________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 16 . . . . April 3, 2009

cover Blood Upon Our Land: The North West Resistance Diary of Josephine Bouvier. (Dear Canada).

Maxine Trottier.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic, 2009.
231 pp., hardcover, $14.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-99905-2.

Subject Headings:
Riel, Louis, 1844-1885-Juvenile fiction.
Riel Rebellion, 1885-Juvenile fiction.
Métis-Juvenile fiction..

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4


Le 23 janvier 1885, plus tard

I had not known [Emma] was coming and so the kitchen was in a state, but [she] does not mind a rababoo. That is her favourite Michif word since it is, she says, so very cunning. I cannot see what is cunning about a stew made of vegetables and game meat, but I can see the cleverness of using it to describe a mess. My kitchen was indeed a rababoo.

She watched me slice and chop, but all the while I could tell that there was something she wanted to say. My face gives nothing away, I have been told, but Emma's shows all. Finally, out it came. People were saying my father was going to marry Madame Pepin, and she asked if it was true. I admitted that it was true, adding that it made sense. I knew better than to say much more than that. Emma is a friend, but words have a way of growing and changing until they come back to roost like huge chickens filled with gossip. I know those chickens would go to roost in Louise's house, and so I simply said that a wedding is always enjoyable.

Emma then wondered if I had heard about what had been printed in a Toronto newspaper, the very newspaper her father had worked for before they came here. She could not understand how anyone who was not an Indian or a half-breed might have to give up their farm. And she wondered how I could bear being called that--a half-breed.

Tales of unnecessary injustice make tough reading. There were three separate, or somewhat separate, groups of people in and around Batoche in 1885: the "Canadians" or white settlers, the Indians, and the Métis, or half-breeds as they were disparagingly referred to by Toronto newspapers. These last tended to be relatively prosperous farming/trapping/hunting people with their own ways and their own language, Michif. Although their families had farmed there, sometimes for generations, what they did not have were deeds or official recognition of ownership of their plots of land. On the other hand, if the Canadian government were to agree that the North West belonged solely to the Métis and the Indians, then the white settlers would lose any claim to the land.

    It is a long way from Batoche to Toronto, and it was far longer in the 1880s when even letters took weeks to travel from the one place to the other. Understanding travelled even more slowly. The government saw opportunity for more settlers from Ontario in the West and wanted to chop the land into neat rectangles for easy organization and sale. The Métis' strip farms along the rivers were in conflict with this scheme, but, since the Métis didn't "own" the farms in a legal way, this was not an obstacle in Toronto-based eyes. So the settlement where, by and large, the disparate groups had developed a peaceful modus vivendi was torn by controversy. Louis Riel returned from self-imposed exile in the States, breathing rebellion, and meetings were held throughout the district. Eventually battle was joined, people--and horses and dogs--were killed, farms were looted and burned by the soldiers sent from the East to put down the rebellion, Riel was captured, tried and hanged, and in the end a lot of the Métis settlers were given deeds to their land. It makes one think that, given a bit of good will on both sides, the whole brouhaha could have been avoided.

     Against this background, Josephine Bouvier writes her diary, full of family doings--her continued sorrow over the death of her mother two years previously and her mixed feelings about her father's marrying again, her impatience with her younger brother, and love for her grandfather--her friendship with one of the Canadian girls recently arrived in Batoche, the cycle of the feasts and fasts of the Church, all tainted by the unease of the incipient rebellion. Readers see a young girl, fond of parties, dancing, and the young man adopted by her grandfather, devout, hard-working, worrying about the politics that could destroy her life. She is not one of your tomboy heroines, longing for the glory of battle, impatient with being a girl and unable to fight. Through her eyes, readers see the domestic side of even a small war, how families are torn apart, property wasted, and with her readers can only ask, "Why?" It's the eternal question; there is no answer, but Trottier has posed it well, and given real insight to the period, as well as giving readers a gutsy heroine whom it was a delight to meet.


Mary Thomas lives in Winnipeg, MB, works in an elementary school library.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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