People Who Own Themselves: Aboriginal Ethnogenesis in a Canadian Family, 1660-1900

People Who Own Themselves: Aboriginal Ethnogenesis in a Canadian Family, 1660-1900

People Who Own Themselves: Aboriginal Ethnogenesis in a Canadian Family, 1660-1900

People Who Own Themselves: Aboriginal Ethnogenesis in a Canadian Family, 1660-1900


The search for a Métis identity and what constitutes that identity is a key issue facing many Aboriginals of mixed ancestry today. The People Who Own Themselves reconstructs 250 years of Desjarlais family history across a substantial area of North America, from colonial Louisiana, the St. Louis, Missouri, region, and the American Southwest to Red River and Central Alberta. In the course of tracing the Desjarlais family, social, economic, and political factors influencing the development of various Aboriginal ethnic identities are discussed. With intriguing details about Desjarlais family members, this book offers new, original insights into the 1885 Northwest Rebellion, focusing on kinship as a motivating factor in the outcome of events. With a unique how-to appendix for Métis genealogical reconstruction, this book will be of interest to Métis wanting to research their own genealogy and to scholars engaged in the reconstruction of Métis ethnic identity.


In the early 1980s, after several years of searching, my mother finally made contact with her biological family. She had been given up for adoption in the 1930s, and raised to adulthood by a farm family in southwestern Saskatchewan. Although her ties to her adoptive family were, and remain, close, she still wanted to know about her real heritage. Born with jet-black hair, brown eyes, and a dark complexion, she stood out from the other children in the community where she was raised.

Eventually she discovered the source of her striking looks — a Métis father, now deceased. Although he had passed away before she could meet him, she was able to meet his sisters, who lived in Regina. They had known of her existence, and they graciously welcomed her into their homes and shared with her information about her father. They also directed her to the tiny village of Lebret, about an hour's drive away, where she would be able to look at the parish records of their mother's family, surnamed Desjarlais.

During the mid-1980s, I began researching the genealogy of my mother's family, which had miraculously revealed itself. When my mother phoned to tell me about her visit to the Roman Catholic Church at Lebret, she was excited about finding my great-grandmother's baptismal records. She was able to give me the names of Rosine Desjarlais' parents (Thomas Desjarlais and Madeleine Klyne), the sponsors at her baptism (Veronique Klyne and Joseph Bellegarde), and the officiating priest (Father Joseph Hugonard, O.M.I.).

This handful of names, and a healthy curiosity and interest in the past, started me on a quest that became almost an obsession, occupying most of my free moments and causing my family no end of puzzlement and, at times, consternation.

As it turned out, there was a local chapter of the Alberta Genealogical Society (A.G.S.) in the city of Edmonton, where I lived. Edmonton was also the home of the founder of the A.G.S., Mr. Charles Denney. Mr. Denney (now deceased) was a former . . .

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