Women made up just under one half of the adult population at Red River Settlement (about 4,000 women and men over the age of 21). Alexander Kennedy Isbister, a Métis lawyer, was of the opinion that, as of 1861, virtually “every married woman and mother of a family throughout the whole extent of the Hudson’s Bay territories, from the ladies of the governors of British Columbia and of the Red River Settlement downwards” was of Aboriginal descent.[i]

In Métis families at Red River, women were the primary caretakers of children during a most important time in terms of the transmission of cultural norms — the period during which the learning of language, and its embedded philosophies, structures the neural pathways of the brain.[ii] The first languages of Métis mothers at Red River (and reportedly their preferred languages of conversation) were Aboriginal: probably predominantly Michif and Bungee, which were related to Cree and its linguistic relative, Anishinaabemowin.[iii] There were mothers with other linguistic roots, however, such as Siouian, Salish, and likely Iroquoian.[iv]

Women participated in the day to day functioning not only of families but of the larger community. Whether the goal is to develop an understanding of the cultural make-up of the settlement during the Resistance, or of its social functioning, the presence and activity of women cannot be ignored.

Online Resources:

Women at Red River and the Resistance, 1869–1870,”

Provisional Government of Assiniboia.

Related Media

Women of Red River

[i] Alexander Kennedy Isbister, quoted in W.L. Morton, Manitoba – A History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1957), 91.

[ii] See Jay Miller, “Families,” Encyclopedia of North American Indians, 192; George William Sanderson, “The Ethnic Voice: The ‘Memories’ of George William Sanderson, 1846-1936,” ed. Irene M. Spry, Canadian Ethnic Studies 17 (1985): 116–118;  Guillaume Charette, L’espace de Louis Goulet, ed. Elizabeth Maquet (1976; reprint in English as Vanishing Spaces (Memoirs of a Prairie Métis), trans. Ray Ellenwood, Winnipeg: Editions Bois-Brulés, 1980), 7 (page citations are to the English reprint edition); Joseph F. Dion, My Tribe the Crees, ed. Hugh A. Dempsey (Calgary: Glenbow-Alberta Institute, 1979), 6. Douglas Sprague and Ronald Frye, “Manitoba’s Red River Settlement: Manuscript Sources for Economic and Demographic History,” Archiavaria 9 (winter 1979–1980): 184, note, “sources suggest that in the event of the death of a female head of household, children below the age of puberty customarily left the home of their natural father to be raised by maternal aunts or grandparents.” See also Evelyn Fox Keller, as cited in Natasha Whitton, “Evelyn Fox Keller: Historical, Psychological and Philosophical Intersections in the Study of Gender and Science,” Women Writers: A Zine, http://www.womenwriters.net/archives/whittoned1.htm (accessed 13 June 2012).

[iii] See Sylvia Van Kirk, “Many Tender Ties”: Women in Fur-Trade Society ín Western Canada,
1670-1870 (Winnipeg: Watson and Dwyer Publishing, 1980), 3, for comment on the cultural diversity of Aboriginal women. Helen Hornbeck Tanner, “Ojibwa,” Encyclopedía of North American Indians, ed. Frederick E. Hoxie (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1996), 438, avers, “The form Saulteaux today is used in the western
provinces of Canada to refer to Ojibwa people,” while Michael Johnson, “Ojibwa/Chippewa,” Encyclopedia of
Native Tribes of North America (London: Compendium Publishing, 2001), 44, states, “Their own name
Anishineabe [sic] is increasingly preferred by many Ojibwa today.” For his part, John D. Nichols, “Ojibwa Language,” Encyclopedia of North American Indians, 440, presents the conventional Canadian spelling as Anishinaabe, which Hornbeck Tanner (on page 439), translates as “First (or Original) People.” Aboriginal Canada Portal, http://www.aboriginalcanada.gc.ca/ as it existed (now closed) when accessed 30 May 2003, indicated that the alternate spelling, Anishinabe, was equally common. Anishnaabe is currently common online. Basil Johnston, Ojibway Heritage: The ceremonies, rituals, dances, prayers and legends of the Ojibway (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1934), 15, uses Anishnabeg. Fred J. Shore, “Cree,” Encyclopedia of North American Indians, 140, notes, “The Crees have as many words to refer to themselves as there are different Cree peoples, but in most cases these terms are not translatable, and the people themselves have chosen to use the word Cree as well”; see Dion, My Tribe the Crees, 1, who explains, “it has been customary to refer to any people resembling us as Nehiyaw people, or Cree people.”

[iv] David Reed Miller, “Assiniboine,” Encyclopedia of North American Indians, 56-57, who presents the Assiniboine as distinct from, but closely related to, the Dakota/ Lakota, observes that in Alberta the Assiniboine are also known as Stoney; Dan Kennedy, Recollections of an Assiniboine Chief, ed. James R. Stevens (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1972), 10, 24, observes that the Alberta Assiniboine, “called themselves Nakota, and the many bands within this large cultural group had different names.” Albert White Hat, “Lakota Language,” and Karen D. Lone Hill, “Sioux,” in Encyclopedia of North American Indians, 328, and 590, translate the name Oceti Sakowin as “The Seven Council Fires.” Sarah ‘Sally’ Timentwa, the wife of Alexander Ross of Red River Settlement was Okanagan. See also, Jay Miller, “Salishan Languages,” and Jacqueline Peterson, “Plateau Tribes,” Encyclopedia of North American Indians, 564–565, and 485–489. Michael Johnson, Encyclopedia of North American Indians, 152, identifies the Okanagan as Sinkaietk.