Letter to the Editor: The Métis of Maine

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Though mixed race people become a regular occurrence in American colonies early on, few involving a mixture indigenous and immigrant ancestry gain acceptance. This is in large part due to the social pressures originating with European colonists that prevent them from ever self identifying as anything but part this race or that. As far as Europeans were concerned, you either belonged to an established organization of peoples or you didn’t. And, while that left many people on the fringes, that was just fine by the newly arrived Europeans who reserved the best colonial life had to offer for the purist among them. Thus the term Puritan.

We were ‘Half breed’ to the English, ‘Bois Brule’ (Burnt Wood) or ‘Métis’ to the French, and Mestizo to the Spanish. Colonial powers understood the value of the divisions created this way. Those who desired to belong were easily exploited. My ancestors would fight Iroquois and English in exchange for the promise of belonging. They were descendants of Sachem Membertou and other Mi’kmaq people who saved the first French colony from starvation in 1604. Ironically, they were also French/Iroquois left over from earlier efforts to settle the Saint Lawrence River Valley who the English might have sent to fight them.

As the years go by, Colonial America becomes less and less tolerant of difference, leading to efforts to eradicate both Indigenous and Métis peoples, and to drive those tolerant of them from the continent. Thus the many English and American attempts to expel the marginally more tolerant French, Spanish, and Portuguese. And to write us out of their history. Here we’re reduced to a footnote in lessons on the fur trade and French & Indian War, which was roughly carried out from 1675, when Castine was up for grabs, until about 1760, when the English captured Quebec and put an end to whatever support it had provided Indigenous, and Métis peoples employed here by the fur trade until then.

While some indigenous groups driven from Maine receive enough support from the Catholic Church to allow them to reemerge with the signing of the ‘Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act of 1980’, the Métis and many other indigenous groups from Maine do not. But, as I said earlier, they were always marginalised by Europeans and evidence endures in documents kept by that and other organizations. In fact, there’s enough there Métis peoples in the east now argue Europe, Canada, and America long ago identified them as a distinct people in this neck of the woods, even if only in the attempt to prevent them from ever distinguishing themselves.

It will probably be quite some time before Maine acknowledges us, and even longer before we receive some kind of restitution for what’s been denied, but there’s hope. Nova Scotia, for instance, has granted Métis peoples certain rights in recent years, thanks to a Canadian judgement that found blood quotient tests unconstitutional based on evidence showing they were reduced by direct government action. As similar actions were taken here, it may be just a matter of time before the blood quotient tests used to deny most Métis and Indigenous peoples status here are deemed unconstitutional as well.

Jamie Beaulieu
Farmington, Maine

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