Circle Research

1999 Métis Medicine Planting

by Carole Leclair – Métis Women’s Circle

The Métis Women’s Circle began laying the groundwork on our Métis Medicine Planting project.

We have chosen the period of 1812-14 to recreate the indigenous plantings in the garden. At this time, there had already been a 150- year-long alliance between men of the fur-trade and Aboriginal women throughout the Great Lakes. Some historians estimate upwards of 15,000 residents of Métis communities south and west of Lakes Superior and Huron. By 1822, Michigan and Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Ohio also had distinctive and numerous Métis populations. In Upper Canada, the inhabitants of these Métis towns and villages were primarily traders. Trade, not agriculture, was at the heart of their prosperity. It took them on an annual journey from town to hunting grounds, to the warehouses of trading posts from Sault Ste. Marie, Niagara, Detroit and home again. Métis intermarriage with other villages (Americans called them “jack-knife” posts, run by a single trader) and with distant hunting bands expanded their presence. This mobility, combined with the natural blending of Aboriginal and settler ways, fostered a personal and group identity, an identity comprised of relationships with more than a dozen tribal peoples of Algonkian, Siouan and Iroquoian heritage as well as French and British.

The years 1812-14 represents a crucial time for Métis communities. As their distinctive dress, language, music, cuisine, architecture and technologies began to flower and spread outwards from the Red River, the older fur-trading settlements in Upper Canada began to collapse under the pressure from a flood of American and British settlers.

Our Métis midwife, Nokomis (grandmother) Beausoleil, was born around 1767. In 1812, we find her living at Brant’s Ford, trading her knowledge of birthing medicines for goods from the village. Through her relatives she heard of Red Jacket, Tecumseh, Michikinikwa, and Tekarihogan. She heard of the great Iroquoian victory at the Battle of Beaver Dams in 1813 and the disturbing news of General Brock’s death at Queenston Heights. For both Britain and the United States, the last of the colonial wars was an inconclusive contest. As Senecas fought other Iroquoians (brother against brother) in the white man’s quarrel, Nokomis Beausoleil went about her work, gathering her medicines and helping settler women birth their children. Hot, dry weather, successive crop failures and scarcity of game affected all in the tiny hamlet of Brant’s Ford during these years. What skills and knowledge did Nokomis possess which allowed her to survive and prosper? These are the questions we will be researching.

Métis / Aboriginal Work & Worldview Research Project

Aboriginal Work in the Historical Context

One consistent characteristic that describes the Métis is implicit in the name the Cree gave them o-tee-paym-soo-wuk, which means “their own boss” or “people who own themselves.”

The teaching of chores is related to the learning of values and acceptance of responsibilities to oneself, home and one’s family. Many traditional Métis communities had fond memories of daily chores and hard work in contributing to a steady supply of water and wood for their homes year round. The distinction of choices and consequences are both important lessons to be taught to children and youth. We each make choices in our lives on a daily basis, and we need give careful thought and reflection to the choices we make, as all choices have a consequence, whether positive or negative.

Métis horsemen were renowned for their skills with a horse; so much so that they taught their horses to dance the quadrille. The modern day Musical Ride of the RCMP incorporates this Métis inspired dance for their horses in their routine. The Métis lived neither a quiet nor sedate lifestyle and celebration was an important part of the culture. Horse racing, horse-trotting, and winter sleigh racing were also enormously enjoyed as good sporting activities. As a matter of Métis pride, it was also very important to have the horses outfitted with flashy beadwork and colourful saddlecloths.

What did Native women do? – Sew, make moccasins, gloves, clothing, cradleboard covers; Cook; Collect medicines; Dry & prepare medicines; Bead; Snare rabbits; Weave baskets; Tan hides.

Quote from Elize Hartley, Elder Métis Women’s Circle, Hamilton: When asked about Métis women’s sources of authority Elize refers to her childhood in the tiny village of Vassar in Manitoba and to the values and lifeways of her family. She says, “In those days it was all teamwork. The women knew exactly what they had to do in order to get the results they needed and the men knew that too. So, if the women needed a long table to feed loggers or wedding guests, the men knew that they had to go and get that wood and they picked a certain tree that would be the length the women wanted. It was teamwork and there was no cajoling or nagging. It was strictly business. The women did their job and the men did theirs and the end produce was what the community made together.” From “Strong Women Stories: Native Vision and Community Survival”, p. 60, edited by Kim Anderson & Bonita Lawrence, Sumach Press, Toronto.