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St. Ambroise is located on the southeast tip of Lake Manitoba; it is a small Métis community. The St. Ambroise Community Centre hosts a number of events throughout the year, beginning in July with the Annual Saskatoon Berry Festival, later the Annual Métis Festival takes place in October. Nicole St. Onge1 has reported on Donald Gunns observations of the Metis on the south end of Lake Manitoba in his 1867 report to the Smithsonian Institute: In this region there are at present three small villages; one at Oak Point, containing 10 to 15 dwellings, called houses of the most primitive kind; another at what is called the Bay [Saint-Laurent] consisting of seven or eight houses, and favored as the residence of the Catholic priest. A third village is rising two or three miles to the south of the latter [Isle de Pierre—the future Saint-Ambroise]. He describes these Metis as mixed-blood Indians: The population of these villages is composed of Indians, of half, three-quarter, and of seven-eight Indians, with a very few aged French-Canadians. After 1870, many Métis who still resided in the old parishes along the Forks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers decided to relocate. The search for new homelands led to areas spurned by Ontarians and immigrant groups in search of prime agricultural lands. These Métis founded new communities such as Richer, Ste. Genevieve, St. Ambroise, Ste. Amelie, Toutes-Aides and Ste. Madeleine. Mostly located on “scrub land,” the farms provided only a basic livelihood but offered independence and self-sufficiency. Lake side communities such as St. Ambroise relied on fishing since the October run of whitefish into the shallow gravel shoals to spawn yielded good cathches. Cattle and horses were raised by a few of the more prosperous Métis ranchers, but most eked out a living as farmhands for white settlers, or they hauled cordwood, trapped furs and dug seneca root for a small cash income. St. Ambroise Dakota Entrenchment, Historic Site Designation Date: December 7, 1954 Although there is no clear evidence that the St. Ambroise Entrenchment was ever used defensively, it may have been. Historical documentation indicates that a group of Dakota, led by a man called “The Leaf,” moved onto Lake Manitoba in February of 1864 to fish. Early one morning during the last week of April or the first week of May, their camp was attacked by a group of Chippewa (Anishinabe) bounty hunters from Minnesota. Six Dakota were killed outright and several succumbed to serious wounds shortly thereafter. The May 10, 1864 issue of The Nor’Wester reported this raid and noted that the Dakota
St. Onge, Saint-Laurent, Manitoba: Evolving Metis Identities 1850-1914. Regina, Canadian Plains Research Centre and University of Regina, 2004: 24.
were “busily engaged in fortifying their present encampment by digging rude earthworks and rifle pits.” Although it is not known if the St. Ambroise fortification was built in the spring of 1864, it did exist in 1873, when a “stone mound of Indians” was recorded at this location by William Wagner during his land survey of the shoreline of Lake Manitoba. The St. Ambroise Entrenchment is a continuous circle, 114 metres in diameter, containing several interior pits and an earthen embankment around its outer edge. Two circular pits are located outside the entrenchment—a larger one, 64 metres to the northwest, and a smaller one 20 metres to the east. The purpose of these pits is unclear; some have suggested that they were wells or, perhaps, observation posts.
The eastern Dakota (Sioux) of Minnesota traditionally built ćunkaśke (pronounced “choonkashkay”)—wooden palisades, piles of stones and earthen entrenchments—around their camps and villages for protection against the elements, wild animals, and potential enemies. One group was even referred to as the Cunkasketonwan: Nation of the Forts.
Flee Island Entrenchments (2010) In the summer of 1862, many Dakota openly rebelled against the intolerable treatment they had received from American authorities. As a result, several hundred moved north to the relative safety of the Red River Settlement. In the spring of 1864, following an attack by Chippewa bounty hunters from Minnesota, the Dakota constructed fortified camps in the Portage la Prairie district. Each camp was enclosed by a circular trench and embankment behind which armed defenders could position themselves. Inside this circle was a ring of pits where the women and children could take refuge in the event of an attack. The remnants of one such ćunkaśke, known as the Flee Island Entrenchment, are located in the area near a marker at this site Source: http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/sites/fleeislandentrenchments.shtml
Edited and Compiled by Lawrence Barkwell Coordinator of Metis Heritage and History Research Louis Riel Institute