Sunday, December 14, 2008

Early Multiculturalism

Stephen Bonga, son of Pierre BongaI recently posted about a photograph that featured what appeared to be a black American in a boat during the 1897 flood; I also hinted at the identity of the first non-native child born in St. Vincent/Pembina.

Although unusual, I have learned that it was not unprecedented for our area to have had some non-native minority citizens in the 19th century and even before. Some say they were here well before the white man. It shouldn't surprise anyone - the world has always been prone to multiculturalism when there are places to explore, money to be made, and opportunities to be had. And despite what you may have been taught, it not only isn't always the white man who breaks the barriers, but a person of color...

George Bonga, son of Pierre Bonga"Childbirth was one of the greatest causes of anxiety to women on the frontier. Emotional problems resulting from births appeared to be every bit as serious as the physical. Medical science was crude and doctors were lacking, so women had to suffer. The first non-Indian child born in what is now North Dakota arrived on March 12, 1802 [some say March 14, 1802], in the Alexander Henry trading post at Pembina. She was the daughter of Pierre Bonga and his wife, who were both Negroes. The first child of two white parents in the Red River Valley was born on December 29, 1807, at the mouth of the Pembina River...The second child born of white parents arrived on January 6, 1808, on the open prairie a few miles from Pembina with only a wigwam for shelter. This girl, daughter of Pierre Lagimoniere, a trapper and fur trader, grew up to become the mother of Louis Riel...Marie Anne Lagimoniere had her second child under no less trying conditions. While traveling with her husband across the prairie on horseback in search of game, with their three-year-old daughter strapped in a moos bag on one side of her saddle and provisions in the packet on the other, Marie's trained pony spotted some buffalo and gave chase. During the chase Marie Anne was unable to control the horse and just before she was about to fall, her husband managed to overtake them and stop the horse. Marie Anne dismounted and shortly after gave birth to a son..." - From Challenge of the Prairie, Chapter XVI Heal Thyself: Childbirth, by Hiram M. Dache

If you follow some of the links above, they repeat that Pierre Bonga had "four sons", but there are sources that say he left "many" offspring. I don't find it strange a daughter isn't mentioned, since often during that period sons were considered of greater value. But then I found this reference which does mention a daughter, however one born earlier than the date above, and in a different location. Alas, history is not always an exact science, and when strong evidence does not exist (yet), one must either take things on faith, or with a grain a salt.

In this case, however, I will side with the reference to a daughter born in Pembina. Why? Because it was stated by a very reliable source - Alexander Henry, in his journals.