This site recounts the families generated by “half-breed women … having no coat of arms but a ‘totem’ to look back to.” Or so they were derided by Canadian man of letters, Charles Mair, in his divisive missive published as “From Red River” on page one of the Toronto Daily Globe of 4 January 1869. As Mair’s comment indicates, Red River women were subject to being dismissed in the patriarchal colonial system that had been inherited from England by the new Dominion of Canada, and that its founders (the Anglophones of Ontario at any rate) had embraced for their projected nation. But, to state what should be an obvious point, Red River women were the mothers of Assiniboia—the district, and the country that was formerly known as Rupert’s Land but renamed by the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia on 18 March 1870. Without those mothers, Louis Riel and others who resisted annexation to gain confederation could not have ‘fathered’ the province of Manitoba.
Aside from from being perpetual works in progress—works that will have mistakes, omissions, and inaccuracies, both inherent and inadvertent—there are problems with these genealogies (at the moment still in the process of being uploaded to this site).
First, the system of genealogical construction that is traditional in Western societies reflects the colonial, by way of privileging the patriarchal.* In the Red River instance, that system of construction is difficult to challenge let alone to escape. It is, after all, often only by tracing the the surnames of husbands and fathers through documents gathered and archived under the auspices, requirements, or benevolence of the colonial state that a genealogy extending much beyond a generation can be populated with women—some of whom are otherwise nameless. Further, it is by surname that a genealogy can be organized most readily into a coherent and readable whole that is amenable to cross-referencing and to identifying a woman’s step-family. The genealogies uploaded as initial content for the pages of this site, therefore, reflect the colonial contexts, past and present, in which both the researched and myself-as-researcher are embedded. There is the potential, however, for moving beyond these initial constructions, towards communicating maternal lineages at Red River more clearly—though to date, that remains a project-in-waiting.
Second, these genealogies are cumbersome and not straight-forward lists of people who lived and died at Red River because families, then as now, were complicated. The people of the settlement were dynamic. They moved over time, within and without the settlement. Sometimes movement was temporary—to conduct a course of work, or attain an education for example. Sometimes movement proved permanent—when an individual, members of a family, or many members of an extended family relocated to another settlement. But sometimes some people moved back again, or their children did, or their grandchildren. As far as possible, places of residence are listed in the genealogies, though that life detail is often unknown.
Third, Red River Settlement and other places of residence in the North-West were complicated. Their names changed—over time and according to what language was used to refer to them. And, at Red River the physical dimensions of parishes within the settlement, along with the outer limits of the entire settlement, changed over time as well. Boundaries shifted (during a relatively short period: beginning as a place of settlement in the colonial sense in about 1810—but as early as 1792 if Chief Peguis’ first farming settlers at St. Peter’s Parish are acknowledged—and ending 1870). Places such as Portage la Prairie, St. Laurent, and Oak Point, though settled by people from, and related to people of Red River—were not necessarily part of Red River Settlement in terms of falling within its political boundary. A significant discontinuity was occasioned by the creation of Manitoba. New boundaries were devised. Red River Settlement and the district of Assiniboia ceased to exist in a formal, geopolitical sense. New names were applied across the landscape and old names were modified as territory was carved into new districts and locations were re-mapped as Canadian possessions.
Despite shortcomings, however, these genealogies can be used to recover a sense of the Aboriginal past in what is now Manitoba. The women listed are overwhelmingly Indigenous, through their maternal lineage, even if not marked as such. And, as far as paternal lineage, many of the “half-breed” women could have claimed ancestral heraldry as auspicious as any Charles Mair might have wished for himself. For me, the genealogies reinforce the argument that Red River was a place of family. Of interconnection (all of the families listed here link to one another): Where any boundaries that might have been posed by language, religion, and heritage were breached. Where the dominant pattern among the majority of settlers was not one of Indigenous women being progressively ‘phased out’ as suitable marriage partners on the basis of ‘race’ or ‘ethnicity’.** Where women too were Otepaymsuak—“their own boss.”
*Martha Addante, “Rupturing the Patriarchal Family: Female Genealogy in Disappearing Moon Café [sic: italics in source],” Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering 4, 2 (2002): 201–214.
Derived from Johan Carl Kraus, “Acer Negundo,” Afbeeldingen der fraaiste, meest uitheemsche boomen en heesters, (1802), 116 (n 417), illustrating twigs, leaves, blossoms, and seeds of the Acer negundo, or Manitoba Maple, the only maple in North America with compound leaves.
Compiled and edited by Norma J. Hall
Published 31 July 2016