North Dakota History
Virgil Benoit. North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains. Volume 78, Nos. 1 & 2: 39-38.
Review of The Identities of Marie Rose Delorme Smith: Portrait of a Métis Woman 1861-1960, by Doris Jeanne MacKinnon (University of Regina: Canadian Plains Research Centre, 2012) 208 pp. paper $34.95 Indexed black and white photographs.
"A most welcomed feature of this study is its "rare glimpse into the self-portrait of a French Metis woman, who lived on the western prairies from the 1860s to the 1950s" (6). Readers who seek historical documentation on the lives of French-Canadian Metis women of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries will welcome historian Doris Jeanne MacKinnon's study of Metis identity as based on the life and manuscripts of Marie Rose Delorme Smith. The Historical Character (Chapter 1) describes issues surrounding Marie Rose's initial historical space such as land, trade, wealth, commercial freighting, and political conflicts, mainly around the Red River Settlement. MacKinnon then allows another history to emerge as Marie Rose sets out on her own to receive an education, marry, raise a family, and work a ranch. It is a daily-life history of character, both personal and popular, of family, sorrow, joy, devotion, education, food, clothing, health, shelter, acceptance, and forgiveness.
The second chapter (The "Historian") offers an excellent review of approaches historians of the Metis have used throughout the twentieth century to the present. MacKinnon argues for the inclusion of oral interviews and life stories which reveal truths and dynamics, otherwish unknown, of a fluid ethnic community. A sample provided from Marie Rose's writing regarding district park ranger Kootenay Brown reveals insights into her life and her commitment to "folk" history.
Chapter 3 discusses Metis identity as a visible relationship to ancestry through practice, knowledge, and transferal of ethnic traditioins. Visibly, being Metis diminished in Marie Rose after her marriage as she gradually disassociated herself from her Aboriginal and French-Canadian ancestry in the predominantly English-Canadian community of Pincher Creek in southern Alberta where she settled.
MacKinnon's contribution here is her careful examination of how this could happen.
The last chapter (The Author) provides a close reading of Marie Rose's positions on topics such as her children, clergy, the Canadian government, Metis, and her English-speaking ranching community for whom she tempered the "good old days" to mean a time when the prairie was not yet fenced. We learn in this final chapter and in the conclusion, as we have in this entire reading, that "folk" voice is altered by context and that too is a legitimate part of its meaning.
Excellent presentation of Metis historiography, exemplar application of theories of identity to a manuscript, abundant footnoting by chapter, thorough bibliographies, appendix of appropriate genealogy, illustrations, and an index make this a very suitable read for both amateurs and scholars of Metis history.
Virigil Benoit is professor of French at the University of North Dakota in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures where he offers courses in the French language, French-Canadian heritage, and Quebec culture. He is founder and director of Initiatives in French (IFMidwest) which fosters appreciation of French-Canadian heritage in the Middle West