Manitoba History: Letters to the Editor
I write in response to A Review Essay (p. 43-46) by Edward A. Jerome and Ruth Swan in the October 2005 issue of Manitoba History. I felt a strong need to respond to their negative review of my book Peguis, A Noble Friend, and address some of their remarks.
I will begin by expressing my disappointment in the deficiency of the review; although very long indeed for a book review, it neglects to mention ninety percent of the book.
The story of Peguis, A Noble Friend is a general narrative about the life and times of Peguis (c1774-1864) the legendary Saulteaux (Anishinaabe/Ojibway) leader, with its primary focus on his many years at Netley Creek and at the settlement of St. Peters Reserve, in addition to his part in the establishment of the church of St. Peter (East Selkirk). It is not an in-depth study of the Pembina Valley fur trade as Jerome & Swan so intently focus on in their article. The book ought not to be faulted for something it was not intended to be.
Jerome and Swan write, “While this biography might appeal to the general reader with no knowledge of the Red River Valley fur trade and pre-Confederation history of Manitoba, it will be a disappointment to those who have made a study of the era and this important cast of personalities.” My response: The book is not and was never intended to be an analytical history. Its purpose from its conception, as explained in the introduction, was to be a general narrative about Peguis and his part in the building of St. Peter’s Dynevor Old Stone Church for the general public. The book fulfills that mandate.
The book contains numerous passages of unpublished primary material that add important and interesting information to the bits and pieces already known about Peguis’ life. I adopted this style to enable my reader to feel and hear some essence of the original writer’s character. This way, readers can interpret for themselves and form their own opinions, as opposed to simply accepting my analysis of the events two centuries removed. But the reader will never learn that from the review. Instead the reader will learn how the reviewers found fault with one specific chapter of the book, generously using the word “mistake” regarding deductions made by them. My response: It is far easier to criticize than to create.
It is true, the material used in the book is deeply grounded in the records of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Church Missionary Society but those are the records that hold so much information on the man in question. And yes, I may be off on a date or unconsciously made a typo but the book is about so much more; it is unfortunate the reviewers could not see beyond that. Jerome & Swan criticized me for making assumptions, but is that not the responsibility of the writer to formulate and suggest possibilities, to make others think? To me writing is about enriching the lives of those who read my work; from the bountiful feedback so far received, I have done that.
I would also like to comment on the difficultly involved in compiling a balanced history of a Native American person from an oral culture. No matter how well intentioned the written word was recorded in past centuries, it was almost always influenced by both emotion and prejudice from writers outside the culture. Knowing this, I tried to incorporate both the family stories from Peguis’ descendants as well as the oral knowledge from Aboriginal Elders to help balance the story. As a Métis person myself who has witnessed firsthand some outlandish interpretations made about my own fur trade ancestors, I believe there is a great need for more general biography on Manitoba’s historic Aboriginal and Metis people.
Donna G. Sutherland
We were aghast to read the critique of our book, Peguis, A Noble Friend, written by Donna Sutherland and published by Chief Peguis Heritage Park Inc., in the October 2005 issue of the journal of the Manitoba Historical Society.
We commissioned Donna to research and write a book depicting the life of the great Chief Peguis and the history of the St. Peter, Dynevor Old Stone Church. We did not ask her to write a book about the Pembina Fur Trade although there is one chapter which references such.
Donna spent thousands of hours researching Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Provincial Archives, church records, and other printed material. She also spent many, many hours interviewing First Nations people to find out as much oral history as possible. All of the important references are included (at our request) in the back of this wonderful book to ensure easy reading so our young First Nations People would find it more interesting.
This book has sold over 1,000 copies and is still selling very well in bookstores with very little promotion on our part. As the publisher of Peguis, A Noble Friend, we are extremely pleased with the excellent work that Donna Sutherland has accomplished for us.
Chief Peguis’ life and involvement in the building of our province is a significant part of our history and a story that must continue to be told.
Chief Peguis Heritage Park Inc. is a totally volunteer organization. Proceeds from this book are used for restoration and maintenance of St. Peter, Dynevor Church, the church Peguis built, and toward the future development of Chief Peguis Heritage Park. The many volunteers in our organization are proud to support the publication of this book and are disappointed it has received inappropriate comments. Our volunteers are also very proud of our accomplishment in restoring St. Peter, Dynevor Old Stone Church, one of Manitoba’s top heritage sites.
Page revised: 24 July 2017