- Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People by Michel Hogue
Michel Hogue successfully applies the framework of borderlands history to the experiences of the Plains Metis in his monograph Metis and the Medicine Line. Hogue's study examines the communities of mobile Plains Metis along the emerging American-Canadian border from the mid-19th to early 20th centuries. The book is largely dived into two parts. The first part of the book, chapters one through four, establishes the Plains Metis clearly as a borderland people. Metis communities existed on both sides of the Canadian-American border and the Plains Metis used this fact to their advantage during the mid and late 19th century. For example, the Plains Metis skillfully crossed the border to illegally sell liquor and weapons to Indigenous peoples in Montana and subsequently moved across the border into Canadian territory where they could escape the legal persecution. While Metis traders used the border to their economic advantage, other Metis actually helped Canadian and American officials solidify the border. Hogue describes how the Plains Metis helped government surveyors establish the border by acting as interpreters, offered their geographic knowledge of the area, and kept the surveyors supplied and housed. By providing these services, the Plains Metis "shaped the way that federal actors saw the borderlands" (94). In this sense, Hogue shows how the Plains Metis both exploited and created the Canadian-American border during its formative years.
The second part of the book, chapters four and five, chronicle how a militarized border and strict legal definitions of nationality and race started to complicate the borderland lifestyles of the Plains Metis in the late 1870s and beyond. Specifically, ideas of citizenship and race along the border started to pose barriers to Metis land [End Page 128] ownership and politics. Plains Metis in the United States found themselves increasingly labeled as "foreigners" or "British" by a hostile American government and thus found it difficult to voice their political concerns, as they were not truly considered American citizens. Yet these same communities of Metis found it difficult to obtain land scrip in Canada because of their occasional American residency. Race equally complicated the ability of Plains Metis people to secure greater rights. Both American and Canadian government officials enacted "laws and practices [that] increasingly slotted the Plains Metis into the binary categories of white or Indian" that served to erode their land claims (229). While the more recent literature on Metis scholarship may initially take issue with Hogue's emphasis on the Metis's "mixed" racial ancestry, he is careful to note that these were the views of white policymakers at the time, and not his own. In fact, Hogue provides several examples of instances where Metis challenged American and Canadian lawmakers based on their Indigenous heritage and their rights as a distinct people. For instance, he describes the advocacy work of Alfred Larocque, who alongside seventy-four other Metis families petitioned for scrip in Canada on the basis of their "Indian blood and their birth in and occupation of lands within the North-West" (199). Hogue's emphasis on Metis activism guarantees that readers never lose sight of the fact that government agents placed racialized and national labels on the Metis, despite advocating for their own sense of nationhood.
Hogue's discussion of borderlands and race ensures Metis and the Medicine Line will be useful for readers of Canadian Ethnic Studies even if they do not specifically study the Metis. In particular, scholars of the American and Canadian West will appreciate Hogue's ability to challenge national narratives in favour of showing many voices and people who inhabited this region. Hogue writes that "As a framework, the idea of the borderlands allows us to reimagine the northern Plains as a place of multiple, layered, and conflicted claims to territory" (5). Indeed, Hogue demonstrates that Americans, Canadians, Plains Metis, Assiniboine, and several other Indigenous nations all competed to assert their claims to this space. By...