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  • Defining Métis: Catholic Missionaries and the Idea of Civilization in Northwestern Saskatchewan, 1845–1898 by Timothy P. Foran
  • Clément Chartier (bio)
Timothy P. Foran. Defining Métis: Catholic Missionaries and the Idea of Civilization in Northwestern Saskatchewan, 1845–1898. University of Manitoba Press. x, 230. $27.95

This book offers a unique perspective and is a valuable addition to the many books that have been written about the Métis. It is an especially informative source of information for me as I have direct ties to Île-à-la-Crosse. My mother was born there in 1902, four years after the time period addressed in the book. I was also born in Île-à-la-Crosse during the celebration of the centenary of the Oblates' establishment of the mission in 1846 and attended for ten years the convent boarding school established in 1860.

Clearly, the Oblates played a significant role both in the lives of Indigenous peoples as well as in the development of western Canada. Aside from [End Page 169] Indigenous peoples and their respective ways of life, the author has canvassed numerous sources of information that have made possible the weaving of the narrative, including the interplay between commerce (Hudson's Bay Company), church, and state, both nationally and internationally. In this respect, the author has captured the various complex forces at play that ultimately had an effect on the work of the Oblates in their missionary endeavours.

The book also identifies Île-à-la-Crosse as an important place in the development of western Canada, with ties to the Red River Settlement, and as the site of the first Catholic mission outside of the Red River. This mission served not only as a base from which other Catholic missions in the northwest were established but also as the central depot for goods and mail coming and going to and from the outside world through the Red River as well as being instrumental in improving transportation connections between Île-à-la-Crosse and the Red River, enabling easier passage of goods and the mail.

The author has also shed light on how the Oblates viewed the Indigenous peoples of what is now northwest Saskatchewan, who would have been quite foreign to the missionaries. Since the primary goal of the missionaries was to bring Christianity and its perceived relationship to civilization to the historic northwest, the Oblates viewed the Indigenous peoples upon their first arrival as les sauvages who must ultimately be brought to la civilisation chrétienne/moderne. This led the Oblates to learn both the Cree and Chipewyan languages in order to fulfil their mission.

In the process, the author astutely connects the various forces at play that had an impact on the missionaries' work, including conflict with Hudson's Bay Company officials, tragic events such as fire, the lack of fiscal resources, the settlement of the west by Euro-Canadians, the lack of federal government protection for the Métis, the relocation of the Oblates' headquarters from Îleà-la-Crosse to St. Albert, and the loss of serving as the base of transportation and freight as the mode of transportation changed.

Through all of this, the author explains that the Métis, through the lens of the Oblates, underwent several redefinitions over a period of years. Initially, they were included in the term les sauvages as they were not yet members of the Christian faith in the eyes of the Oblates and needed to undergo a process to reach that stage. They were, according to the Oblates, in "a transitory moral and spiritual state." By 1873, they had progressed far enough along this path to warrant being referred to as "Métis" in the writings of the Oblates and were no longer required to be categorized as les sauvages. This process was enhanced by the indoctrination of the children at the convent boarding school, the majority of whom were Métis, even if they were not described in this way by the Oblates.

While the book only covers a span of fifty-three years, changes in the northwest, including at Île-à-la-Crosse happened relatively fast and had far-reaching effects. That the author was able...


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pp. 169-171
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