Leader of the Metis Nation

by George Siamandas


Cuthbert Grant was the leader and founder of the Metis community of St Francois Xavier. Cuthbert Grant was the first educated Metis to wield profound influence over his people. Grant was a child of the fur trade like many other Metis. His father was Cuthbert Grant Sr a trader and partner of the North West Co. His mother was a Metis woman from the Q'Appelle region. Grant was born in 1793 near Kamsack Saskatchewan, son of Cuthbert the 1st and a Metis woman of Cree and French descent. He was 19 when he returned to find himself in the middle of the fur trade war between the HBC and the NWC. Separated from his culture Grant became adept at the white man's ways. Grant had three wives and fathered at least three sons and six daughters.


Grant was not a rebel and spent much of his life as a stanch supporter of authority. In his biography on Grant, Author George Woodcock maintains that Grant was not the Metis visionary he is regarded as having been. Woodcock claims it had all been a plan by the North West Co to plant ideas like aboriginal rights and the notion of a Metis nation. He maintains Grant allowed himself to be used by the Nor'Westers partly because of vanity and his wishes to advance in the hierarchy.


Grant's men began to harass the new Selkirk settlement allied with the Hudson Bay Co. and drove out the settlers. In 1816 he was implicated in the murder of a Owen Keveny. While awaiting trial, Grant jumped bail, but the charges were not proceeded with. When the HBC and NWC merged, Cuthbert Grant was left on the outside looking in. Woodcock claims Grant in short order, transferred his loyalties to the HBC.


Grant received a grant of land in the White Horse Plains area and founded Grant town in 1824 with a core group of 100 Metis families. He also helped transport goods for the HBC and was subsequently given larger jobs including an appointment as Warden of the Plains. In time, Grant became a justice of the peace. As Warden of the Plains one of his duties was to prevent illegal trade in the North West and in particular to freeze out Americans that had bene entering the territory.


Grant had acquired some medical skills and was one of the first to practise European medicine on the plains. One of his medicine chests is preserved a the Manitoba Museum. In 1829, he built the first water mill in the North West.

In the 1840s his influence began to wane. He was seen as being too conservative. There were other aggressive, and rebellious young men. French Metis, like Louis Riel Senior who took over leadership over issues like trade. There was now a deep division between the militant French Metis of Red River, and the people of White Horse Plains. Grant's son in law Pascal Breland maintained this aloof position years later during the Riel rebellion.

In the spring of 1854, Grant fell from his horse and did not recover from his injuries. He died that July 15, at age 61. After his death, the parish which had been known as Grantown was renamed St Francois Xavier. He lies buried beneath the altar of the parish church. Was Grant a sell-out or a visionary leader? Or one of those necessary facilitators of inevitable change?



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