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Nations, Migration, and Mtis Subsistence Possibilities, 1860-1940 Delia Hagen, University of California at Berkeley The following paper

examines the ways imperial occupation transformed Mtis peoples options for using their ancestral homeland in the northern Great Plains of North America. The Mtis are a racially- and ethnically-mixed indigenous nation that grew out of the sustained intercultural contact of the fur trade. From the late-nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century, indigenous societies in the American and Canadian Great Plains found themselves inundated by a stream of non-Indian agricultural immigrants. The immigrant farmers who flowed into the region were part of a larger process of the Canadian and American empires invasion of Mtis traditional territory. The Mtis had long relied on a highly mobile trapping and trading lifestyle in order to take advantage of seasonal resources and opportunities in a vast region stretching from the Great Lakes into the Rocky Mountains on both sides of what would become the U. S.-Canadian border. After the US.-Canadian border bisected their homeland in the 1870s, they continued to move through an expansive territory in order to survive. My previous research reconstructs historical Mtis migration patterns and demonstrates the endurance of a Mtis community that did not conform to spatial and social boundaries dictated by the U.S. and Canadian empires. This paper builds on that research by exploring the multiple and complicated ways imperial occupation transformed the possibilities for moving through and using the Mtis ancestral homeland. Imperial occupation transformed the possibilities for using the Mtis homeland in two important ways. Most obviously, settler colonization and the expansion of market capitalism reworked the physical landscape and decimated native flora and fauna populations upon which Mtis groups had long depended. At the same time, new governmental forms engulfed their

Delia Hagen

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territory. Mtis people found themselves subject to a variety of local, state, provincial, and federal regulations that forbade their use of many of the resources that contributed to their survival. Although Mtis people often violated the rules of their colonizers, they increasingly put themselves at risk in order to do so: their commonplace survival activities became criminalized by colonial codes. While some published literature has dealt with the environmental changes that accompanied settler colonialism in North America, less has taken into account the enormous regulatory burden that colonialism imposed on indigenous populations. In part, this historiographical gap is the result of the fact that most studies of indigenous populations focus on a single place. But highly mobile populations like the Mtis had to contend with myriad changes over a vast region comprising many jurisdictions. Only by following their transnational migrations and the obstacles they encountered as they moved can we understand the full impact of imperial occupation on indigenous survival strategies. In the North American Great Plains, legal limitations that prohibited or impeded many activities that could contribute to Mtis survival stemmed, in large part, from how colonizing societies defined and categorized Mtis people. On both sides of the border, colonial authorities often refused to grant Mtis people membership in any of the spatial, racial, or tribal categories into which they divided their populations. Membership in all of the categories from which the Mtis were excluded conveyed de jure and de facto rights to a variety of resources. In many cases, exclusion from these rights-bearing categories endured well into the twentieth century, undermining Mtis peoples material well-being and impeding their efforts to maintain a stable subsistence.

This paper examines how this process played out in the part of Mtis territory claimed by the United States. South of the international boundary that crossed the Mtis homeland, government authorities and the non-Indian populace used several aspects of Mtis history and society to define Mtis people as Canadian, non-Indian, and non-white. They focused especially on the mobile, interracial, and intertribal aspects of Mtis society in order to discursively displace the Mtis, that is, to define them as foreign. This discursive displacement underwrote a simultaneous refusal to recognize Mtis rights to American-claimed space and the resources therein. These processes left many Mtis in a legal and social limbo, in which they could claim neither the rights of (white) American citizens, nor the rights of (federally recognized) American Indians, nor the rights of immigrants to America. The first part of this essay will explore the ways in which non-Indian Americans excluded Mtis from these categories. The second part will analyze the material consequences of these exclusions. Before proceeding, an explanation of my use of language is in order. The people who are the focus of this essay were a mixed group. Historians and others have emphasized especially the Chippewa, Cree, French and Scottish ancestries of Mtis people, but Mtis groups and individuals boasted innumerable combinations of Native American and European lineages. Mtis ethnogenesis coincided with increasing non-Indian immigration and concomitant displacement of indigenous groups in the central and western portions of the North American continent, and these phenomena together created a cosmopolitan society on the Great Plains by the mid-nineteenth century. Mtis people moved often and far, and groups broke apart, reformed, and mixed with other groups at different times in their lifecycles and at different locations throughout the border region. In doing so they connected communities across what became the North American West.

To emphasize these connections, I have elected to use the word Mtis when referring to the people in this essay. I do not mean to imply that all of these people were, individually, Mtis. Nor do I mean to challenge other identities these people may have claimed, or that their descendents may now claim. As used here, the word Mtis is intended to suggest not only individuals of mixed ancestry but also a mixed and morphous group composed of people of a variety of backgrounds. As groups changed they took on different characters, and sometimes they were heavily Cree, other times heavily Chippewa, other times more Mtis. But they were rarely, if ever, exclusively any one of these during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While each group contained a particular mixture of people at any given moment, and every individual in any group might claim a different ancestry, all of these groups had mixture in common.1 Mtis is therefore the best term Ive encountered because it is the most inclusive.2 Other terms implicitly assert a tribal, racial or spatial discreteness that fails to capture the cosmopolitan nature and shared history of nineteenth century Great Plains groups. Terms like American Mtis and Montana Mtis also appear in this essay. These are meant to imply a most expansive definition of these geographical communities, as the communities kinship lines, members, and associates spread out across the border region and beyond. For instance, Montana Mtis, as used here, means Mtis people with ties to the groups that spent time in Montana. Montana and North Dakota constituted the heart of the Mtis homeland in the United States. My choice of language is, in part, an attempt to call attention to serious and persistent deficiencies in our understanding of the history of Mtis populations and the processes in which they were involved. Much of the history of Mtis people in the United States has been misinterpreted, or missed entirely, by American historians who treat as discrete populations who

