The Feminist Caucus

June 16, 2016

 

Anne Burke. The Feminist Caucus. Poets.ca: The League of Canadian Poets. September 2012.

Review of The Identities of Marie Rose Delmore 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.

 

The present study of Marie Rose Delorme Smith (1861-1960) is an important contribution to the history of women in the west, in accord with Jean Barman's "Writing Women into the History of the North American Wets, One Woman at a Time," in One Step over the Line: Toward a History of Women in the North American Wests, edited by Elizabeth Jameson and Sheila McManus (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press/Athabasca: Athabasca University, 2008).

 

This portrait keeps company with significant additions to research, as well as the importance of oral history, in Cree women edited by Freda Ahenakew, Our Grandmother's Lives as Told in Their Own Words (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Centre, 1998); Life Lived like a Story (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990) on Yukon women, by Julie Cruikshank; and on Inuit women, Saqiyuq: Stories from the Lives of Three Inuit Women (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2008), by Nancy Wachowich.

 

Helen Buss briefly examined three versions of Marie Rose's marriage in "Constructing Female Subjects in the Archive: A Reading of Three Versions of One Woman's Subjectivity" in Working Women's Archives: Researching Women's Private Literature and Archival Documents, edited by Helen Buss and Marlene Kadar, (North York: York University, 2004), pp. 10-17.

 

There is a chapter on Smith in Core of My Heart, My Country, by Maggie MacKellar (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2004); and inclusion in "Sewing for a Living", in Contact Zones: Aboriginal and Settler Women in Canada's Colonial Past, by Sherry Farrell Racette edited by Katie Pickles and Myra Rutherdale (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2005) pp. 17-46.

 

There are not only third-party and European accounts on the lives of women of mixed ancestry. Mackinnon offers the context of the Delorme extended family, as politically active, engaged with Big Bear, Louis Riel, Father Lacombe, and other prominent figures.
Born in 1861, Marie Rose was educated by the Roman Catholic nuns in Saint Boniface, Manitoba. After her father's death, she was sold, in 1877, by her mother to a trader with Aboriginal people who had entered into treaty with the Canadian government. Between 1878 and 1904, she gave birth to seventeen children: "...how can a mother stand all these misfortunes, lost two sons at the first war, had to send a nice girl to school in east, she died in Valley field convent...out of seventeen children, I only five left." (after 1952)

She suffered the loss of her children, including also sons Michael, who fell from a train on his way from Pincher Creek to Montana in 1909, and Richard, who died a "horrible death" in a farm accident in 1952: "I am alone in this world but it won't be for long then my adventures will end. God bless us all." (from "The Adventures of the Wild West of 1870").

 

As a family, they had homesteaded the Pincher Creek district of southern Alberta. She lived on the western prairies, from the 1860s to the 1950s. During the 1920s and 1930s, Alberta accepted groups such as the Klu Klux Klan. (See: Allan Sheppard's "Undercurrents of Intolerance: Swimming in KKK Waters", Legacy (Summer 2000), pp. 26-29 and also William Peter Baergen's The Klu Klux Klan in Central Alberta (Red Deer: Central Alberta Historical Society, 2000).

 

The Red River Métis formed a provisional self-government in 1869-70 and the Rebellion of 1885. There were divisions based on French, Scottish, or English ancestry. There is research that indicates identity evolved for the Métis of this community and that a class system evolved among Aboriginal peoples during the period of 1850-1914. Smith uses degrees of mixed blood to determine class, with quarter breeds as seen as higher class. The U.S. government determined, in 1836 and 1985 treaties, that quarter bloods belonged to a lower class than the other two classes of "full half-breeds" and other "halfbreeds".

 

Smith self-references as "quarter breed", "Half-breed", and "Indian". She was medicine woman, midwife, crafts-person. Her own story was told from her point of view, not in European-generated documents. Her various identities are multifaceted and are, at least, four multiple roles: as historical character, historian, person, and author.

 

Children of English-speaking Canadian fathers were encouraged to assimilate with Anglo communities; children of French-speaking Canadian fathers adopted the communities of their First Nations mothers, with no access to Euro-Canadian education.
The Constitution Act, in 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), still recognizes community, collective rights of the Métis as a distinct people, but not individual rights. MacKinnon affords us one of the relatively rare portraits of Métis women.

 

Among the sources were: Jock Carpenter's Fifty Dollar Bride, Marie Rose Smith: A Chronicle of Métis Life in the 19th Century, (Sidney, B.C.: Gray's Publishing, 1977), a memoir by her granddaughter. Smith published her own insights as "Eighty Years on the Plains", in Canadian Cattlemen, June 1948 to November 1949. There are extant quasihistorical, biographical, and fiction among the still unpublished manuscripts. An audiotape of her voice, when she was ninety-six years old, was preserved from "Interviews with Pioneers, Peigan Pow-Wow Nature Sounds" (1957), by a broadcaster from a local history program "Remember When", in the mid-1950s, and he lived in Calgary in the 1960s. She sings "Red River Half-Breed", reworking a "Half-breed that loves you so true" from the original "cowboy that loves you so true", (p. 129)

 

There is also a transcript (by a local business man who homesteaded in the Pincher Creek-Waterton Lakes area and her contemporary) of her thoughts, "Tribulations of Mrs. C. Smith of Pincher Creek Alberta", undated but about 1933.

 

The study contains an Appendix 1: "Terms and Sources"; Appendix 2: "Descendants of Joseph Hernault et Enaud dit Canada"; Notes, Bibliography, and Index. Appendix 2 was generated by cross-referencing personal research, the Archives of Saint Boniface, an "Index to Red River Censuses and Genealogical Collections", compiled by Gail Morin; the Glenbow Archives, original census data, parish records, and other publications. There is a Bibliography of Library and Archival Sources, in addition to other Unpublished and Published Primary Sources; Websites, Secondary Studies: Books, Articles, Novels, News Publications, Theses, and Interviews.

 

MacKinnon was born on a farm in northern Alberta. She is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at the University of Calgary, with a specialization in PostConfederation Western Canadian History.

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