Gateway Gazette

From My Bookshelf: The North West is Our Mother

By Lynn Willoughby

The North West is Our Mother ~ Jean Teillet

The Metis people of Canada are descended from both First Nations and Europeans. This is their story.

It begins in the last decade of the eighteenth century in the Canadian Northwest. The history of the voyageurs, through the years of competition between The Hudson Bay Company and The Northwest Company, made very interesting reading. The voyageurs – young men wanting adventure who had left a life of farming, drudgery and boredom, to live the dangerous, hard, wild – but free, life they chose. As they traded, sang, paddled their canoes through uncharted land was fascinating. Their singing often announced their coming up or down a waterway in Rupert’s Land. A “fifty song day” was a good day of travel. 

The alliances they formed with the First Nation people were a necessity to gather the steady supply of furs their companies demanded. But they also married the women of the prairies and the first generation of Metis were born. 

Teillet writes of the struggles of The Metis Nation to get Ottawa and MacDonald to recognize them. They were wondrous horsemen and buffalo hunters and their women always traveled with them – working together to butcher and dry the buffalo meat, to tan their hides. These people wanted to be free to roam the prairies and live their nomadic life, but MacDonald had other ideas for the prairies. He wanted Protestant settlers to farm this land the Metis saw as their own.

Thus we come to Louis Riel and his efforts to lead his people to become part of the new Confederation of Canada. He was twenty four years old, charismatic, fluent in both English and French and highly democratic.  However, MacDonald saw the Metis as “half breeds” and “savages” and wanted only to be rid of them all – leaving the legacy we have today.

This book is “thoroughly researched, historically accurate and completely engaging…reading it feels like healing.”

– Metis Race Recognition

Who Knew?

Gabriel Dumont was intelligent and could speak seven languages. He was briefly employed by Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

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