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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
South Branch Communities

It is believed by some that the largest settlement of the Métis, in terms of density in an area where the people had established a permanent organized settlement, was on the south branch of the Saskatchewan River in northern Saskatchewan, south of Prince Albert.

Map of BatocheOne version of the story of these communities is that everyone who lived there, moved from Red River after 1870, to take up land away from the harassment of the Ontario Orangemen in Manitoba. They may also have been influenced by the increasing scarcity of buffalo in the Red River vicinity. However, their primary goal was to establish a settled community where they could follow the lifestyle they had developed.

Métis fleeing Manitoba after the 1869-70 Resistance largely settled in Batoche, St. Louis, St. Laurent, and Duck Lake. Batoche, Saskatchewan is named after Métis trader and businessman François Xavior Letendré dit Batoche. It is located where the Red River Cart trail to Fort Carlton and Edmonton crosses the South Saskatchewan River. Batoche operated a river ferry, a store and a forge beside his house, as shown in this map of the area.

In the same way that the service career of Father Lacombe mirrors the development of the Métis communities around Edmonton, so, in Saskatchewan, the career of Father Alexis André coincided with the growth of the South Branch communities. After serving for a short time in St. Boniface, St. Joseph at Pembina, St. Charles, Manitoba, he was given charge of St. Albert north of Edmonton with a responsibility for St-Paul-de-Cris across the river from Brosseau, Alberta. The mission of St. Joseph at Carlton House (near Batoche) was attached to St-Paul-des-Cris in 1868. André frequently visited Carlton House where he aroused a more Christian spirit among the Métis. In 1871, he decided to found a separate mission among a group of Métis who wished to settle near the trading-post.

The people established themselves in long river lots, as they had in Manitoba and before that, in Quebec. They established businesses and welcomed Father André’s assistance in creating parishes. They were seeking to establish a region of communities, in the old way.

The following year Father André established a residence at nearby St. Laurent (St-Laurent-Grandin). His project met with the approval of Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin, who visited the site in the spring of 1873. In 1876, André celebrated the first mass in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. That year, he began construction of a chapel at Duck Lake, after which he went on to Battleford. At Sandy Lake, which had a substantial Cree population, he established the mission of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. In 1879, he founded the mission of St. George in Prince Albert.

André thus spent most of his sacerdotal career ministering to the scattered Métis populations of the West, and he occasionally acted as their spokesman to government authorities. Under his guidance, the Métis of St. Laurent formed a provisional government for themselves on 10 December 1873. Their intention was to establish laws and regulations governing the hunt, the protection of property and individuals, the observance of the Sabbath, and other matters. A president, Gabriel Dumont, and eight councillors were elected for a one-year term.

Father André frequently followed the First Nations and Métis on their bison hunts, including one of the last, in 1878. Three years earlier he and North West Mounted Police commissioner George Arthur French had urged the federal government to exercise tighter control over these hunts so as to prevent the extinction of the bison.

While Father André was building up the missions, the Métis of South Branch were building their communities. Father André may have believed he was leading, but the Métis chose their own government, and maintained it from year to year. However, Father André’s was called to assist in drafting petitions to the Canadian government.

In June 1881, André presented a petition to Lieutenant Governor David Laird and the Council of the North West Territories, setting forth problems connected with the registration of Métis land claims. Two years later, he presented another petition decrying the two different methods of survey used in the northwest: Prince Albert had been laid out according to the Métis tradition in long strips with a narrow river frontage and St. Laurent was parcelled into square townships that the Métis refused to recognize.

The federal government chose not to respond to the petitions. The whole North West Territories was in turmoil, but it was the people of the South Branch who mounted an armed insurrection.

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Liens Rapides

Fort Chipewyan and Fort Vermilion

Fort Edmonton and Fort Augustus

Fort George and Buckingham House

Victoria Settlement

Dunvegan

Edmonton

St. Albert

Jasper House

Lesser Slave Lake

Buffalo Lake and Tail Creek

Red Deer Forks

South Branch Communities

St. Paul de Métis

Lac La Biche

Lac Ste. Anne

Whitefish Lake

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