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The Peoples, Their Places

Northwind Dreaming: The Europeans

Ladies, Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. 1899. No clear line separated the Métis of Fort Chipewyan from their Indian relatives, nor was the process of "Métisation" a uniform one. Agnes Deans Cameron (1910:76) observed that "When a Frenchman marries an Indian woman he reverts to her scale of civilization; when a Scot takes a native to wife he draws her up to his." French fathers tended to have been close to their Indian affines. They and their children were sometimes even absorbed culturally into the mother's band. For example, François Piché entered the area with Peter Pond in 1778. He married a Chipewyan woman. Today in Fort Chipewyan, "Piché" is considered a Chipewyan surname, and all those with that name were listed as members of the Chipewyan Band established by Treaty 8 in 1899. Ironically, Alexandre Laviolette, the first Chipewyan chief, was remembered by one Forth Chipewyan resident as blond and bearded, and barely able to speak Chipewyan (Parker, 1979), although this latter claim is hard to believe. Some Scots and English fathers tried to acculturate their families to a British norm. While sometimes they described themselves as "White", they are more properly described as a distinctive Scots-Métis people. However, Indian families with Scots names are present. These examples show the fluid ethnic and even cultural boundaries, which characterized the Fort Chipewyan social units.

Colin Fraser's bagpipes, ca. 1825-1835.The people of Fort Chipewyan are the descendants of Chipewyan and Cree Indians who took advantage of the fur trade pioneered in the Athabasca by Peter Pond and his successors. They are the descendants of hardy French voyageurs, some the offspring of French and Indian marriages, and of Orcadians and Scots who signed on for a short term and sometimes stayed the rest of their lives. The historic changes in Fort Chipewyan and its roles have been reflected in changes in the encompassing society of the region. The complex population which resulted is today a unique configuration which assures the persistence of Fort Chipewyan as a modern community, thriving and diverse as it enters the third century of its existence.

Reprinted from "Northwind Dreaming: Kiwetin Pawatmowin Tthisi Niltsi Nats ete" with permission of the Provincial Museum of Alberta and Dr. Patricia McCormack.