Metis Economic Activity Post-Resistance / Post-1870 and Post-1885


A primary source interview with Pierre Vandale states that the government's actions of jailing Metis men following the Riel Resistance resulted in great economic hardship for their wives and families: "I remember hearing many of the Metis men were put into jail at this time therefore this made it very, very hard for the women who were left without their husbands. My father was six years old at the time of the Rebellion. But I remember my grandfather talking about it" (see "relevant resources" below). The work of historian Diane Payment has echoed similar sentiments, noting that several Metis men were killed, imprisoned, or forced to emigrate or go into exile after the Riel Resistance. The Metis women of Batoche had a difficult time obtaining compensation from the Rebellion Losses Commission. Some of these women who had children were able to continue managing the family farms, while others worked in domestic service positions as cooks and/or cleaners. Psychological stress caused by the aftermath of the Resistance would have compounded the difficulties posed by economic survival. Payment writes "Much emphasis is placed in official accounts on the fact that there was no rape and wanton killing of women and children during the war. But one Metis journal indicates that there was at least one victim; a young Metis-Dakota girl was killed in the crossfire and hastily buried by the soldiers. An investigation of parish burials between March and December 1885 reveals that, although twelve men died directly or indirectly from wounds suffered at the battle of Batoche, nine women died of causes related to or at least aggravated by the sufferings and deprivations of war. They died of consumption (tuberculosis), la grippe (influenza), and fausse-couche (miscarriage). Women accounted for the proportionately high death rate in 1886 as well” (pages 27-30). Alienated from land rights and subjected to a constantly shifting economic landscape, primary source research (interviews, excerpted below in "relevant resources") detail the ways in which Metis families and individuals attempted to adapt to the oppressive conditions of the settler state. Many Metis were forced to live on road allowances (see related database entries). They would engage in economic activities that included hunting, fishing and trapping where possible; raising livestock/ranching; farming; gardening; berry picking; canning meat, fruit and vegetables; drying/smoking meat; gathering, drying and selling seneca root; hide tanning; clothing and houseware production; net making; wood hauling; selling eggs, butter, cream and other animal byproducts; farm labour; railroad labour; bush cutting/highway labour; scouting for the NWMP and domestic services/care labour (laundry, cleaning, cooking, childcare). It should be noted that many Metis were constrained by a lack of financial and land resources, and thus engaged in many of the above forms of economic activities at once in order to maximize their chances of survival. A few Metis received their land scrip, while others were required to purchase or rent land (despite their Aboriginal land rights - thus the government treated them in like manner to newly arrived Euro-Canadian settlers). The transition from fur-trading and freighting to agriculture was difficult for many. Several primary source interviews echoed similar sentiments in terms of living in circumstances of poverty due to marginalization, but always having enough to eat. It should also be noted that many of the recollections included in primary source interviews were from the difficult economic era of the 1920s and 1930s. And, although economic hardship was widespread in the Prairies during this time, it was felt more acutely by Metis individuals who were widely discriminated against because of their ethnic identity in terms of hiring and pay disparities. The survival of Metis people demonstrates the remarkable ingenuity and strength of Metis families in light of difficult government-created circumstances.

Many Metis families integrated novel means of generating income alongside traditional Metis ways of living. Due to their social and political marginalization, making a living was often precarious. Sometimes, cultural dislocation resulted from the demands of a transient lifestyle, which inadvertently also removed Metis families from the social support network of their broader family relations. This had a damaging effect on the well-being of Metis individuals and the perpetuation of Metis culture.
Sub Event
Following the Red River (1870) and Riel Resistances (1885), an increased number of Metis individuals became alienated from their land and were forced to make a meagre living on road allowances or unoccupied settler land. This was in part the intent of the government as a form of retaliation for the efforts of the Metis in assertion of land rights and self-determination.