were inextricably intertwined. Scholars treatment of these populations as discrete is part and parcel of a uncritical use of primary sources. Although many sources explicitly assert both the entangled, inseparable nature of the ancestries within Mtis groups, and the confusion of observers about individual and group identities, historians continue to repeat and adopt the labels in the sources, such as Canadian, Cree or Chippewa, as though they are accurate. By writing about intertwined populations as though they are discrete, scholars are guilty of seeing like a state: they replicate the inaccurate and destructive social simplifications employed by states as tools of colonialism.3 By ignoring or minimizing the ongoing connections between different populations, historians obscure one of the important ways in which indigenous populations resisted the order imposed upon them by colonial regimes. By refusing to recognize and respect the racial, spatial, and tribal complexity of Mtis people, scholars perpetuate the colonial epistemes that underlay the persecution of the Mtis explored in this paper. Both the American and Canadian empires attempted to dismember the Mtis community according to maps they imposed on the lands they invaded, for the spatial racial, and tribal complexity of Mtis society violated and threatened the simplified social orders the colonial regimes tried to create. In the United States, government officials and other contemporaries defined the Mtis in such a way as to deny them recognized membership in any of the communities and population categories understood to have legitimate claims in and to U.S. claimed territory. This entailed constructing the Mtis as neither American, nor Indian, nor white. The allegation that all Mtis people were unambiguously Canadian seemed to be the most pervasive and persistent of these de-legitimizing discourses. This essay will examine this characterization of the Mtis before moving to an analysis of the efforts to define them with

James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.

regard to race and tribe. From there, the paper will explore the material consequences of each of these discursive acts. Making the Mtis Canadian American government agencies, and the non-Indian settlers they served, ascribed Canadian status to Montana Mtis people for a variety of reasons. Americans relied especially on their ideas about Mtis nativity, cultural attributes, historic events, and mobility to argue that Mtis should be considered Canadian. Large-scale American immigration into Mtis peoples Great Plains homeland began in earnest in the 1860s. Thereafter, the Mtis found themselves regarded, and persecuted, as foreigners in the territory [they] had always called, home.4 Real and alleged place of birth figured prominently into discursive constructions of the Mtis as Canadians. The American government legislated birthright citizenship in 1868. A few years later, in the early 1870s, surveyors plotted the U. S.-Canadian border across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. The line they marked bisected the Mtis homeland. This fact allowed the United States to argue that many U.S. Mtis were Canadian, not American. As noted above, Mtis people had been highly mobile for generations, and continued to be so even after the United States and Canadian empires marked their common border and implemented their respective sedentarization schemes. Many, if not most, American Mtis families included members who had been born on both sides of the international border.5 When it suited their needs, colonial agents and settlers viewed birthplace as the single determinant factor in ascribing Mtis nationality. Although chance often determined where the Mtis women were the moments they bore their children, colonial authorities used the locations of those moments as a basis for

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Ron Rivard and Catherine Littlejohn. History of the Mtis of Willow Bunch [Saskatchewan]. 2003, p. 196. Delia Hagen, The Territory We Had Always Called Home: Nations, Migration, and the Northern Plains Mtis, 1880-1930, unpublished paper presented at Writing New Histories of Indigineity and Imperialism: A Workshop, University of Manitoba, Winnepeg, Manitoba, May 21-23, 2008.

denying Mtis rights to reside on American-claimed soil. Authorities adhered to this birthplace standard when it suited their purposes, and often violated it when it didnt. Observers and administrators frequently labeled as Canadian Mtis people who had been born in the United States to what they termed Canadian parents or Canadian families.6 The nature of nativity documentation abetted this discursive displacement of the American Mtis. Colonial agents privileged written records, but, in the case of the Mtis, the existent documentary record was minute and unreliable. Moreover, because the majority of the fur trade posts that grew into Mtis economic and community centers were located north of the international boundary, written sources were predominantly Canadian in provenance and therefore might undermine rather than undergird claims to recognition as Americans. Births occurred often went unrecorded until parents returned to Canadian administrative centers. Some colonial authorities recognized the absurdity of applying nativity criteria to the Mtis community. In an 1893 report to the Secretary of the Interior, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs protested the futility of distinguishing between Canadian and American Mtis in a census at North Dakotas Turtle Mountain Reservation, one of the two primary Mtis-associated Indian reservations in the American Great Plains. As he explained, during much of the 1800s, while the Turtle Mountain people moved throughout the region without any reference to an [un-surveyed and unmarked] international boundary line, their nearest church was at St. Boniface, and the nearest important trading post was at Winnipeg. Their children were in most cases baptized at St. Boniface, and nothing suggested at the time the importance of distinguishing between American nativity and British allegiance. Indeed, through the Hudson Bay Company, Great Britain had

See, for example, Lefort, Tilda R. application file, Box 190, Turtle Mountain, RG 75, NARA Kansas City; Langie, Mrs. Lewis application file, Box 190, Turtle Mountain, RG 75, NARA Kansas City; C. H. Asbury, Superintendent, to Addiea Brooks, Superintendent, Florence Crittendon Home, Feb. 1, 1932, Social Relations, 1932 file, Box 73, Turtle Mountain, RG 75, NARA Kansas City; James Hyde, Superintendent, Turtle Mountain Agency, to CIA, July 26, 1928, Enrollment of Citizenship, Degree of Blood, 1918-27 file, Box 58, Turtle Mountain, RG 75, NARA Kansas City.

