‘Frères et Enfants du même Père’: French-Indigenous alliance and diplomacy in the Petit Nord and Northern Great Plains, 1731-1743

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Berthelette, Scott
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The eighteenth century French explorer La Vérendrye has been commemorated in Canadian history as the “Pathfinder of the West.” Although many historians have praised La Vérendrye for his tolerance and understanding of Aboriginal culture, he was nevertheless a colonial servant, fiercely loyal to the French Crown, and tasked to carry out the imperial policies of Versailles. La Vérendrye sought to create alliances with the Indigenous peoples of the Petit Nord – Cree, Monsoni, Assiniboine, and Dakota – with the intent to bring them into a network of French-mediated alliances emanating from the Great Lakes region. The governor of New France, called Onontio by the natives, sought to ensure the symbolic subjugation of all the Indigenous nations of the Great Lakes region and the Petit Nord. In theory, the role and acknowledgement of Onontio as the Father of the Alliance would have permitted the Cree, Assiniboine, and Dakota of the Petit Nord to recognize each other as “brothers and children of the same father [frères et Enfants du même Père],” to forget their inter-village quarrels, and to forge a common identity. In reality, this was far from the case, as frequent inter-village rivalries placed French officers at the western posts in a difficult position. Unlike their Great Lakes counterparts, the Cree of the Petit Nord did not need the “glue” of French mediation to hold together their already cohesive alliance with the Assiniboine, nor did they need Onontio’s authority to protect them from their traditional enemies, the Dakota. Ultimately, the Cree, Assiniboine, and Dakota rejected Onontio as their Father, dismissed La Vérendrye as his representative, and ultimately refused French conceptions of the alliance in the Petit Nord and Northern Great Plains.
French, Aboriginal, La Vérendrye, Indigenous, Colonial, Petit Nord, eighteenth century, Imperial, New France, diplomacy