We welcome to the blog today a guest post by Michel Hogue, author of Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People. Born of encounters between Indigenous women and Euro-American men in the first decades of the nineteenth century, the Plains Metis people occupied contentious geographic and cultural spaces. Living in a disputed area of the northern Plains inhabited by various Indigenous nations and claimed by both the United States and Great Britain, the Metis emerged as a people with distinctive styles of speech, dress, and religious practice, and occupational identities forged in the intense rivalries of the fur and provisions trade. Hogue explores how, as fur trade societies waned and as state officials looked to establish clear lines separating the United States from Canada and Indians from non-Indians, these communities of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry were profoundly affected by the efforts of nation-states to divide and absorb the North American West.
In today’s post, Hogue suggests that, despite its reputation as the world’s longest undefended border, the forty-ninth parallel’s presence has rarely been so benign for the Plains Indigenous peoples whose lands the border bisected. Recognizing the patterns of violence that were woven into the fabric of borderland relations along the western boundary between the United States and Canada, he suggests, should recalibrate our understanding of this political boundary and underscore the role of Indigenous peoples in border-making in North America.
“Thus has another good work been wrought in the interest of peace and good order, on our often threatened and imperiled border.” So reported the Helena Weekly Herald on the successful raid by the U.S. Army on a Plains Metis camp just south of the forty-ninth parallel in November 1871. “This colony of British Nomads,” the Montana newspaper explained, “had brought with them large quantities of liquor and ammunition to barter with the Indians for robes and peltries.” These circumstances were part of a disturbing series of reports from this stretch of the forty-ninth parallel through the 1860s and 1870s that suggested that Plains Metis traders from north of the border were encouraging Indigenous peoples in the American West “to make war upon the government of the United States and its citizens.” Reports such as these introduced the Metis to American officials and underscored just how important it was to suppress these cross-border networks if the United States was to secure its northern border.
The Metis are a post-contact Indigenous people born of the encounters between Europeans and Indigenous peoples. The first Metis communities in the North American West emerged amid the displacements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—the expansion of mercantile capitalist markets for furs, the introduction of epidemic diseases, metallic weaponry, and other goods—as powerful new players in this changed world. On the Great Plains, these communities were marked by their distinctive language, dress, artistic traditions, and religious practices, their expansive kinship networks, and by their occupational identities as key players in the fur and provisions trade.
The economic, political, and social relationships that sustained their mobile communities also formed the basis for their expanding economic and military power. Continue reading ‘Michel Hogue: The Metis and the Quiet Violence of the Forty-Ninth Parallel’ »