For National Indigenous History Month, I want to share one legacy of researching and writing the Gill book. I believe many of the real stories of Canada's people have been obscured by the myth of our nationhood. I believe that in building a nation our leaders, deliberately or not, have taken a thread of racism and stitched together an Eurocentric quilt of overriding unfairness. It has been perpetuated under that great sense of advancing civilization with propriety and honour that most of us English descendants take for granted as our country's origin story.
We have always had the Americans to criticize for how they have behaved toward the Indigenous Peoples south of the border. However, in exploring our own history through Gordon's Métis eyes, and related reading, my sense of what our ancestors, and particularly our politicians did, leaves much to be desired in our own country's self appraisal.
There are many good history books on the massacres and dirty dealing on the American side of the Medicine LIne. Specific biographies of Indigenous leaders like Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, Little Crow, Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce, and Geronimo are all worthwhile and interesting reading. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown is still a bestseller 50 years after it was published. That book examines the "American Indian" experience while Thomas King's The Inconvenient Indian shares a more continental look at the dishonourable mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples, including some Canadian examples. Recent reads The Northwest is Our Mother; The Story of Louis Riel's People, The Métis Nation by Jean Teillet, The Trial of Louis Riel; Justice and Mercy Denied by George Goulet, and Big Bear, by Rudy Weibe all both reflect poorly on white actions, and especially white honour. These are all, in my view, important, mind altering reading for all members of our society as we try to figure out a future that is fair and equitable to all peoples.
I personally was surprised and offended by the so-called justice meted out to Louis Riel. It is a story which differs so much from the "Riel as Traitor (and Probably Insane)" story that most European descendants learned growing up in Canada. It is a story which needs to be told and re-told, so that history is better understood and does not have to repeat itself.
John S. Milloy's A National Crime tells the story of our country's treatment of the most vulnerable, children in residential schools. It too is an important book.
Researching the Gill book took me down a path which revealed treatment of Indigenous Peoples and the Metis, that was duplicitous, dishonest, fraudulent, dishonourable and illegal. These actions by many (not all) of Canada's leaders and bureaucrats were carried out as the representatives of Canadians including my own ancestors, whether they knew it or not.
The Trial of Louis Riel, Justice and Mercy Denied, by former Calgary lawyer and Métis descendant George R D Goulet is a detailed, painstakingly reasoned and explained, and heavily footnoted account of the trial of Louis Riel for Treason against Her Majesty (Victoria R) under an English Statute from the 1300s, (under which no other participant in the Resistance was charged). The conclusion seems clear that Riel's trial, appeal and hanging was in fact unfair, and in reality the state sponsored judicial execution of Riel at the behest of John A MacDonald.
Big Bear is a biographical history of the chief of the band, some of whom committed the Frog Lake Massacre north east of Fort Edmonton during the Riel Resistance of 1885. Rudy Weibe's account is of a good and honest man who refused to bow down before the government's illegal acts and misrepresented treaty promises. Big Bear also tried to stop his angry young men from taking out their frustration on some apparently pompous white traders and a priest. This account and others lead to the conclusion that signatures on the various treaties Canada relies on, were obtained by misrepresentation, and duress, and not performed as called for, that is, Canada was in breach of contract. This same conduct is used in courts of law to void (or enforce) general contracts, which are of a less solemn nature than Treaties between supposedly sovereign nations, as Canada deemed Indigenous peoples at the time.
All the things
We didn't know
We didn't know...
Book signing at Audreys Books
June 24th, 12 PM to 4 PM
10702 Jasper Avenue
Book signing at Chapters Westside
June 25th, 12 PM to 4 PM
9952 - 170th Street
There is only one problem...
At every book store I have visited, I have made a purchase. Usually, those purchases add up to more than the cost of the books I end up delivering.
But, truthfully, book sellers always have good suggestions of what I should be reading next.
I also have birthday and Christmas shopping wrapped up for this year and it is only June!
Many people have asked why we created A Métis Man's Dream; From Traplines to Tugboats in Canada's North. This book, about a poor Metis boy's growth from his Iroquois Cree grandfather's trapline to success in marine transport and crane services, despite all the odds, came about for a number of reasons. However, the most significant to me is the need to save Gordon's personal story in the context of its place among the tugs and barges that moved one of the largest economic booms Canada has ever seen. To this extent, a major driver was completely altruistic. That was the sense that Metis and marine transportation history in the north, particularly in Hay River and along the Mackenzie River and out into the Arctic, was (and is) being lost for all time. Even now, the stories seem to have faded like the aft lights on a group of barges being towed into the morning mist of Great Slave Lake.
