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Metis Settlements

Deciding what is meant by the term "Metis settlement" is not so easy considering the number of communities in Alberta which have had a considerable Metis population over the years. These days Grouard is not referred to as a Metis settlement even though, according to Sawyer, its population in 1905 was 700 "most of whom were Metis with a sprinkling of full-blooded Cree" (Sawyer, p. 84).

Metis communities in Alberta have existed in many forms over the past 150 years. Earlier communities referred to as settlements seem to have been close to missions which saw an influx of Metis after the Red River Rebellion (1869-70). Many Metis moved west to escape harassment and increased domination by speculators and new settlers in Manitoba. Most and ended up at Catholic mission settlements such as Lac Ste Anne. St. Albert and Lac La Biche (Brown. Can. Encyc.). Some settled in other places where their freighting services were in demand.

Duhamel, a hamlet thirty kilometres east of Wetaskiwin had many Metis residents around 1870. Formerly known by the Cree name "Notikiwin Sipi." the place was soon known as Salois Crossing after a well-known Metis who settled in the area (another well-known Metis resident at the time was Gabriel Dumont). In the 1880s the place became known as LaBoucan Settlement after the five Metis LaBoucan brothers who lived there (MacGregor, p. 56 and 60). It was only in 1892 after a post office was established that the community was named Duhamel after the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ottawa (DB).

After 1885 the federal government offered the Metis scrip worth either 240 acres or $240. Most took the money (Palmer, p. 102) and it is impossible to know how many Indians given the choice opted for scrip and to be classified as Metis rather than sign treaties.

A second wave of migrants came after the Metis defeat at Batoche and Louis Riel's execution. Some of these may have arrived at St. Paul de Metis. 230 kilometres northeast of Edmonton when it was established by Father Lacombe in 1896. Intended as a self-supporting agricultural community for the Metis the "settlement" was eventually given over to white settlers mostly from Quebec, and in 1921 the community shortened its name to St. Paul.

Palmer writes that "the government and church promised land, equipment, livestock and schools for the Metis settlers. But inadequate financial support from governments and the church, and Metis inexperience with farming, led to disillusionment among the Metis and the early end of the project" (Palmer, p. 102).

The Metis discovered a new political awareness in the 1920s and 30s and new leaders helped organize protection of Metis interests. The Metis Association of Alberta was formed in 1932 to lobby for better living conditions among the Metis. The Ewing Commission was soon investigating the condition of Alberta's "halfbreed" population. In 1938, the Metis Betterment Act was passed leading to lands being set aside for Metis settlement in Alberta (Brown, Can. Encyc.).

Today there are eight official Metis Settlements in Alberta all of which were establ1shed between 1938 and 1939. Among them are Elizabeth Settlement, thirty kilometres south of Grande Centre, named after the wife of Joseph Dion, one of the men who helped establish the Metis Association of Alberta. The settlement's population in 1983 was 416 (DB and GNCA, p. 163).

Gift Lake Settlement, forty kilometres northeast of High Prairie, is said to be derived from the Cree name "Ma-cha-cho-wi-se" meaning "the lake where gifts were exchanged" (DB). Fishing Lake Settlement is approximately ninety-three kilometres south of Grande Centre. A local history of the community says the name is derived from the Cree word "Pakichuwonstc" or "Packechawanis".15

We are told that four settlement lands were later rescinded and that others which might have come into existence never did for various reasons.

For example, Iroquois-Metis in the Grande Cache area seem to have had an opportunity to acquire a Metis settlement after the Metis Association of Alberta recommended one for the area. But the required settlement association was never formed for reasons which are not clear. A later land claim resulted in a small land grant from the province (1972) covering seven small settlement sites which had been occupied before industrial development brought many immigrants to the area (Nicks and Morgan, p. 172). Some of these places bear names which recall the early Iroquois freemen mentioned above. For example, Wanyandie Flats and Joachim Enterprises.16


15.From "Tired of Rambling: A History of Fishing Lake Metis Settlement." Because local histories often lack information about sources they may not themselves be the most dependable sources of information. However, they area good starting place when looking for clues about a place name's origin.

16.The Grande Cache area now includes numerous Metis co-ops, they comprise over 4,000 acres. Among them are: Muskeg See-Pee Co-op, Victor Lake Co-op, Wanyandie Flats Co-op, Susa Creek Co-op, Grande Cache Lake Enterprises and Joachim Enterprises (GNCA). a) Related to the land settlement was the eviction of all "squatters" from their homes and traplines in Jasper National Park when it was formed in 1907.

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