pushed her claims far south of the present boundary line. . . . In view of these facts it must seem superogatory to draw attention to the extreme difficulty of preparing at Turtle Mountain a census of only genuinely American IndiansIndians to whom British affiliations may not by some record or other means be ascribed, as, for example, the baptismal record at St. Boniface.7 Perhaps even more importantly, where it crossed the Great Plains (the heart of Mtis territory), the international boundary was based on an astronomical concept instead of natural features like rivers, canyons, or mountains.8 Thus, prior to the international boundary survey, there was no telling where the precise line lay. As iconic western author Wallace Stegner put it, wolfers and traders did not carry astronomical instruments.9 Even colonizing governments couldnt pinpoint the limits of the territory they claimed: when surveyors reached the Red River in September of 1872, they discovered that the Canadian custom house stood south of the boundary line.10 The absence of an observable border was part of the reason many Mtis couldnt even identify, much less document, where they were born. Even after the survey crews completed their work in 1874, the line could be identified only by piles of rocks or earth placed three miles apart. The regions famed winds, as well as its irreverent inhabitants, soon diminished many of these. Nativity documentation remained elusive for decades. After the OIA had ostensibly been keeping records and producing reports on the regions indigenous inhabitants for about 50 years,

CIA D. M. Browning to SOI, July 6, 1893, reprinted in S. Doc. 444, 95. Emphasis added. The OIA and congressional emphasis on Turtle Mountain nativity should be considered in the context of the open and voluminous immigration that characterized the era. Indeed, even in this larger context the Northern Plains white population was uniquely foreign: some 43 % of North Dakotas 1890 population was born outside of the United States, a higher proportion than any other state in the nation at the time. See Frederick Luebke, ed., Ethnicity on the Great Plains (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1980), XI. The commissioners efforts to introduce into the census proceedings some responsiveness to the complexity of historical conditions proved fruitless. When he called attention to the misguided nature of the assignment, he was ignored and the census commission replaced. 8 Sheila MacManus, The Line Which Separates: Race, Gender, and the Making of the Alberta-Montana Borderlands. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. 9 Wallace Stegner, Wolf Willow: A History, a Story, a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier, New York: Viking Press, 1962. p. 85. 10 Stegner, Wolf Willow, p. 88.

many individuals still remained uncertain about the details of their birth. When asked in 1929 where they were born, Mtis respondents offered such vague answers as right around here, my father told me, or my father told me in this country some place, but I dont know where. It was on the line some place.11 As the Superintendent of the Turtle Mountain Agency put it in 1942, Many of the enrolled as well as the non-enrolled people here are not even able to tell whether they were born on the north or the south side of the Canadian line.12 American authorities also seized on the ancestries and associated cultural attributes of U.S. Mtis in their efforts to categorize, and treat, Mtis as Canadian subjects. As noted above, Mtis communities had been profoundly interracial and intertribal for generations. This ongoing syncretism was the essence, and the origin, of Mtis groups. People who wanted to displace the U.S. Mtis linked elements of both their European and Native American ancestries to Canada. They emphasized especially the French and Cree aspects of Mtis communities, both of which they construed as synonymous with Canadian. Cree constituted one of the main Native American components of Mtis society. Indeed, Michif, the Mtis language, draws predominantly on Cree verbs and French nouns, though as spoken in different times and places it also incorporates words from Chippewa, English, Gaelic, Assiniboine, and possibly other languages.13 Many Mtis people did not consider themselves Cree, and Mtis groups and individuals boasted a dizzying array of backgrounds that defied any single ethnic label. But Mtis communities contained many Cree people and their kin, and many Mtis lived in so-called Cree communities: the two groups bled into one another across time and

Vague answers like these were much more common than any concrete responses as to birthplace. See Committee on Indian Affairs, Survey of Conditions of the Indians in the United States, Part 23, 12509, 12511, 12533. 12 F. W. Boyd, Superintendent, Turtle Mountain Agency, to CIA, Feb. 26, 1941, enclosing a list of Canadian Indians on the reservation, Indian Reorganization Enrollment, 1936-1940, Box 58, Turtle Mountain, RG 75, National Archives Central Plains Region. 13 Pauline Laverdure, Ida Allard, and John Crawford (ed.), The Michif Dictionary: Turtle Mountain Chippewa Cree (Winnipeg, Manitoba: Pemmican Publications, 1983), vii-ix. Michif is distinct from any of its parent languages and was spoken in many Mtis communities throughout the Canadian and American Great Plains.

space. Observers equated Mtis with Cree. So, too, did they equate Cree with Canadian. Although Cree people lived in and used areas south of the 49th parallel before, during, and after widespread agricultural settlement of the region by non-Indians, the charge was ever present [the Cree] are Canadian Indians with no claim to protection from the United States government.14 When they called the Cree a Canadian, not an American, tribe, contemporaries ignored or denied the fact that Cree territory included parts of the northern United States. Observers focus on the French aspects of Mtis society served to characterize the Mtis as Canadian in a similar way. At the time it colonized the Great Plains homeland of the Mtis, the United States was officially and emphatically Anglophone. Many francophone and/or French descent people made American territory their home after the retreat of the French Empire, but those who sought to displace the Mtis conveniently disregarded this fact. They also disregarded the many other European ancestries and influences apparent in Mtis communities: equating Mtis with French rendered them foreign. As an ethnic description in the northern Great Plains, French Canadian had no American counterpart. French or French half-breed meant Canadian. As Charles Gordon, Justice of the Peace for Wolf Point, Montana, succinctly put it in 1931 when he described the non-reservation Indians in his area, many of the families talk French. It is white mens opinion that these are Canadian Breed French.15


Verne Dusenberry. The Montana Cree: A Study in Religious Persistence. Stockholm: University of Stockholm/Almquist & Wiksell, 1962. Reprint, with a foreword by Lynne Dusenberry Crow, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998, 28. Even historians who seem to be somewhat attuned to the geographic complexities of the regions history treat the Cree as Canadian, despite the fact that the works they author make clear that Canadian/American distinctions are the product of settler, not Cree, geographies. 15 Charles Gordon, Secretary, Commercial Club of Wolf Point, to Superintendent McCullough, Fort Peck Agency, Poplar, Montana, July 14, 1931, Tribal Relations, 1948 file, Box 58, Turtle Mountain, RG 75, NARA Kansas City; Superintendent, Turtle Mountain Agency, to CIA, April 27, 1923, Mixed-bloods, 1923 file, Box 150, Turtle Mountain, RG 75, NARA Kansas City.


