The Historiography of Metis Land Dispersal, 1870-1890


Excerpt from Article:

"The Manitoba Act or 1870 provided substantial land grants to the Métis at Red River. Section 31 set aside 1.4 million acres of land for distribution among the children of Métis heads of families residing in the province, while section 32 guaranteed all old settlers, Métis or white, “peaceable possession” of the lots they occupied in the Red River settlement prior to 15 July, 1870. Subsection 32(5) guaranteed allotments of land to commute the rights of hay and common in the outer two miles that accompanied many of the old river lots. Additional legislation of 1874 granted $160 scrip, redeemable in Dominion lands, to all Métis heads of families. [1] However, as most students and scholars of Métis history are aware, very little of this land and scrip remained in Métis hands by the late 1870s. Instead, the period from 1870 to 1890 saw the widespread dispersal of the Métis from Red River.

In the last two decades, a virtual “explosion in Métis scholarship” has emerged to determine why this large scale migration occurred. [2] With native political organizations and the governments of Canada and Manitoba embroiled in an on-going court battle, various scholars have received generous financial support to investigate Métis land claims in Manitoba. For two scholars in particular, Douglas Sprague and Thomas Flanagan, the Métis dispersal has become a subject of bitter dispute. Flanagan, a University of Calgary political scientist and a historical consultant for the federal Department of Justice, believes that the federal government fulfilled the land provisions of the Manitoba Act. On the other hand, Sprague, a historian retained by the Manitoba Métis Federation to undertake research into Métis land claims, argues that through a process of formal and informal discouragement, the Métis were victims of a deliberate conspiracy in which John A. Macdonald and the Canadian government successfully kept them from obtaining title to the land they were to receive under terms of the Manitoba Act of 1870. Although Sprague and Flanagan remain the central combatants in this historiographical battle, significant research has been conducted by many other scholars, most notably Gerhard Ens and Nicole St-Onge.

In short, the issue of Métis land dispersal is controversial and is the focus of an impressive historiographical debate. This article will not add to the debate. It is designed to help those who are not specialists in Métis history gain an understanding of the state of the argument over land claims."

Publication Information

Milne, Brad. "The Historiography of Metis Land Dispersal, 1870-1890." Manitoba History 30, (Autumn 1995).

Milne, Brad
Publication Date
Primary Resource
Resource Type