Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Brenda Macdougall. One of the Family: Metis Culture in Nineteenth-Century Northwestern Saskatchewan

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Brenda Macdougall. One of the Family: Metis Culture in Nineteenth-Century Northwestern Saskatchewan

Article excerpt

Brenda Macdougall. One of the Family: Metis Culture in Nineteenth-Century Northwestern Saskatchewan. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2010. 335 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $34.9S sc.

For the last several decades, scholarship in Metis genealogy has matured to the point that it can proudly claim a leading position in the field of prosopography, a field first identified in medieval studies. It has become an instrument to divine an understanding of Metis society, its construction, its past and its continuity. Macdougall has built carefully on the scholarship of amongst others: Jennifer Brown, Sylvia Van Kirk, John Foster, Gerhard Ens, Doug Sprague, Heather Devine, and Nicole St. Onge. Her book deals with Metis culture in 19th century Northwestern Saskatchewan largely around Ile a La Crosse, a real and symbolic centre to the people of the Northwest. It is organized into seven chapters with introduction and conclusion, for a total of nine chapters.

The book argues that the Metis families of the Northwest are "wahkootowin." This, according to Macdougall, is a Cree "worldview linking land, family, and identity in one interconnected web of being." The first chapter deals with the social landscapes of the Northwest, the second with the social construction of the Metis family, the third with residency and patronymic connections across the Northwest, the fourth with family acculturation and Roman Catholicism, and the fifth with family labor and the Hudson's Bay Company. Two later chapters deal with free trade and the culture it contributed.

Macdougall's contributions are significant and considerable. As noted, she used "wahkootowin" to explain the complex set of interrelationships amongst a people. She explains how marriage patterns, work lives, and religion were all mutually reinforcing and how these complex relationships or "wahkootowin" defined life. Family mattered a great deal and a study of the family structures evidences a pattern that persisted and deepened over four generations. The volume is rich in detail and anyone with roots in Northern Saskatchewan will leave with a deeper understanding of themselves. It is, to a degree, an insider's study, but for the scholar of Metis genesis, it is now the best explanation of how a people and an identity emerged in the Saskatchewan interior. …

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