The Importance of Being Monogamous Cott argues that the Christian model of lifelong monogamous marriage

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  • The Importance of Being Monogamous marriage and nation building in western canada to 1915

  • The Importance

    of Being Monogamous

    marriage and nation building

    in western canada to 1915

    sarah carter

    1 the university of alberta press

  • Published by

    The University of Alberta Press

    Ring House 2

    Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 2E1


    AU Press

    Athabasca University

    1 University Drive

    Athabasca, Alberta, Canada T9S 3A3

    Copyright © Sarah Carter 2008

    Printed and bound in Canada by Houghton Boston

    Printers, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

    First edition, first printing, 2008

    All rights reserved

    A volume in The West Unbound: Social and Cultural

    Studies series, edited by Alvin Finkel and Sarah Carter.

    library and archives canada

    cataloguing in publication

    Carter, Sarah, 1954–

    The importance of being monogamous : marriage and

    nation building in Western Canada to 1915 / Sarah Carter.

    (West unbound : social and cultural studies)

    Includes bibliographical references and index.

    ISBN 978–0–88864–490–9

    1. Marriage—Canada, Western—History—19th

    century. 2. Monogamous relationships—Canada,

    Western—History—19th century. 3. Indian women—

    Canada, Western—History—19th century.

    4. Mormons—Canada, Western—History—19th century.

    5. Canada, Western—Social conditions—19th century.

    I. Title.

    HQ560.15.W4C37 2008 306.84’2209712


    Exclusive rights to publish and sell this book in print

    form are licensed to The University of Alberta Press. All

    other rights are reserved by the author. No part of the

    publication may be produced, stored in a retrieval system,

    or transmitted in any forms or by any means, electronic,

    mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise

    without the prior written consent of the copyright owner

    or a licence from The Canadian Copyright Licensing

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    licence, visit or call toll free:

    1-800-893-5777. An Open Access electronic version of this

    book is available on the Athabasca University Press web

    site at

    The University of Alberta Press is committed to protecting

    our natural environment. As part of our efforts, this

    book is printed on Enviro Paper: it contains 100% post-

    consumer recycled fibres and is acid- and chlorine-free.

    The University of Alberta Press and AU Press gratefully

    acknowledge the support received for their publishing

    programs from The Canada Council for the Arts. They

    also gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the

    Government of Canada through the Book Publishing

    Industry Development Program (bpidp) and from the

    Alberta Foundation for the Arts for their publishing


    7 6 This book has been published with the help of a grant

    from the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and

    Social Sciences, through the Aid to Scholarly Publications

    Program, using the funds provided by the Social Sciences

    and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

    Titlepage photo: Métis married couple Sarah (née Petit

    Couteau) and Joseph Descheneau, Camrose, Alberta,

    c. 1905. (gaa na–3474–8)

  • For my mother: Mary Y. Carter

  • Now the first argument that comes ready to my hand is that the real homestead of the concept “good” is sought and located in the wrong place: the judgment “good” did not originate among those to whom goodness was shown. Much rather has it been the good themselves, that is the aristocratic, the powerful, the high-stationed, the high-minded, who have felt that they themselves were good, and that their actions were good, that is to say of the first order, in contradistinction to all the low, the low-minded, the vulgar and the plebian. It was out of this pathos of distance that they first arrogated the right to create values for their own profit, and to coin the names of such values: what had they to do with utility?

    —friedrich nietzsche “Good and Evil, Good and Bad,” The Genealogy of Morals

  • Contents

    xi Acknowledgements

    o n e 1 Creating, Challenging, Imposing, and Defending the Marriage “Fortress”

    t w o 19 Customs Not in Common the monogamous ideal and diverse marital landscape of western canada

    t h r e e 63 Making Newcomers to Western Canada Monogamous

    f o u r 103 “A Striking Contrast…Where Perpetuity of Union and Exclusiveness is Not a Rule, at Least Not a Strict Rule” plains aboriginal marriage

    f i v e 147 The 1886 “Traffic in Indian Girls” Panic and the Foundation of the Federal Approach to Aboriginal Marriage and Divorce

