Borderland studies as a scholarly specialty is a product of the last fifty years, and various sub-specialties of the field proliferate across the globe. By its very nature, research into borderlands is multidisciplinary and, therefore, makes considerable intellectual and methodological demands on its practitioners. Researching the histories of Indigenous peoples in border areas is a case in point. In order to produce a comprehensive history of Indigenous groups in the Canadian-American borderlands of the northern plains, for example, a thorough grounding in the environmental and human histories of both Canada and [End Page 606] the United States, and an even more specialized understanding of the development of government Aboriginal policies in both countries during the colonial and post-colonial eras, is required. A knowledge and understanding of discrete tribal histories, as viewed by Indigenous groups themselves, is also essential. From a methodological point of view, borderland historians must also exercise restraint when defining the scope of their research. A failure to narrow one’s focus through the parameters of geography, chronological period, ethnocultural group, or historical activity runs the risk of a study that is so dense in data that its complexity makes it unintelligible to all but the most erudite readers.
At the present time, there are a handful of academic historians in North America who specialize in Canadian Aboriginal history and American Indian policy. Fortunately Michel Hogue, the author of Metis and the Medicine Line, is part of this specialized cadre of borderland historians. Hogue, a scholar who specializes in the Indigenous histories of the northern plains of Canada and the United States, has chosen to document the evolving experiences of the Plains Métis along the regions abutting the 49th parallel, specifically those of the small extended families of Métis buffalo hunters and traders who migrated across the length and breadth of the plains in pursuit of the bison. For well over a century, Métis hunting brigades moved freely back and forth across the 49th parallel, a degree of latitude identified as early as 1818 as part of the eventual fixed border between Canada and the United States. However, it was the International Boundary Survey (1872–6) that saw the first genuine efforts by both countries to make the border a physical and administrative reality rather than a political “fiction.”
In the decades after the boundary survey, the American authorities in particular sought to restrict the cross-border migrations of the Plains Métis in order to curtail their hunting and trading activities among American tribal communities. Not only were the Métis trespassing on the traditional hunting territories of the Dakota, Lakota, Gros Ventre, Nez Perce, Assiniboine, Cree, and Blackfoot, but they were also believed to be selling guns and ammunition to the Lakota and offering shelter and assistance to the Nez Perce, two tribes that the us Army were trying to contain and subdue permanently. Ironically, both the American and Canadian authorities continued to rely on Métis intermediaries to assist in their westward expansion and consolidation projects, while, at the same time, systematically undermining Métis efforts to maintain family and commercial ties on both sides of the border. [End Page 607]
By the 1890s, Métis sovereignty had been effectively eroded and eventually disappeared in the face of the massive transformation of the northern plains from Indigenous homeland to settlement frontier. As Hogue points out, the presence of the border served to both divide and displace Aboriginal people, by demarcating where differing Indigenous identities and concomitant human rights began, or ended, depending on which side of the border one lived. On a final positive note, however, Hogue notes the persistence of cross-border family ties and cultural practices into the present day, despite the incredible assimilative pressures brought to bear on the Plains Métis during the twentieth century.
One major strength of this book is Hogue’s incorporation of a massive amount of underused source material on the Plains Métis, much of which originates in American archives...