CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 10 . . . . January 21, 2005
This action-packed historical fiction novel transports high school-aged readers and adults back to the Dakota Territory of 1883 when the mounting numbers of white settlers were placing increasing pressures on the way of life of the land’s indigenous peoples and the Métis. The title character, Phillipe Beneteau, 26, is the son of a Chippewa-Cree mother and a French-Métis father, but Phillipe has been raised in a Métis settlement in the Turtle Mountains by his grandmother, Koohkoum Emma. The community’s elders had sent Phillipe to ride south to the world of the whites to confirm the truth regarding a rumor about long-horned cattle herds being driven north to graze the prairie grasslands traditionally inhabited by buffalo. In part, Phillipe had been chosen for this task because his light complexion and sandy-coloured hair allowed him to pass in white society and not be identified as a half-breed. Although Phillipe’s physical appearance contributed to his nickname, D’or Métis (the Golden Métis), his people also said he had a golden way with horses and guns, skills he would need to call upon in order to survive. While returning home with the bad news about the approaching cattle, Phillipe became involved in a gunfight in a saloon and, in self-defense, killed a man. Throughout the remainder of the novel, Phillipe is relentlessly pursued by a posse made up of the victim’s friends and family, all bent on seeing him dead. Even though Phillipe needs to be constantly wary of the posse, he determines that he must be part of this year’s buffalo hunt because he correctly recognizes that the cattle incursion will likely cause this hunt to be the Métis’ last and that his people will then have to find new ways to survive.
The author, Flynn Ell, manages to effectively pack lots of action and numerous engaging characters into this relatively slim volume. An attempted lynching, a prairie fire, Sioux attacks, jail breaks, and an encounter with a white sport hunter who kills buffalo for only their tongues and hides are just some of the events in which Phillipe finds himself involved. Buster, Phillipe’s pet orphaned racoon, and Bronc, his piebald horse and reputedly the best buffalo runner the Métis ever had, are the principal four-legged characters. Ell also interjects some comic relief in the form of Horace Throckmorton Bunny the third, an elderly Mandan shaman who had been raised by whites. Bunny also has a serious purpose because it is he who helps Phillipe to connect with his aboriginal heritage. A young woman, the headstrong Maria Larocque, 19, supplies an element of romance, but her father, Henri, the boss of the Métis hunt’s 50 cart supply train, wants his daughter to marry someone better than Phillipe.
Ell provides a bitter-sweet ending. Although most of the book’s “good” characters survive, Phillipe believes that the only future for himself, his wife-to-be Marie, his grandmother and grandfather-to-be Bunny, is to be found in Canada, and they are heading for Batoche. While the characters are all fictitious, they have come alive for readers who may wonder if Phillipe is fated to join Riel at the May 9-12, 1885, Battle of Batoche.
High school males seeking an action-packed story with just a touch of history and romance will enjoy The Golden Métis.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children’s and YA literature in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.