A Métis Family in the Pays d’en Haut

by James LaForest

Genealogical Chart for Gautier dit Saguingoura/Capie8k8e Family

What did it mean to be Métis in the Great Lakes Region, historically? What form did historical métissage (the intermarriage and cultural mixing of First Nations/Native Americans, French and French Canadian, and Métis people) take? What impact did British and American (Yankee) military and economic dominance have on mixed-race individuals, families, and communities in the Detroit River region after the French era and as the fur trade diminished? What impact did Métis culture prior to the mid-20th century have on individuals who were members of Great Lakes fur trade families – people who were Métis or part of the kinship networks of Métis families which could be found originally in population centers such as St. Ignace, Green Bay, Kaskaskia, and Detroit? How did a multigenerational Great Lakes Métis culture pre-dating the Red River Métis survive into modern times?

Until recently questions such as these would have been deemed irrelevant to many contemporary scholars and genealogists who have claimed that there was no significant population of Métis in the Detroit River region or Pays d’en haut, no ethno-genesis to remark upon, and therefore no history or culture to study. Others have claimed that, essentially, Indian women forfeited their histories upon marriage to French and French Canadian men and that children from French/Indian unions were simply “French.” Eminent scholars have written that with the end of the fur trade, extensive French Métis fur trade family networks completely assimilated into the new regimes of their times. They would, according to some scholars, simply become an undifferentiated part of Irish, Swedish, German, Czech, Finnish, etc. populations which were then moving into the American heartland, with French Canadian and Métis cultures disappearing from history. A few families, some aver, moved Northwest and threw in their fortunes with the Riel and Dumont forces.

Other scholars have pushed back against such assumptions. There have been works suggesting a more complex relationship between the descendants of the French Métis fur trade families and the British/Americans than complete assimilation on the part of the former. Some writers have recognized attempts to revise history to suit contemporary politics. Some genealogists have looked at the families of the fur trade era with a wide perspective, understanding that in earlier times Detroit and Windsor were essentially one – that modern borders don’t eliminate historical realities. They understand that by focusing narrowly on Detroit, for example, you miss the wider world of French Canadians and Métis in the Great Lakes and the Illinois Country, forgetting (or ignoring) their mobility, their inter-connectedness, and their common culture.

In my publication “A Métis Family in the Detroit River Region and Pays d’en Haut” I explore the genealogy of one family that originated in the Pays des Illinois at Kaskaskia and its interconnectedness with the Detroit River region from about 1700 through the early 20th century. I trace multiple lines of descent that reveal a family history in which generation after generation married other Métis or First Nations people or people long associated with the culture so influenced by Indigenous people. I also show how mistakes or particular points of view have altered the identities of people who had an Indian parent or two parents with recent Indian ancestry and even more so, people with less Indigenous ancestry. This paper seeks to counter the perspectives of scholars and genealogists who have written French Canadian, French Indian, and French Métisup people into the margins of history, or out of history entirely.

For more information on this essay and others see my recent publication announcement.

6 comments

  1. I am wondering if we have common ancestors…I have Detroit/Windsor Laforests bloodlines on my paternal Grandmas side… I am thinking they were fur traders. Anyway, Great read! Will pass along to other community members who may be of interest.

    – Labadie/Nantais descendant

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am one of many descendants. I am of a direct line to Pierre Couc, a former Carignan soldier who married a Huron Wendat native. many of the men on Cadillac’s canoes were my ancestors, either grand fathers. or great uncles, a couple of first cousins. Those who brought Cadillac’s wife later, there were my relatives also. I would love to join the group for the descendants of the Voyageurs, I don’t know what they’re called or contact info. thank you for this wise article, you are right, much story about their years there in DeTroit, Nouvelle France.

    Like

    • I am also a descendant of Pierre Couc who married my Native ancestor of Nookum, Marie Miteouamegoukoue. They had a daughter, Marie Madeleine Couc dit Lafleur. She married my Cookum, (Pepe) Maurice Menard. I have a long line of Native descent which all began Jacques Menard came to Canada, New France as a voyager. From there my family history starts in Michilimackinac MI, which was a part of Canada in the 1600s. The USA took Michilimackinac in war. From there they went to Trios-Rivers then onto Quebec. If you have any info to share you can contact me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • some descendants of Blondeau voyageurs live there in Michilimackinac. I too am of Maurice Menard’s line. I am amazed at the courage and stamina of the Carignan soldiers and the filles du roy/filles a marier,, especially as a couple! I also have ggp’s who were born and from Michilimackinac. and Detroit, So proud!

        Liked by 1 person

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