Socio-cultural development and identity formation of Metis communities in northwestern Saskatchewan, 1776-1907

Brenda Macdougall
Native Studies, The University of Saskatchewan (CANADA)
August, 2005
Full text (external site)


This study is an analysis of how the Metis of Île à la Crosse negotiated their way through the demands of the fur trade and the Roman Catholic Church to create a distinct cultural worldview and identity rooted in family obligation and responsibility. Wahkootowin, Cree for 'relationship,' was utilized as a theoretical construct to evaluate Metis actions and reactions to both internal community relationships and to external stimuli. The adoption of wahkootowin as a theoretical concept permits an interpretation of Metis socio-cultural behaviour as part of a larger cultural worldview that informed the ways in which relationships were created and resources utilized. Examining the effects of Metis wahkootowin on the economic, religious, and socio- cultural history of the area was accomplished through a genealogical reconstruction and analysis of five generations. Forty-three Metis family groupings were identified as comprising the core of Île à la Crosse society and culture between 1800 and 1912 because they were traceable intergenerationally; were linked to each other through marriage, adoption, or socially constructed relationships such as godparents; were closely linked to Cree and Dene bands in the region; operated in a variety of economic niches in the fur trade and its associated operations such as hunting and fishing; and were members of the Roman Catholic Church. The first area residents were a proto-generation in which
men not indigenous to the region arrived and intermarried with local Cree and Dene women sparking Metis ethnogenesis. The children of this generation were actually the first generation of Metis who laid the socio-cultural foundation for their descendants. Subsequent generations were the result of intermarriages
between Metis indigenous to the region, successive waves of incoming, outsider males new to the fur trade economy of the English River District, and/or arriving Metis and Indian men from other communities outside the District. An important feature of these latter four generational cohorts was the establishment of a community-based interfamilial, intergenerational wahkootowin marked by regionally-based, female-centred family networks with strong patronymic connections to male surnames as the identifiers of familial groupings.