Other aspects of Mtis history also undergirded the suggestion that the Unites States Mtis belonged in Canada. Foremost among these were the armed conflicts between Mtis groups and the Canadian armies, known commonly as the Red River and Riel rebellions, which occurred in 1869/1870 and in 1885. These famous conflicts placed the Mtis at the center of Canadian politics and, in observers eyes, linked them irretrievably to Canada. Mtis response to the rebellions also highlighted the association of the Mtis with Canada. Persecution by Canadian authorities and settlers led Mtis participants and civilians alike to retreat south of the international boundary. This movement relied on and reflected longstanding, well-established spatial and social networks, but the fame of the rebellions overshadowed the more mundane historic context of the refugees flight. The earlier, ongoing movements were thus effectively erased in the eyes of American colonizers, and the mobile Mtis were re-cast as refugees in the territory theyd occupied for generations. The many migrations in the decades after the rebellions followed patterns established decades before, but they, too were re-cast. Instead of being modern manifestations of long-established, purposeful migratory practices in order to use different locales within a historic territory, they were interpreted as the aimless wanderings of refugees in a foreign and unfamiliar land.16


Martha Foster, We Know Who We Are: Mtis Identity in a Montana Community (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006), p. 177; Gerhard Ens, The Reformulation of the Turtle Mountain Mtis Community, 18791905, in Fiske, ed, New Faces of the Fur Trade, 1998, and The Border, the Buffalo, and the Mtis of Montana, in The Borderlands of the American and Canadian Wests: Essays on Regional History of the Forty-Ninth Parallel, Sterling Evans, ed., Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2006; Hans Peterson, Imasees and His Band: Canadian Refugees After the North-West Rebellion, The Western Canadian Journal of Anthropology, Vol. VIII, No. 1 (1978); Verne Dusenberry, The Rocky Boy Indians, Montanas Displaced Persons. Montana Magazine of History, 4 (Winter 1954): p. 3, 11-12; Verne Dusenberry, The Montana Cree: A Study in Religious Persistence. Stockholm: University of Stockholm/Almquist & Wiksell, 1962. Reprint, with a foreword by Lynne Dusenberry Crow, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998, p. 33-34, 43; Thomas Wessel, A History of the Rocky Boys Indian Reservation. Bozeman: Thomas Wessel, 1975, p. 26-42; Larry Burt, In a Crooked Piece of Time: The Dilemma of the Montana Cree and the Mtis, Journal of American Culture 9 (1), 1986: p. 48, 50; Larry Burt, Nowhere Left to Go: Montanas Crees, Mtis, and Chippewa and the Creation of the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation, Great Plains Quarterly 7 (summer, 1987); Luke Ryan. Freedom, Fear, and the American Periphery: The Chippewa and Cree in Montana, 1885-1923. Unpublished masters thesis. Missoula: University of Montana, 1998; Celeste River. A


Refusing to Enroll Mtis in Federally Recognized American Indian Tribes The aftermath of the second Mtis rebellion coincided with increasing efforts in the United States (and elsewhere) to formalize and police racial categories. The end of reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow laws in the American South, the influx of southern European immigrants, and the ascendance of scientific racism, among countless other phenomena, played into and bespoke a shifting racialism in America. In the Great Plains, as in other regions, colonizers tried to police both the social and spatial boundaries of the racial categories they constructed. The mobile, mixed Mtis proved especially vexing to these efforts. Their inseparability from the regions largest non-white population, Indians, aggravated colonial authorities to no end. American officials used the racial and tribal classification commissions fostered by the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887 to try to separate the Mtis from other Indians and from Indian reservations. The proceedings of the 1892 McCumber Commission at North Dakotas Turtle Mountain reservation exemplified this effort to create distinct and separate Indian and non-Indian groups. As in the efforts to equate Mtis people with Canada, the attempts to purge Mtis people from the Indian communities of which they were a part used the mobility and mixed ancestry of the Mtis as grounds for exclusion. At Turtle Mountain, the McCumber commission refused to enroll over 45 percent of community members. The rhetorical tools with which it carved the Turtle Mountain community were by then well-honed through repeated use. The commissioners employed every trope of racial, cultural, and national citizenship at their disposal when they dismissed some applicants as Canadian (either Indian or white); some as all or predominantly white (either by blood or, especially in the case of female applicants who had married white

Mountain in His Memory, Frank Bird Linderman: His Role in Acquiring the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation for the Montana Chippewa and Cree. Masters Thesis, University of Montana, 1990.


men, by social status/life choice/action); some as American Indian but belonging, in the commissioners opinion, to other bands or tribes; and some as Indians of proper tribal or band affiliation but lacking proper spatial affiliation (ie. inarguably bound to a 9 million acre tract delineated in a treaty negotiated by the same commission). This geographic dismissal proved a particularly flexible purgatory tool: individuals could be, and were, declared ineligible for enrollment due to having been born outside the tract, or for isolated or repeated short- or longterm absences from the tract later in life, regardless of the reasons for such absences.17 Withholding Whiteness from the American Mtis Enrollment purges like the one performed by the McCumber Commission at Turtle Mountain in 1892 defined many American Mtis, in the eyes of the federal government and its administrators, as non-Indian. At the same time, governmental authorities often considered many Mtis people non-white, denying them the possibility of citizenship regardless of birthplace. In the myriad documents discussing the Mtis people purged from the Turtle Mountain rolls, BIA officials usually referred to them as Indians, and most statistical reports through the 1930s formally counted many Mtis under a separate non-enrolled Indian category. In the eyes of these officials, the Mtis were Indians, either American and therefore ineligible for birthright citizenship, or Canadian, and therefore ineligible for formal immigration and naturalization.18 Many non-Indian people in the private sector shared this belief, withholding social whiteness from the Mtis in a wide range of situations and interactions.


