Métis warriors honoured

Matthew Gauk
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Distant relatives raise money to buy gravestones for unmarked resting place of two soldiers

The Jobin brothers were "scattered like rats" across the Prairies after Batoche fell.

The second-oldest brother, Ambroise, 34, had his leg amputated soon after the battle in a makeshift hospital in Saskatoon.

Métis warriors honoured

The Jobin brothers were "scattered like rats" across the Prairies after Batoche fell.

The second-oldest brother, Ambroise, 34, had his leg amputated soon after the battle in a makeshift hospital in Saskatoon.

Several weeks later, he died. His body was sent back to Batoche and laid to rest next to the mass grave where his MÉtis comrades-in-arms all ended up.

The other four brothers, one as young as 16 at the time of the Battle of Batoche, eventually turned up in northern Alberta, Manitoba and North Dakota. They and their five sisters had kids, who in turn had children, who gave way to yet another group of Jobin youngsters.

This generation of baby boomers was the one to bring the battle full circle. In June, through hard detective work back through the ages and some random good fortune, the Jobins got back together at Batoche for a family reunion.

One of their first orders of business was to sink a proper gravestone in the earth for their great-uncle. The North West Mounted Police likely gave him a wooden cross at first, but this would have rotted away to nothing.

And this brings us to today. Ron Jobin, a former farmer from Domremy turned family historian, and Beatrice Demetrius (nÉe Jobin), the MÉtis Nation of Alberta's genealogist and researcher, have been making slow progress in fundraising for their little family project.

They estimate that two simple headstones - the other one is for Joseph Ouellette, a 93-year-old MÉtis warrior killed on the last day of the battle and given his own casket and grave as a sign of respect for his age - would cost between $3,500 and $4,000. They've raised some money from Jobins across the country, but still fall way short of their mark.

"When you look at the history books, it seems like only two men fought at this battle. And believe me, they're my heroes too. But I wanted these other men to be known," said Demetrius, who started fundraising for Ouellette two years ago.

Demetrius and Jobin want to make sure the gravestones are in place by the 125th anniversary of the battle in May 2010. Right now there's a group memorial for the MÉtis soldiers laid to rest in the mass grave and a memorial to the one Canadian soldier lying in the riverbank, but there's nothing for Ambroise or Ouellette except a simple wooden cross he put in a few years ago, Jobin said.

To hear him talk about the battle is to bring it out of the history books, to make it seem as close as it is to his heart.

He described how Ambroise, who sat on Louis Riel's council, walked with a limp and was shot in his only good leg in the last round of fighting.

"If you were not Protestant, white and English-speaking, they burnt your buildings down and drove you out of the area. And I'm not knocking these people. That's the way it was back then," said Jobin.

"The last day the MÉtis were out of ammunition. They were shooting horseshoe nails and stones out of their muskets. It was pretty well the end.

"I know that Ambroise was wounded and one of his buddies helped him. He crawled and got help, crawled about 30 or 40 yards, into some willows. His buddy said to him, 'Stay here, they won't kill you because you speak English.'

"I remember my dad saying that his great-uncles would say that (Ouellette) could have got away, but he wanted to get one more redcoat. Just didn't quit. Eventually the redcoats got him."

Why does it matter what happened to such a distant relative?

"It's my culture, it's my family, and I want them to find their rightful places in history. I want my MÉtis people to honour these men, to find out and be proud that that's their soldier, that's their ancestor, and that they should recognize these men," Demetrius said, adding that she's always encouraging distant relatives of soldiers who fought at Batoche and other battles to dig deep into their family histories.

For Jobin, it's about knowing where he comes from, something that he says people seem to suddenly take an interest in when they reach middle age.

"If it had been of interest to me in high school, my history mark would have been a heck of a lot better than it was," he joked.

But in a turn to the more serious, Jobin said that things have changed and that there are more and more people looking to rediscover their MÉtis roots. Older generations often didn't even self-identify as MÉtis and Jobin had a friend whose MÉtis dad claimed to be "Hawaiian," he said.

Demetrius agrees, adding that nowadays she gets people coming into her office all the time with lists of family names or photos of family members who "look First Nations" to see if their ancestors were MÉtis.

"We have a lot of adoptees trying to find out about their culture, trying to find out where they belong," she said. "After 1885 there was a big suppression and it was not so cool to be known as a MÉtis or half-breed. So if you could be something else, then that's what you were."

"They just wanted to get out of here because they'd end up like Louis Riel, hanging from a rope somewheres," Jobin said.

To see what's changed, all one has to do is look at the bent given to historical education these days. No longer are schoolchildren taught that the MÉtis soldiers were rebels and criminals, like Jobin was taught when he was a student.

But Demetrius was always taught in her own family to be proud of their ancestors at Batoche, who fought not a rebellion but a "resistance," she said.

And it's not just her own relative, Ambroise, that she seeks to honour.

"In the MÉtis community we're all family. We call everybody auntie or uncle ... it means as much to us to put up a tombstone for Joseph (Ouellette) as it does for our own blood relative. Joe would be like another grandfather. He's very important to us as well - they're all important to us."

Geographic location: Saskatoon, Northern Alberta, Manitoba North Dakota Domremy Alberta

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Recent comments

  • Dennis Wolfe Wells
    July 26, 2013 - 18:11

    I would like to donate some money. I am also a direct descendant of Joseph Ouellette. My Great, Great Grandmother was a Ouellette, she was involved at a young age and seen/told stories of what se saw.

  • mona neepin
    February 05, 2013 - 01:27

    Very proud to be Metis, They fought a hard battle, all they wanted was the land they had settled on, They wrote letter after letter to the government with no response. very sad, To much racism in this country,hasn't changed much still up to this day, I have ancestors who fought in the resistance of 1885, very proud of them for standing up for their rights, Letendre and Parenteau,

  • Bernice Trepanier
    June 13, 2012 - 18:19

    Doing my family history I was in for a surprise! Now I know what the family secret was? My parents died when I was young and I wanted to know about my mother's parents. My granmother's side is all Metis. I felt special and all of us siblings felt a long lost part of us was found. My Great Great Great Grandfather was Alexandre Cayen dit Boudreau who married Marie Mcgillis. There son Alexandre (Jr) Cayen (is my Great Grandfather)who married Marie Adeline Piche(they had 3 children) One of the 3 children is Marie Virginie Cayen (my great grandmother who married Dolphis Smith) . I feel almost famous and proud that they were in the resistance of 1885. So much to learn and know. Now I walk around saying I am "Metis" too.

  • fran mccarty
    February 01, 2010 - 21:20

    my husband is a direct descendant of Joseph Ouellette. We would like to help with the head stone for him if still needed. Please feel free to contact me or tell me where I can contact someone. Thanks