Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Sioux Hegira in Canada 1876-81: The Layering and Framing of Aboriginal Identity

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Sioux Hegira in Canada 1876-81: The Layering and Framing of Aboriginal Identity

Article excerpt

Approximately 4,000 Teton Sioux Indians fled north into Canada throughout the period 1876-81, following the US Army's efforts to finally destroy the cultures of the Plains Aboriginal peoples. Led primarily by the great Sitting Bull, many of these Sioux refugees claimed to be 'British Indians' and demanded the right to settle permanently in Manitoba. It fell to the newly formed Northwest Mounted Police to attempt to force the Sioux back across the border, the Canadian government ignoring their pleas to settle and instituting a harsh starvation policy to rid Canada of these unwanted guests. This article examines the Sioux hegira from the perspective of identity, considering white-ascribed Aboriginal identity labels that served to reinforce the idea of where the Sioux actually belonged, and the organic Sioux identity which the refugees altered to achieve their aims of cultural survival and settlement in Canada. Why did the Sioux alter their identity, and did this strategy lead to success or failure?

The United States, during its expansion westwards in the nineteenth century, encountered many Native American tribal peoples who were to pose a problem for white settlement. Perhaps no Aboriginal group in the United States has come to represent the conflicts that arose from Indian- white contact in the American West more than the Sioux peoples of the northern Great Plains, certainly in literature and on film during the twentieth century. (The term 'Sioux' instead of 'Lakota' is employed throughout this article as a descriptive name for the Sioux nation, unless otherwise stated, Lakota referring only to the Plains Sioux.) The Sioux were not unique in resisting American expansionism. However, their determination to retain control of their land in the face of a series of formidable American military expeditions launched against them between 1855 and 1877 is noteworthy.

Most people are well aware of some of the famous engagements fought between the Sioux and the United States throughout this period, such as the Fetterman Massacre, Red Cloud's War and Custer's Last Stand. Notable Sioux leaders such as Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse have also entered the public consciousness. One event, however, sandwiched between Custer's Last Stand and the Massacre at Wounded Knee, has gone practically unnoticed in the history of the conflict between the Sioux and the United States: the Sioux hegira in Canada between 1876 and 1881.

Following the US campaign to subdue the Teton (Plains) Sioux who had defeated Lieutenant-Colonel George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in June 1876, thousands of Sioux began to cross the international border into Canada from December 1876 onwards, seeking sanctuary from the British Dominion authorities. Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa section of the Teton Sioux was present with the other refugees, lending his authority as a warrior chief and great orator to the negotiations with the Canadian authorities. By 1878 approximately 4,000 Sioux were camped close to the border, in the recently formed province of Manitoba and the future province of Saskatchewan. These Indians came under the authority of the Northwest Mounted Police, whose officers were then seeking to settle the local Blackfoot and Plains Cree peoples onto reserves as part of the Numbered Treaty process.

The intrusion of several thousand well-armed and embittered Teton Sioux from the United States was to prove an unwanted distraction from the orderly settlement of the Canadian West, but what the Teton Sioux claimed to be further confused the issue of their identity as an Aboriginal people. It led ultimately to a Canadian government policy advocating and practising starvation to rid Canada of these unwanted and troublesome guests. What can be termed the 'starvation policy' was delineated during a meeting held in Ottawa. On 30 May 1877 Lieutenant-Colonel James Macleod of the Northwest Mounted Police met with the secretary of state, R. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.