The crucible : Pembina and the origins of the Red River Valley Metis

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Swan, Ruth Ellen
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The origins of the Red River Metis lay in the development of the freeman culture of the plains buffalo hunters and traders. These men were voyageurs from Quebec and the Great Lakes who worked for Montreal-based fur trade companies and who married Native women mostly Cree and Ojibwe. Although the ethnogenesis of this freeman culture developed on the margins of the plains and parkland starting in the 1770s, such as along the Saskatchewan and upper Assiniboine Basin, it was not articulated as a separate ethnic identity until 1815-16 in Red River in the confrontation between the HBC, the Selkirk immigrants, the NWC Bourgeois and their young Bois Brules supporters. In this cultural transition, the role of the Pembina fur trade region as a cradle or "crucible" for Metis ethnogenesis has been overlooked because of a'Forks Myopia". Focus on the Pembina Metis helps to challenge some existing misconceptions. The southward movement of Cree speakers to Red River in the 1820s has confounded American scholars who have a hard time explaining why the Turtle Mountain "Chippewa" who are Metis in background speak French Cree. Linguists have studied this Metis language, called Michif, which in its classic form is composed of French nouns and Cree verbs. Ethnic identity was linked to language and culture and the geographic extent of Michif suggests that it was the dominant language of the buffalo hunters' camps and in the Red River Settlement for most of the nineteenth century. Bungee, the English-Cree mixed dialect spoken by the Orkney-Homeguard Cree descendants of the HBC, has died out in the last forty years. Using genealogy, researchers can name the freemen and link up the Canadian voyageurs of the early 1800s with the Bois Brules of the Fur Trade War. These families settled at Pembina and The Forks before the arrival of European immigrants in 1812, thus allowing them to claim importance as "first settlers".