The Next Chapter

Why Maia Caron wrote about the untold story of Métis women during the 1885 North-West Rebellion

When the author discovered her family's own untold history, she decided to dig deeper — and ended up writing the novel Song of Batoche.
​Maia Caron is the author of Song of Batoche. (Maia Caron/Ronsdale Press)

If you read history books about the 1885 North-West Rebellion, chances are that all of the people you'll learn about will be men. On one side, there's Louis Riel and on the other side is Sir John A. Macdonald. Where do women fit into the story? That's a question Maia Caron decided to answer in her novel Song of Batoche

Spurred by neglect

"Louie Riel negotiated 1.4 million acres of land in the Red River area for the Métis, but then was driven into exile. John A. Macdonald cheated the Métis out of those lands after that. My ancestors and many other Métis moved to Batoche, a district of Saskatchewan. Before long, European settlers were moving in on those lands, too. It really is Ottawa's failure to honour Métis land claims that is the cause of the North West Resistance."

Secret histories

"Métis women were largely left out of the historical narrative. Early in my research, I came across an account of a Métis woman who had lived through that time. Someone had asked her what it was like and she said, 'Live was hard in those days, but I had my secrets.' That was like catnip to a writer. I had grown up with Métis women — they were strong, quiet women. I thought, 'These women wouldn't have sat by and not had anything to do with the events.' So I wanted to know them. My father was brought up in Batoche and we didn't know we were Métis. Then I found that my great-great-grandmother had confronted Riel during one of the battles. Even if it hadn't been my great-great-grandmother, I still would have included that scene in Song of Batoche because that's one of the few eyewitness accounts. As I was writing, I was really finding my identity again."

Bringing the story back home

"My great-great-grandparents' house was destroyed the first day of the Battle of Batoche and was later rebuilt — that's where I had my book launch for Song of Batoche. My dad was there and wore a Métis sash for the first time because he didn't grow up seeing men wearing it. My father would go out into the fields of Batoche and find the bullet casings from the historic battle; but his mother would say, 'You don't need to know about that. We are French Canadian, we're farmers and we had nothing to do with those rebel Métis.' I do understand that my grandmother was keeping us safe from racism — if you said you were Métis in Batoche after 1885, you were considered one of Riels rebels and you deserved his same fate.  So it was very powerful and emotional to be back in Batoche."

Maia Caron's comments have been edited and condensed.

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