Delia Hagen, The Process and Consequences of Creating the Turtle Mountain Tribal Roll of 1892, unpublished paper completed for Prof. Jon Gjerdes Immigration and Ethnicity research seminar, Spring 2003, University of California Berkeley. 18 Not until the Nationality Act of 1940 were Indians from Canada and elsewhere permitted to become naturalized citizens of the United States. F. W. Boyd, Superintendent, Turtle Mountain Agency, to CIA, Feb. 26, 1941, enclosing a list of Canadian Indians on the reservation, Indian Reorganization Enrollment, 1936-1940, Box 58, Turtle Mountain, RG 75, National Archives Central Plains Region.


In combination, these overlapping processes left many U.S. Mtis in a legal and social limbo, in which they could claim neither the rights of (white) American citizens, nor the rights of (federally recognized) American Indians nor the rights of immigrants to America. The balance of this essay will focus on the material implications of Mtis exclusion from these social and legal categories. It will first look at the most basic of material implicationsthe right to occupy a placebefore moving to the ways exclusion from rights-bearing categories impeded Mtis access to resources and opportunities that were crucial to survival. No Safe Place: The Spatial Consequences of Being Considered Canadian, nonIndian, and Non-white All of the categories from which Mtis found themselves excluded, American, Indian, and white, carried with them de jure and de facto rights. Foremost among them was the simple right to occupy the places that the American and Canadian empires assigned to each of these three groups. By refusing to ascribe Mtis people a stable and secure national, tribal, or racial status, colonial authorities ultimately helped perpetuate the very mobility and intermixture that they sought to minimize. Lacking recognized occupancy rights to any single place, the Mtis had to make due by moving between many. In 1895, when members of the Montana Mtis community traveled east with Montanas Wildest West Show, promoters billed them as the only people in the United States without a country.19 Categorized as Canadians, many Mtis found themselves persecuted for the ostensible crime of being south of the international boundary. The punishments they endured ranged in severity. At the more benign end of the spectrum stood social snubbing and harassment at the


Raymond Gray (for the Federal Writers Project). The Cree Indians, unpublished manuscript available at University of Montana and Montana State University libraries, 1942, p. 32.


hands of neighbors. American government agents, on the other hand, subjected them to lifethreatening physical violence and mass deportation. U.S. government persecution of American Mtis on the grounds of their alleged Canadianness began with the advent of a federal presence in the region in the 19th century, and endured into at least the mid-twentieth century. The most spectacular episodes of persecution centered around the basic right to occupy American-claimed space. American authorities at times responded ferociously to the alleged national trespass by Mtis people. Late in the fall of 1867, for instance, five years before the international boundary survey, United States marshals descended on a Mtis camp on the Milk River in Montana, ostensibly having heard that Canadian traders were transacting business there. Ben Kline, a Mtis resident of the camp, recalled that the marshals went among them [and ] confiscated their complete stock of goods, valued at not less than $15,000. The marshals then set fire to the Mtis cabins, and ordered two traders in the camp to leave United States territory. Their actions left the Mtis facing the coming winter with neither supplies nor shelter. The marshals also seized the ammunition with which the Mtis hunted animals that could provide them food, furs to trade, and hides from which to fashion shelter and clothing. Few Mtis could have felt safe during this period, as U.S. Army officials issued repeated calls to break up what it called trading parties from the British possessions and execute summary justice on the principals engaged. 20 Five years later, the zealous pursuit of this goal led the American military to attack a Mtis camp located in Canadian


Father Van Den Broeck, Sketch of Ben Klines Life, unpublished manuscript dated Nov. 14, 1925. Small Collection 942, Ben Kline Reminiscence, Montana Historical Society; Oscar Mueller, notes from interview with Ben Kline, Dec. 2, 1931, Small Collection 942, Ben Kline Reminiscence, Montana Historical Society; C.A.R. Dimon, Colonel First U.S. Volunteer Infantry, Fort Rice, Dakota Territory, to Lieut. Col. Edward P. Ten Broeck, Janaury 24, 1865, Small Collection 927, U.S. War Department, Department of the Platte, Montana Historical Society


territory. This international incident spawned an investigation by the Canadian government, and complaints to Washington by the British minister, after its victims sought legal redress.21 Sporadic attacks on Montana Mtis gave way to more systematic efforts in the 1880s. Although several previous efforts to deport dispersed Mtis groups had failed to oust them from Montana, newspapers around the state increasingly called for their expulsion. In this they were joined by many indivuals, like Butte-area rancher and attorney Thomas O. Miles, himself an immigrant from New Brunswick, Canada. In 1892, Miles undertook a vigorous campaign for the permanent removal to Canada of Cree Indian . . . pests, writing to newspapers and state officials, and meeting personally with the U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana and with Montanas U.S. Senator T.C. Power.22 The demands of Miles and others among the recently arrived non-Indian population met with apparent success four years later, when Congress appropriated $5,000 to deport from the State of Montana and deliver at the international boundary line to the Canadian authorities, all refugee Cree Indians in said State.23 The Canadian government collaborated in rounding up and deporting so-called Cree people from Montana in the months that followed. Despite the coaction of both nations, however, the wouldbe deportees thwarted the efforts of colonial authorities by varied and creative means. Many Montana Mtis evaded capture by fleeing to Idaho and North Dakota. Others used their intimate knowledge of Montana topography and hid from their would-be captors in the states mountain valleys. Some Mtis tried unsuccessfully to avoid deportation through legal channels, filing papers to acquire U.S. citizenship and retaining an attorney to press their case. At least two

