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The Métis Boat Steerers of the Abitibi


Flowing from their relationship to the lands and waters, the Métis in the Abitibi Inland and western James Bay regions had unique skills as interpreters, guides, and hunters.


While racist Hudson’s Bay Company policies generally restricted Métis to occupations within the “servant” class, the Métis of Abitibi Inland quickly took on specialized roles at the fur trade posts, including boat steerers.


In 1804, Albany postmaster John Hodgson described a group of Métis boat steerers who had protested about their inequitable wages, writing: “But the greatest trouble I have experienced this year is from the half Breed or Creoles, who complain their Wages are much less than others, and as they are all Boat Steerers they think they have a right to better wages than they have.”


Hodgson continued: “Mr. Sanders has 3 Stout Sons who all steer Boats, besides there is Hugh Linklater, and John Kipling, all Stout Men. They act as Interpreters & are in every respect most useful People, for they hunt equally as well as the Natives and it is by their Endeavours frequently in hunting, the several Posts fare much better than they otherwise would do without them.”


Hodgson’s language demonstrates that, by the early 1800s, Métis in the Abitibi Inland region had developed a distinct identity and way of life, and were both seen and acted distinctly from First Nations.


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