Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Pembina Metis Cemetery

Looking west towards I-29, a view from the Metis cemetery near Pembina, ND.
Once more recognized, and given the dignity the persons buried there deserve...

One of dozens, this cross is the only representation that a man named Martin Jerome once lived in Pembina. An early settler, Martin was a Metis, the majority in this area for many years. In fact, at one time, Pembina was the heart of Metis country. It is sad how time, and the failure of memory, can almost wipe out a history of a place and its people. Thankfully, that has not happened in this case, due to the hard work and diligence of many people...

Eventually, the land was reclaimed from private ownership by Pembina County on behalf of the descendents. When asked why they did so, an assistant to the Commissioners said, because [the Metis] "...had just worn them out."

Many felt the land should have been put into a trust for the families, the descendents of those buried there; as to why it wasn't, the reasoning is thus:
The Little Shell group developed in Montana as an offshoot of the Turtle Mountain Tribe of North Dakota, and more specifically the Pembina Métis people of Chippewa and Cree descent who historically made up a majority population at Turtle Mountain. A minority subgroup were Métis who came to Montana directly from Canada, fleeing the oppression which followed the second Riel resistance of 1885. In Montana, this latter group intermarried with the Pembina Métis who had settled at St. Peter’s Mission at Cascade, the Dearborn Canyon, and the Teton River Canyon in the 1870s and 1880s.
One of the family lines represented in the cemetery are the Jeromes, and those intermarried into that family..."In 1844, he [Roulette] had six Red River carts operating between Pembina and St. Paul. This had increased to 600 by 1848. Roulette married Angeline Jerome, a mixed-blood French-Chippewa, whose relations lived in the Turtle Mountain area." - from a document outlining the family histories...


Crosses at the cemetery were put up by Larry Quinto, a Pembina Metis descendent. Every year, the families try to come and pay their respects now.

For more background, see:

Swenson, Fern E. and Paul R. Picha. “Pembina Cemetery Investigations at Dumoulin Mission and Cemetery Site, Pembina County, North Dakota.” Bismarck, North Dakota: Archaeology & Historic Preservation Division, State Historical Society of North Dakota, October 1998.

In 1818, Father S. Dumolin established a Roman Catholic mission at Pembina in order to provide educational support to Métis families and to convert the Chippewa Indians. In the 1890s, the Church moved into the village and a new cemetery was established. During the 1920s a local farmer began ploughing the abandoned cemetery over objections that it was a sacred site. This paper summarizes the attempts to protect the site over the years, the research done to establish grave locations and the inter-ethnic conflicts that have arisen over this matter.

- From “The History of the Métis Cemetery at Pembina: Inter-Ethnic Perspectives on a Sacred Site”, Paper presented at the Plains Anthropology Conference, Saskatoon, October 1993.