopting an air of bravado.

Shortly after Shingwaukonse’s death Ogista and Nebenagoching led an Ojibwa expedition against the Quebec and Lake Superior Mining Association’s operations at Michipicoten Island. Several shots were fired past the working miners. The incident was then used as justification for establishing a police force at Sault Ste. Marie to arrest “rowdies” and anyone who opposed government resource policies.

Thus ended most of the open opposition and confrontation regarding the mining operations. Indian rights were ignored so that the wealth of the companies and their owners could be increased.