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The Métis in Western Canada: O-Tee-Paym-Soo-Wuk

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The BeginningsThe People and Their CommunitiesCulture and Lifeways
The Last Refuge

With the abundance of resources, the Cypress Hills were a popular wintering location. The forested coulees offered shelter and wood, deer and elk were plentiful and the furs and hides obtained on the winter trap lines were valuable trading goods. Most importantly, the Cypress Hills became the last Canadian refuge of the dwindling bison herds, which often wintered nearby.

In the Cypress hills, a number of Métis hivernant camps were established as early as 1860 and used annually for many years. Three of the larger settlements were Head-of-the-Mountain, Four Mile and Chapel Coulees. With the establishment of Fort Walsh in 1875, a village grew nearby and a few Métis found jobs as guides, interpreters and freighters for the North West Mounted Police. The end of the decade, however, saw the final disappearance of the bison herds, and the end of a way of life.1 The last of the First Nations living off reserve also found refuge there, even after the buffalo were gone. The NWMP fed the starving people as long as they could. Fort Walsh was finally shut down. As for the Métis, they made their way to the southern part of their hunting territory and kept moving, looking for a location where they could survive.

Meanwhile, back in the Canadian plains, the buffalo had disappeared, and the First Nations people were settling into life on reserves. Food shortages had begun in the 1870s, and by the 1880s, hunting of other game animals became difficult. Starvation stalked the land.

The Canadian government began to establish a presence in the territory. Battleford was chosen as the first Capital. There was a newspaper by 1878 and by 1882, Battleford was fully surveyed as a townsite.

The community of Prince Alberta and area was also growing. It had begun as a Presbyterian mission in 1866, manned by Rev. Nisbet, George Flett and John McKay. By 1878, the population was 831 and four times that by 1881. The population included a large number of English Métis. Prince Albert was surveyed into river lots in 1878, but they had trouble getting claims accepted through the Dominion Lands Office. By 1880, none had been accepted yet.
Meanwhile, in the Métis communities along the Saskatchewan,

The passing of the laws relating to the buffalo hunt was the last official act of the council of St. Laurent. Later that year Dumont had his first confrontation with the Canadian government, an event which marked the demise of the council of St. Laurent. A group of supposedly "free" buffalo hunters, most of whom were hired and outfitted by the Hudson's Bay Company, set out from the Batoche area ahead of the date set for the beginning of the hunt. For this violation, Gabriel and his men entered their camp and confiscated goods equivalent to a fine imposed for the infraction. Eventually the North West Mounted Police were called in to settle the disagreement. However, inspector Crozier reported that the "free" buffalo hunters had, in fact, [broken?] upon the customs of the land and that, furthermore, the local Métis self-government was well suited to the area and operated very efficiently.

Little more was made of the matter. Nevertheless the local Métis government lost virtually all of its power with the arrival of the NWMP.2

In 1877, the Third Initial [or Prime] Meridian was established, and in 1878, [in the valley of the Saskatchewan] 71 river lots were surveyed, conforming closely to Métis land use patterns. These river lots were 220 yards wide and 2 miles long and faced the river. Later government surveys imposed an artificial grid system based on townships which ignored the Métis system and also hindered filing for title, as the survey maps took 4 years to produce instead of one.3

As the buffalo dwindled, and the communities grew, the question of land guarantees for the Métis of Saskatchewan became a priority. In 1878, they sent a petition to the government asking that the land occupied by Métis people be surveyed and title granted to them. Rather than address the concerns of the Métis, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald chose to ignore them. Surveyors were sent out to survey the land, but they divided it into square sections, rather than into the long, narrow riverfront lots that were the Métis way. And until the federal government ruled otherwise, every Métis living on the land was considered a squatter, with no legal claim or protection.4

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Liens Rapides

The Last Refuge



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