Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People

Article excerpt

Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People, by Michel Hogue. Regina, University of Regina Press and Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2015. 352 pp. $34.95 Cdn (paper) $32.95 US (paper).

Metis and the Medicine Line comes at a time of renewed focus on Metis history, one that recognizes the immense complexity of nineteenth century Metis life. Michel Hogue's work contributes to this discussion by handling Metis as complex boundary-crossing subjects who, while having a clear sense of themselves as Metis, are deft navigators of the social and political categories used by outsiders to situate them in numerous legal orders, particularly those of the colonial states in their midst. While Metis and the Medicine Line focuses primarily on physically crossing the forty-ninth parallel, it also explores the many other ways that nineteenth-century Indigenous people crossed boundary markers of identity, legal status, and citizenship. Hogue threads sophisticated discussions of geography, identity, political economy, and the social, political, and economic impacts these structures had on Metis throughout the nineteenth, and into the early twentieth, century.

One of the strengths of Hogue's work is the ease with which he moves back and forth detailing micro and macro social processes. He profiles the boundary-crossings of Metis families like the one headed by Antoine Oullette and Angelique Bottineau who crossed the forty-ninth parallel like many of their contemporaries, to take advantage of the shifting economic and political realities of the borderlands. These behaviours also reflect the larger movements of Metis people across the medicine line, while they--again at micro and macro levels--ascribed a different meaning to it than the westward expanding empires of the East.

Equally important is Hogue's focus on the ways in which Metis adapt identity boundaries to meet their ongoing needs. Unlike older works, Hogue does over-determine Metis-First Nations separation, nor does he overstate their interchangeability. From the outset, Metis and the Medicine Line respects Metis social and political distinctiveness, while at the same time highlighting the closeness with which Metis held their "Indian" kin. It is clear from this work that Metis and First Nations had integrated one another into their family networks, becoming real and ceremonial kin using these ways to determine who belonged. Such kinship structures were also instrumental in establishing Metis inclusion (both individual and collective) in emerging colonial policies. Navigating these kinship systems was used to restrict Indigenous access to their lands by policing who was and who was not "Indian."

Like crossing physical boundaries, Metis and the Medicine Line, explores

this other form of border-crossing which newly defined "Halfbreeds" and "Indians" sought to insert their self-understandings onto racial and social categories given form mostly by outsiders. These newly-formed policy boundaries often placed Metis families outside of Indianness, but complex kinship relations and still-unclear policy categories allowed Metis (and other Indigenous peoples) to strategically situate themselves as "Indians" or "Halfbreeds," and "American citizens" or "British subjects" as circumstances required. Despite attempts by the colonial authorities to limit this kind of boundary-crossing, Hogue shows that this was easier done in theory than in fact. …

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