British Minister at Washington, D.C., file 1283 (1872), Papers Respecting Outrages On British Subjects At White River Settlement and Half-Breed Settlement at Frenchmans River, vol. 228, reel T-12177, RG 15, Library and Archives Canada. 22 Biographical Note, Small Collection 475, Thomas O. Miles papers, 1892-1908, Montana Historical Society; Small Collection 475, Thomas O. Miles papers, 1892-1908; Raymond Gray (for the Federal Writers Project). The Cree Indians, unpublished manuscript available at University of Montana and Montana State University libraries, 1942, p. 16-17 and 147-155. 23 United States Congress, Senate Report No. 821, 54th Cong., 1st Sess.; Gray, p. 34.


people, a man named Raining Bow and a woman whose name was left unrecorded, killed themselves in order to avoid being returned to Canada against their wills. When, in the summer of 1896, the U.S. Army did succeed in delivering five groups of Cree totaling 523 people to the northern border, many contemporaries reported that they were back in Montana even before the troops who had deported them.24 The 1896 deportation events proved to be the most high-profile of the many instances of the U.S. government persecuting the Montana Mtis on the basis of supposed Canadian status. They were not the last. Local, state, and federal entities continued to pressure Mtis people into removing to Canada through the mid-20th century. For at least fifty years after the 1896 deportation debacle, other, less widespread and well-orchestrated, deportation efforts plagued the Mtis. Writing in 1942, Mtis attorney Raymond Gray claimed that his people dread[ed] the menace of deportation more than any evil that can befall the victims of exploitation. This menace lurked even as Gray wrote: in February of that year, Cree Indians George Red Thunder and Charles Kennedy had been deported from Montana to Canada.25 Less violent, but more ubiquitous and unrelenting, were the everyday forms of discrimination practiced against the Mtis by non-Indian Montanans who wished they would go home. These recent immigrants to Mtis territory apparently failed to see the irony of their


ARDIA 1896, p. 23, 342-343; Gray, p. 47; Choteau Acantha, October 5, 1905, reprinted on The legend of the return of the Cree contradicts Canadian government reports about the distribution of the deportees on reserves in that country. Although itself inaccurate, the legend reflects several historical realities, including the ability of many Mtis people to evade capture and deportation, and their reappearance in familiar locales once the threat thereof subsided. It also reflects the fact that many deportees did return to the United States. Although they did not, as legend holds, beat the troops back to Montana, a few escaped en route to Canadian reserves and a good many returned to the U.S. within a year. In subsequent years Canadian Indian agents reported a steady flow of deportees southward. Although Indian Department reports dont provide total numbers, something of the scale and rapidity of this return migration is suggested by the numbers available for the Hobbema Reserve. Of the 150 Montana deportees originally settled there in 1896, only 47 remained two years later. These numbers are all the more striking given that, the year before, Hobbema was singled out in the ARDIA as the reserve that had enjoyed the most success in getting deportees to remain. ARDIA 1897, p. 20-21; ARDIA 1898, p. 232, 461; ARDIA 1899; ARDIA 1900 p. 228. 25 Gray, 22.


position. Their antipathy for the Mtis persisted through the mid-twentieth century: when Mtis attorney Raymond Gray wrote a WPA-commissioned history of the Mtis/Chippewa/Cree in Montana in 1942, he concluded that for half a century an incessant attack on the presence of the Cree Indians in Montana, has been, and still is being, carried out by prominent citizens, newspapers and organizations. The Cree Indians have never ceased to be the brunt of attack.26 Allegations of Canadian origin and racial mixture made anti-Mtis behavior more widely accepted than actions perpetrated under a more general anti-Indian rubric. The rights of Indian groups considered undeniably Indian and American had firmer foundations, and although nonIndian people might bemoan, despise and assault American Indians and their rights, the press was less likely to openly applaud such actions. In contrast, persecution of Mtis people found sanction and encouragement in the state newspapers, which, with a few notable exceptions, formed a veritable chorus of scorn well into the twentieth century. Papers in cities with a large Mtis presence published especially persistent and vicious attacks. The Anaconda Standard vituperated against the Dirty Crees in its area, denouncing them as Canadian beggars. The Helena Daily Independent worried about the impact the Mtis had on other residents of the region: in 1904, when the Forest Service paid about 50 destitute Cree people some 40 cents a bushel for pine cones, which contained seeds for tree nurseries, the paper complained that the group robbed [squirrels] with impunity and it is likely that many a squirrel family will go hungry this winter.27 Mtis rights to particular places were also undermined by the aforementioned refusal of the United States to grant them formal Indian status via listing on the rolls of federally recognized tribes. By categorizing many Mtis as Canadian, the U.S. could deny their right to

26 27

Gray, p. 130. Helena Daily Independent, January 28, 1904, reprinted in Dusenberry, The Rocky Boy Indians, 9.


occupy American claimed space in general. By refusing to list them on the rolls of tribes to which they were related, the U.S. could deny their right to live on American Indian reservations in particular. Much of American and Canadian Indian policy during this period focused on separating Indian communities from non-Indian communities. The circular logic of these policies operated as though there were some clear line between races that could be transposed onto a map and then transfigured into a border, which in turn would maintain separation between ostensibly distinct races. The fact that racial and spatial realities were not, and had never been, that simple seldom prompted policymakers to question their goals. Reservations were for enrolled Indians, not for their unenrolled spouses, siblings, parents, offspring, and other assorted kin, companions, and community members. Off-reservation places were likewise forbidden to Indians, who were generally supposed to stay within the bounds of the reservation on which they were enrolled. As with the efforts to deport Mtis people from the U.S., the attempts to keep Indians on the reservations where they were enrolled, and to keep un-enrolled people off reservations, enjoyed some level of international collaboration but little success. In 1889, the Canadian and American governments explored developing a joint, international Indian pass system, but ultimately both governments instituted separate, similar pass systems whereby enrolled Indians were required to obtain passes to leave their reserves or reservations. Likewise, reservation agents on both sides of the border sought to limit visitors to Indians or whites with formal, usually written, permission to be there.28


Hana Samek, The Blackfoot Confederacy, 154-156. These policies changed for many reservations in the United States after they were opened to homesteading. This development varied by reservation: some reservations were opened to homesteading as early as the 1890s, others were never opened to non-Indian land ownership and settlement.


