Royal Alberta Museum Online Exhibitions Presents

An Iroquois Family: The Waniyandes


Gun case.
"Half-an-hour's riding brought us to a glade where three or four Iroquois and half-breed hunters were encamped with their families."

Shortly after entering the mountains, the Southesk party met up with a small band of Iroquois—Métis hunters and their families. They were the children and grandchildren of Iroquois voyageurs who had come west with the North West Company some 60 years before. When their terms of service expired, they had quit the Saskatchewan River trading posts and headed to the eastern slopes of the Rockies to hunt and trap on their own. The two groups camped together for two evenings, and Southesk traded with the hunters for fresh horses and provisions.

He also commissioned one of the women to sew him a new gun case:

"The wife of one of the hunters has made me a gun-cover of moose leather, ornamented with fringes and narrow braidings of red and black cloth, after the picturesque fashion of the country. It was the custom to keep one's gun covered, except when wanted for immediate use. This protected it from bad weather, and kept it from injury when carried across the saddle."

Southesk identified one of the hunters with whom his party camped by name - "Eneas Oneanti". Oneanti traded two of his horses—"a very handsome stallion, black, flecked with grey" and "a fine old white mare"—to the earl. It seems certain that this individual was Ignace Waniyande, a hunter and trapper born in the vicinity of Jasper House about 1822. He was the son of Ignace Nowaniouter, an Iroquois voyageur from Kanawaghe who had come west with the North West Company in 1804, and a Tse'khene (Sekani) woman named Marie. Given the number of families in the camp, the odds are one in "three or four" that Waniyande's wife, Lisette Courteoreille Waniyande, made the gun case.

Lisette Courteoreille was born about 1824, most likely in the Lesser Slave Lake region of northern Alberta. Her surname suggests that her family came from the area bordering the Straits of Mackinac in present-day Michigan. North West Company trader Alexander Henry reported that a "small band of Courtes Oreilles ... formerly from the Michilimackinac" had traveled to Lesser Slave Lake around 1792 to trap beaver.

Some of these trappers stayed in the west, marrying local Cree or Anishnaabe women. They formed part of a growing community of freemen, individuals of diverse cultural backgrounds who together created the foundation for a new, Métis, community. The freemen were trapping specialists who maximized their take of beaver pelts by using steel traps. They integrated trapping into a round of activities that included hunting, harvesting plant foods, and caring for their horse herds. As a member of this community, Lisette Waniyande would have prepared hides, dried meat, cooked and sewed. She would have engaged in other activities on a seasonal basis—lacing snowshoes, harvesting Saskatoon berries, making "moose grease" from boiled bones, and preparing pemmican.

Southesk's description of the Waniyande camp captures late-summer activities in full swing. "One pretty brown pony passed us, carrying a little girl five or six years old, who was riding quite alone. Near one of the tents I saw two girls, of much the same age, cleaning a beaver skin with a bone, while two others were cutting up fat with great knives." The Waniyandes' daughters Nancy and Marie, ages 7 and 4, were doubtless among these children.

Like many freemen families of the eastern slopes, the Waniyandes formed ties with the Métis community at Lac Ste. Anne. By the 1860s, they were spending a significant amount of time there; Nancy Waniyande was married at the settlement in 1866. For Lisette Waniyande, however, the years at Lac Ste. Anne were marked by great hardship. Two children, Marie and Louis, died in the 1870 smallpox epidemic. Nancy's husband Joseph Pepamowew also died, leaving her with two small children. Lisette Waniyande herself died at Lac Ste. Anne in December 1876.

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