The secondary aspect was that surprisingly, so few people in Canada even know there is history in the area. In my book signings, I am repeatedly reminded about the number of people who had no idea how goods and people moved about the NWT, or even that there was a marine industry (and exploration, oil and gas, mining, etc) in the NWT. "Tugboats? in the North? Where? Why?" was a common refrain. Few remember that Edmonton (for example) was a part of the Hudson Bay Empire from 1670 and then from 1870 to 1905, a part of the Northwest Territories, and that transportation even then was the basis for all life in the north.
So, this is a work of oral history, of Gordon Gill and his Métis upbringing, but it is more than that too. It is a history of the north, of transportation and business and resilience. What started as a random comment about residential schools in the NWT led to ongoing conversations with Gordon Gill, the Metis Man with the dream, and about the history of the South Mackenzie, as that area of the Northwest Territories cornered by the Alberta and Yukon borders is called. It is also a story I have wanted to tell since first venturing forth as a callow 18 year old university student to work for the Northern Transportation Company Ltd. (NTCL) in Bell Rock camp, where the company was having the new era of large tug boats built for the northern trade and the upcoming oil and gas boom during the Pan-arctic and Dome Petroleum years.
The dream for Gordon, as he initially told it, was simply to be a mechanic and welder. He wanted to get out of Hotchkiss, in the north Peace because there was nothing there for him as a Métis boy with no trade, no future. Later, his dream expanded as Gordon went about his life, first to be able to supply food and security for his family, in the mode of Lionel Gagnier, his uncle by marriage. (Lionel Gagnier is a legend in the north and likely worthy of his own story). But then, as Gordon achieved more and more, first as a ship's engineer on the Mackenzie River and the Arctic Ocean, then as a repairer of damaged ships and tugs at the Hay River base of Northern Transportation Company Limited, he thought he could do more. He liked to work, and he always gave more than was expected of him. He mentored others, hiring and training welders and such. Then he got the opportunity to set up his own business, with the generous help of John Pope and others. Gordon always talks of others who helped him. There is another aspect of the story: Why do some get help and others not? I suspect Gordon's own helpfulness, his eagerness to do more than his share, his gentle demeanour, and his appreciation made a lot of the difference. He was also willing to take risks (like setting up a business) and later, to create a new company and move it to where the work was.
As Gordon says, "If nothing is happening, you need to make it happen" and as the owner and operator of Northern Arc Shipbuilders and ultimately Northern Crane Services, he did that. Gordon also wanted to make sure there was work and opportunity for others. He recognized (and acted on) the fact that many northern employees, at least in the old days, were not so attuned to working by the clock. As northern songwriter Bob Ruzicka wrote, in "The Winds of Change" [LionsGate-BMI], about an Inuit man getting a job:
"The man says I got be there on time
The man he says I got be there all the time,
And he pointed to the clock on the wall.
I told him I tell time by the sea and the sun
and by the seasons,
those are the only reasons
for doing the things I might do..."
Gordon was not that sort of employer.
A Métis Man's Dream hopes to salvage both the personal and the larger elements of a history that has largely passed.
Métis Crossing is a remarkable historic and recreation spot on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, northeast of Edmonton, and south of Smoky Lake. In addition to the living museum, which includes numerous artifacts, farm buildings, garden plots, fire pits and the like, there is a campground, bison compound, and other attractions.
The new hotel, and conference centre have an Indigenous themed restaurant and a nice gift shop. You can get A Métis Man's Dream; From Traplines to Tugboats in Canada's North there (and support the enterprise). An easy day trip there in late May allowed me to drop off a case of my books, and to explore the grounds, and to my pleasure to buy a book by lawyer George Goulet, "The Trial of Louis Riel, Justice and Mercy Denied". The title says it all. These photos show the grounds and barn, along the river from the deck of the hotel, as well as me unloading the car, and then being greeted by the gift shop supervisor!
The drive is worth it...we saw a moose!...and a number of Ukrainian churches along the way, a Catholic Shrine at Skaro, and the Victoria Crossing historic site just a few kilometres down river from Métis Crossing. Victoria Crossing shows the 'white' Methodist mission of the McDougall's including the oldest still standing habitation in Alberta. The old mission church, and a graveyard are among the historic sites worth visiting.
Seeing these sites gives a real context to both the Goulet book and my own biographical history of Gordon Gill and growing up Métis.
Still looking for artists...I believe the Gordon Gill book contains many stories which have great potential for development in other areas than just the book. We are looking for artists of all kinds to consider telling some or all of those stories in film, video, graphic novel, comic book, or other forms. Documentaries and short films might highlight the story of this Métis man, and his success, the challenges he faced, the evolution of the north, and its people and industries.
Please let us know if you have ideas or suggestions about a wider telling of the Story of Gordon Gill. Please email me using the contact box below if you wish to discuss ideas and approaches.