Research

Metis and First Nations History on the Great Plains

Sappers

(North American Boundary Commission) Sappers building Boundary Mound [August-September 1873], Library and Archives Canada, C-73304

My research over the past decade has focused on the experiences of Metis and First Nations on the trans-border Great Plains and their encounters with the agents of the Canadian and U.S. governments. These inquiries have yielded works that shed light on the conflicts and accommodations involved in making the forty-ninth parallel. They show, up close, how Indigenous actors created the borderland world of the northern Plains and how they shaped the processes of state-making and race-making across the North American West. You can read a short article about some of the research that went into my recent monograph in Carleton’s Research Works magazine.

Current Research

I am currently engaged in two research projects. The first project investigates the efforts of non-professional historians (including folklorists, journalists, biographers, and genealogists) across the middle decades of the twentieth century to record aspects of Prairie Metis history. The books, biographies, genealogical compendia, and other works these individuals crafted were foundational to subsequent scholarly investigations in the 1970s and 1980s that transformed Metis historiography. This research forms part of a larger, collaborative research project (supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) with Chris Andersen (University of Alberta) and Darren Préfontaine (Gabriel Dumont Institute) that examines how historians and others have produced historical knowledge about twentieth-century Metis communities. It seeks to understand how the practices of professional and non-professional historians helped to create a particular vision of the Metis past and—crucially—a particular void regarding daily Metis lives and the networks of social relations that have sustained Metis communities in the twentieth century.

 

The second project extends the comparative nature of my existing research and expands its geographic focus. It involves a collaborative project with colleagues in Mexico and the U.S. that examines the role Indigenous peoples played in creating the international boundaries between Mexico and the U.S. and the U.S. and Canada (or, the western portion of that border along the forty-ninth parallel) across the nineteenth century. It merges ethnohistorical inquiries with investigations into the political and diplomatic spheres in order to present a more global, more synthetic vision of the impact of Indigenous peoples on North American border making.

featherstonhaugh map

Map of the British & United States Boundary Line, 1872-1874 (Albany Featherstonaugh, Narrative of the Operations of the British North American Boundary Commission, 1872-76. Woolwich: A.W. & J.P. Jackson, 1876.)