  • s i x 193 Creating “Semi-Widows” and “Supernumerary Wives” prohibiting polygamy in prairie canada’s aboriginal communities

    s e v e n 231 “Undigested, Conflicting and Inharmonious” administering first nations marriage and divorce

    e i g h t 279 Conclusion

    287 Appendix 297 Notes 343 Bibliography 361 Index

  • xi


    In 1993 I first wrote an abstract sketching out some dimensions of this study for a conference paper proposal. The paper was not accepted. Undeterred, I’ve continued to work on this topic ever since although many other projects and responsibilities have intervened. I am grateful to the many people who helped me over many years and I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone. I would like to first acknowledge and thank my researchers at the Universities of Calgary, Alberta and elsewhere (some of whom will likely have forgotten that they helped me with this project): Alana Bourque, Kristin Burnett, Peter Fortna, Patricia Gordon, Laurel Halladay, Michel Hogue, Kenneth J. Hughes (of Ottawa, not to be confused with an old friend of the same name in Winnipeg), Pernille Jakobsen, Nadine Kozak, Siri Louie, Melanie Methot, Ted McCoy, Jill St. Germaine, and Char Smith. While I did not have a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada standard research grant specifically for this project, some of the research from two others (one on Alberta women and another on Great Plains gender and land distri- bution history) spilled over and was lapped up by this project and I am very grateful for these grants. The study was also enriched by the assis- tance, comments, suggestions and leads of many friends, colleagues and archivists including Judith Beattie, Mary Eggermont, Keith Goulet, Alice Kehoe, Maureen Lux, Bryan Palmer, Donald B. Smith, David E. Wilkins, H.C. Wolfart. Thanks to my father Roger Colenso Carter, Saskatoon, for his comments on a final draft. Special thanks to the Calgary Institute for

  • the Humanities of the University of Calgary that provided important intellectual and physical space during the year I spent there as a fellow. I am grateful to Rev. John Pilling for permission to use the Records of the Anglican Diocese of Calgary at the University of Calgary Archives and Special Collections. Thanks to Sean England and Scott Anderson for their careful editorial work, and to Lesley Erickson for compiling the bibliography. Thanks to Erna Dominey and Peter Midgley for their assistance with the many tasks involved in preparing the final version of the manuscript; thanks also to the anonymous readers of the original submission for their comments and to Moira Calder for the index.

    I have given papers based on this research on many occasions over the years and have found several to be significant moments in helping me formulate my ideas and engage with audiences. Thanks to Adele Perry and other organizers of the 2002 conference “Manitoba, Canada, Empire: A Day of History in Honor of John Kendle,” to Joan Sangster for asking me to give the 2003 W.L. Morton Lecture at Trent University, to Georgina Taylor for asking me to speak at the Saskatoon Campus of First Nations University in the spring of 2007 and to Joanna Dean for the invitation to give the 2007 Shannon Lecture in History at Carleton University. Earlier versions of some of this material has appeared in two articles: “Creating ‘Semi-Widows” and ‘Supernumerary Wives’: Prohibiting Polygamy in Prairie Canada’s Aboriginal Communities to 1900,” in Contact Zones: Aboriginal and Settler Women in Canada’s Colonial Past,” ed., Katie Pickles and Myra Rutherdale (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2005), 131–59; and “‘Complicated and Clouded’: The Federal Administration of First Nations Marriage and Divorce Among the First Nations of Western Canada, 1887–1906,” in Unsettled Pasts: Reconceiving the West Through Women’s History, ed. Sarah Carter, Lesley Erickson, Patricia Roome and Char Smith (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2005): 151–78. I am grateful for permission to reprint this material. Special thanks as always to my partner, Walter Hildebrandt, for his support and comments during the many years of this project and I hope he hasn’t tired of (hearing about) monogamy. The book is dedicated to

    xii Acknowledgements

  • Acknowledgements xiii

    my mother, Mary Y. Carter, who had a long career as a lawyer