These attempts to create distinct populations and enforce a corresponding physical separation perpetually plagued members of the Mtis community. Their mixed ancestry and history of mobility combined with the racial and tribal categorization policies of the nations that colonized their homeland meant that many different reservations and reserves included Mtis people on their rolls. For the same reasons, many Mtis people were on no federally recognized tribal roll, either in Canada or the United States.29 Spouses, children, parents, or siblings, to say nothing of more distant relations, often found themselves in a position in which some members of the family were not allowed on the reservations where other members were enrolled. Such situations abounded across time and space. Stories like that of the Mtis Magee family were typical: after moving around for many years, Emma Minesinger Magee and her new husband tried to settle on western Montanas Flathead Reservation in 1896. This attempt proved fruitless for, as Emma recalled in her memoir, Flathead blood gave me the right to live on the Reserve. Not so, my husband. As a result, the Magees soon resumed the nomadic existence that took them back and forth the international border in the Rocky Mountain region.30 In their efforts to make a living and keep their families together, Mtis people fought on multiple fronts the restrictions that forbade their residence on reservations. As discussed above, individuals repeatedly sought to secure residence rights by applying for formal enrollment on reservations they considered home. Groups of Mtis people also sought formal permission to reside on the reservations of their relatives. Montana Mtis formally petitioned for residence rights on the Flathead Reservation in 1887, 1890, 1902, and 1904, on the Blackfeet Reservation


Delia Hagen, The Territory We Had Always Called Home: Nations, Migration, and the Northern Plains Mtis, 1880-1930, unpublished paper presented at Writing New Histories of Indigineity and Imperialism: A Workshop, University of Manitoba, Winnepeg, Manitoba, May 21-23, 2008. 30 James Hyde, Superintendent, Turtle Mountain Agency, to James Ryder, Superintendent, Hayward Indian School, Enrollment of Citizenship, Degree of Blood, 1918-1927 file, Box 58, Turtle Mountain, RG 75, NARA Kansas City; Emma Minesinger Magee, Montana Memories, K. Ross Toole Archives, University of Montana.


around 1910 and on the Crow Reservation around 1913. Mtis people also hoped to secure a stable land base by pursuing the creation of new Indian reservations. Most of these efforts enjoyed only minimal success, at best. The requests for homes on the Flathead Reservation and Crow reservations were all denied. The Blackfeet effort ended in failure when the lands granted there proved uninhabitable. And, after years of denying such requests, when the U.S. government finally created a reservation for Montanas landless Indians in 1916 it rejected many applicants for enrollment and residence thereon.31 The failure of these formal attempts led most Mtis to rely on a far more dependable method for gaining access to reservation lands: illegal residence. Despite the many laws that forbade their presence and the intermittent attempts to expel them, Mtis people remained on and returned to lands ostensibly limited to enrolled Indians. They continually violated the regulations colonial authorities hoped to inflict on the region, and maintained an enduring presence on most reservations throughout their historical homeland. As they had in the face of attempts to keep them in Canada, the Mtis refused to comply with colonial maps. They asserted their rights by persisting in forbidden places like the Crow Reservation, where two or three times they have been gathered by the Agency authorities and put off, . . . each time they have returned.32 Although American authorities controlled Indian lands more obviously and intensively than other spaces, the attempts to create, and then physically separate, distinct races also complicated Mtis claims to places outside of the BIAs jurisdiction. As mentioned above, even


Delia Hagen, The Territory We Had Always Called Home: Nations, Migration, and the Northern Plains Mtis, 1880-1930, unpublished paper presented at Writing New Histories of Indigineity and Imperialism: A Workshop, University of Manitoba, Winnepeg, Manitoba, May 21-23, 2008. 32 Ibid.; Crow Supt to CIA 5/7/1912 MHS RS 266 Box 14 fldr 2. Although space limits preclude it, similar histories could be recounted for the Fort Belknap and Fort Peck Reservations in Montana, both of which housed Mtis populations who werent enrolled at those locations over a long period.


while Mtis were denied enrollment in federally recognized tribes, government officials as well as many non-Indians in the general public often considered Mtis people to be Indian. This fact undermined Mtis efforts to make homes outside of reservation boundaries. Being Indian in the eyes of the government authorities, and therefore presumably ineligible for citizenship, led to denial of homesteading applications. This foreclosed one of the most promising options for families to secure lands on which to settle and survive. Mtis peoples attempts to find a place to live in urban areas often met with failure as well. Police and other officials in cities like Devils Lake, North Dakota, sometimes ordered them to leave, even in the dead of winter. So intent were urban officials on ridding their jurisdictions of Indians that they occasionally went so far as to pay for transportation to distant reservations where the Mtis had no residence rights.33 No help no place: Resources and Opportunities Withheld from the American Mtis34 Clearly, exclusion from the national, racial, and tribal categories that the United States used to organize the populations of the places it invaded made it difficult for Montana Mtis to find a place, literally, in what had been their homeland. The fact that rights to resources attended each of these categories compounded the Mtis dilemma. Under United States rule, enrolled members of federally recognized Indian tribes retained rights to use the natural resources on, as well as merely to occupy, certain lands. They also could access, for better or worse, a variety of services and opportunities intended exclusively for their use. The same was true for white Americans. When the Mtis were excluded from both of these demographic categories, they lost not only the lands but the rights that attended them.


Superintendent, Turtle Mountain Agency, to Peter Timboe, Chief of Police, Devils Lake, North Dakota, Dec. 22, 1922. Law and Order file, Box 157, Turtle Mountain, RG 75, NARA Kansas City. 34 The quote is taken from a complaint made by Patrick Lizotte to H. D. McCullough, Superintendent, Fort Peck Agency, Jan. 5, 1932, Drouth Relief, 1931-32 file, Box 113, Turtle Mountain, RG 75, NARA Kansas City.


