The People Who Own Themselves: Aboriginal Ethnogenesis in a Canadian Family, 1660–1900


338 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55238-115-3
DDC 971'.00497




Reviewed by Jonathan Anuik

Jonathan Anuik is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History and
president of the HGSC at the University of Saskatchewan.


Metis ethnogenesis remains poorly understood, primarily because
researchers rely on a limited pool of documentary sources (mainly fur
trade records). Heather Devine argues that the reconstruction of Metis
family history requires an appreciation of inter-group relations and
sources (such as genealogical and church records) that inform contact.
Her monograph will appeal to scholars interested in the historical
reconstruction of Metis identity, genealogy, and Metis history.

Devine reconstructs the Desjarlais family through genealogical evidence
in order to examine the privileges and obligations of kinship in Western
Canada. She organizes her study chronologically, tracing the family from
their origins in New France up to the 20th century, and discussing their
roles and memory of the Metis, First Nations (i.e., treaties),
non-Aboriginals, and western expansionism in Canada.

Devine’s presentation enhances the pre-existing literature on the fur
trade and the Metis in Canada. Academics from cultural studies will be
fascinated by her conception of ethnic identification, one rooted in
ties of kinship strengthened by geographical proximity and shared
religious beliefs, cultural practices, and history. Those who are
interested in the effects of policy on Canadian Aboriginals will learn
that the Canadian federal government undermined the ascription of
Western Canada’s Aboriginals in an attempt to bring them into the
orbit of political and economic expansion. Genealogical data on the
Desjarlais family reveals how one family contested western expansion,
civilization, and settlement.

Finally, Devine’s study proves that tools for the investigation of
ethnic identity, family histories, and community histories exist.
Furthermore, these resources allow scholastic and lay researchers to
understand the mentalities of both the individuals and the communities,
as well as the importance of identity formation.


Devine, Heather., “The People Who Own Themselves: Aboriginal Ethnogenesis in a Canadian Family, 1660–1900,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 18, 2024,