Space constraints preclude a detailed analysis of the many resources from which the Mtis found themselves cut off. The remainder of this paper will therefore offer a general overview of the range of limitations the Mtis endured. It will first explore the consequences of the United States refusal to formally recognize, and enroll, Mtis people as American Indians. It will then examine the implications of being considered Indian by the non-Indian population and by the same government authorities that refused to place them on tribal rolls. When U.S. officials refused to place Mtis people on federally-sanctioned American Indian tribal rolls, or purged them therefrom, they also denied Mtis people legal access to a variety of natural resources critical to their survival. As discussed above, the most basic of these resources was land itself, a place to rightfully exist. Beyond that, Mtis people who lacked official Indian status also lost rights to use the products of the land. Enrolled Indians often retained de jure rights to the resources on their reservations as well as some hunting, fishing, trapping, and harvesting rights to lands they ceded during treaty negotiations.35 In many of the places they lived, government regulations barred unenrolled Mtis from cutting firewood for winter warmth, or felling larger timbers for building. Laws also forbade the unenrolled from hunting and trapping for hides, furs, and meat, or digging and harvesting plants like snakeroot that had formerly contributed to their survival. Because almost all of the products of these flora and fauna resources could be sold as well as consumed by the Mtis, the regulations barring Mtis access undermined not only their subsistence but their ability to participate in the market economy as well. They thus impeded Mtis access to the cash and bartered goods that had long been important parts of their livelihood.


Even for enrolled Indians, these rights often existed more in law than in fact, as a variety of government policies, private party actions, and changes in the physical world often interfered with their ability to exercise their rights to resources.


Mtis people who could not become enrolled members of American Indian tribes lost access to other material benefits in addition to those provided by natural resources. Enrolled Indians sometimes received a variety of goods aimed at contributing to their survival. The most well-known of these were rations of food and clothing. But in different times and places, material assistance included such varied items as housing or materials for construction thereof; household implements like cook and heat stoves; coal with which to fend off the Northern Plains winters icy reach; seed for planting cash and food crops; farm animals to be raised for sale or consumption; and farm implements and draught animals with which to work their lands. Other services available to enrolled Indians, many of which had material outcomes, also eluded unenrolled Mtis. Although Indian people often detested the BIA and Christian mission schools designed to eradicate their native cultures, these schools could provide a Western education that might help students survive in the colonial society that surrounded them. Perhaps more prone to embrace it that other Indians due to the European elements of their community, Mtis often expressed a desire to attend Indian schools. Documents suggest that material incentives contributed to this desire: as Sister Genevieve of Turtle Mountains St. Marys Industrial Boarding School succinctly put it, the people here, being very poor, send their children to be clothed and fed.36 U.S. Indian agents, however, tried to limit BIA schools to children of families on tribal rolls.37 Mtis people also had difficulty accessing Indian medical services. BIA and Mission hospitals tried to exclude unenrolled patients, and doctors at other facilities learned that they could expect BIA payment only for services rendered to people on official government rolls. Other opportunities with more obvious material implications, like BIA employment and use of
36 37

ARCIA (1890), 29. Superintendent, Turtle Mountain Agency, to CIA, April 27, 1923, Mixed-bloods, 1923 file, Box 150, Turtle Mountain, RG 75, NARA Kansas City.


tribal flour and timber mills, also remained off-limits to many Mtis. The scarcity of jobs and infrastructure in the rural Northern Plains exacerbated the impact of these prohibitions. Even enrolled Mtis experienced difficulty accessing the resources that were ostensibly available to them. Religious and secular officials who managed the Indian infrastructure routinely expressed a preference for providing the services under their control to tribal members they considered properly American, or more Indian, or more tribally pure. School openings, hospital beds, employment opportunities, and other resources were often allocated under a system of national, racial, and tribal triage, which privileged the applicant deemed most worthy by authorities. The tribally and racially mixed Mtis, besmirched by the taint of Canadian association, suffered accordingly. Mtis people found few opportunities on non-Indian lands to offset those denied to them on the basis of their tribally unenrolled status. As mentioned above, although the American government refused to enroll many Mtis people in federally recognized tribes, government authorities and the general public still considered most Mtis to be Indian. Being Indian, of course, meant that Mtis suffered profound, pervasive, and often violent discrimination at the hands of many sectors of society. These phenomena have been well documented elsewhere in studies of Native American history. But their unenrolled status left the Mtis particularly vulnerable, for they lacked even the guise of federal protection or Indian-specific rights that might moderate the impacts of anti-Indian racism. Being Indian in the eyes of non-Indian society inflicted serious material consequences on the Mtis community. The general public, and U.S. law, understood Indians to be wards of the federal government. Assistance to Indians was therefore deemed to be the responsibility of the nation, not the state, county, or city. On this basis, public officials consistently denied a wide


array of services to Mtis people. Schools administrators barred or dismissed Mtis pupils. Public hospitals and clinics refused them medical care and referred them to the same Indian Health Service facilities that sent them to non-Indian facilities. Local and state organizations dedicated to helping the poor withheld food, clothing, and other assistance from Mtis families. It is no wonder, then, why Patrick Lizotte, a Montana Mtis, wrote in desperation to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in 1932. He implored the reservation Superintendent for aid, for the Great Depression had deepened still further the Mtis communitys crisis: as the need for aid spread to other sectors of society, public and private agencies formalized their policies with regard to the Mtis and became even more adamant in their insistence that the Mtis were somebody elses responsibility. The result, as Lizotte put it, was that they could get no help no place. The colonizing societys ideas about the spatially-, racially-, and tribally-mixed Mtis had fostered a regime that radically altered Mtis peoples ability to gain the barest subsistence.