First Peoples

45. Assiniboia: Capital of the Pacific Northwest, Part 2

In Part 1 of this discussion,, I closed with the observation that:

There are three more reasons why Assiniboia was the capital of the Pacific Northwest: 

  • It became an incubator of violence and geographical enslavement, which it exported across the Rockies. 
  • It became the religious and educational centre of the Pacific Northwest, with religious training being used as a form of social control, on the old aristocratic model Selkirk knew so well. 
  • Its quasi-legal, extra-parliamentary agricultural nature (settlement-but-not-settlement) was going to eventually lead to American victory in the war for the Pacific Northwest and its dismemberment into extensions of Canadian and American Imperial control, just as it would finish off Assiniboia itself.

A Mixed Settlement Model in Assiniboia

To be clear, the current parallel capitals of the Pacific Northwest are not the continental capitals of Mexico City, Washington DC or Ottawa, but San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver and Calgary, three of which are in the Pacific Northwest itself. They set cultural, geographical and land-use rules.


It was the same for Assiniboia in its day.

Let’s look at the legacy of this model of regional independence within global dependence today.


Assiniboia became an incubator of violence and geographical enslavement, which it exported across the Rockies.

This violence was built right into the foundations of Assiniboia:

  • a state carved as a private empire
  • out of a mercantile monopoly
  • set up to escape parliamentary scrutiny
  • and thereby enrich an aristocracy as a counterforce to a democracy
  • in a country (England) far away


Assiniboians in the Making (left) at The Battle of Culloden. Source

  • settled with rebels
  • in the hope that work on the land would civilize them
  • and isolation would turn them into a community
  • that would resist American invasion,

all of it extending

  • into land formerly claimed by France
  • and currently within the trading networks of New France’s surviving (now Anglo-French) trading capital, Montreal,
  • and claimed at the time by the United States,


  • Anishininiimowín, Anishinabewaki, Sisseton, Bdewakantuwan, Yanktonai, and Assiniboine territory,
  • much of it so because of population shifts created by the British trade networks to the North,
  • and American settlement pressures to the South,

and all of it containing

A Meeting of Races in Assiniboia, Before it Became Canadian

  • Michif-speaking people, the métis, descended from the children of the fur trade both to the North and South of the current US-Canadian Border,
  • who wanted a combined buffalo-hunting/agricultural settlement in the West,
  • on the model of their Plains and Quebec ancestors,
  • joined together as they were,

on an agricultural model

  • without an adequate market,
  • except for the métis trade in pemmican,
  • which the British tried to regulate

in order to

  • starve out Northwest Company (Montreal) competition,
  • and force farmers into economic trade tied to the British capitalist economy

within the larger context of

  • Indigenous cultures that constructed alliances through bluff,
  • monopoly,
  • raids,
  • and, especially slavery,

all adopted through a colonial concentration of land

  • envisaged as a commons for all,
  • without Indigenous people
  • and enslaved as a chessboard.

Isles of Lewis (Scottish Highlands) Chess Pieces

(Icelandic Walrus Ivory)

This is an aristocratic model, based, as aristocracies are, on expressions of power, culture and ritual. In Canada’s case, British experience with melding Northern Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English aristocracies under one crown were applied to melding French and English ones under the Northern Irish-Scottish-Welsh-English crown.

Coat of arms of Canada.svg

The Arms of Canada

Pretty complicated. This might help sort it out, maybe:

What a lot of claims to power!

With all those layers of passive violence, submission and sculpted obedience and bluff built into it, it’s no wonder that it all went very wrong. The métis subverted the Scots monopoly. Indigenous people traded with whomever they felt like. The Hudson Bay Company had to accept settlement, even though it went beyond their mandate and left the British Parliament vulnerable to expenses it did not itself approve, against profits that went into private aristocratic hands which had an ultimate veto against parliament. The Northwest Company challenged the weakness of the Hudson Bay Company by trading throughout the former New France as if no other claims had succeeded it. The Hudson Bay Company shifted its tactics to compete. Peter Skene Ogden and Samuel Black (and others) raided HBC posts and fur transports as if they were Sioux raiders sweeping down on Spanish slaving expeditions in the pueblos of New Mexico. Becoming ever more vulnerable to possible conflict with the United States and the collapse of the fur trade and its handy arms-length claim to northern North America, the British parliament finally demanded that the Northwest Company and the HBC unite before British troops had to be engaged in a war with the USA, which it could not afford. The result was that Black and Ogden became employees of the newly-expanded HBC, deep in the USA’s equally nebulous Oregon claim, and proceeded to try to monopolize Indigenous trade away from the Americans by (a) violence (Black) and (b) killing every beaver in the Rocky Mountains between Spokane House (northern Washington today) and Salt Lake City, to render any American (well, French Canadian, as it was still a New-French city through the 19th century) incursion from St. Louis monetarily impossible. This story, and how it lead to the clever American ruse of settlement (ironically no different than the métis settlement of Assiniboia, which it denied in territory it claimed itself), can be read here: In other words, The Columbia District of the HBC was a chess game, a series of economic and political bluffs in a Cold War between the USA and Britain, on the backs of real people on real land. This should be a familiar theme these days.

Geopolitical Wars and the Fight for Land Rights Today at the Expense of People of the Land in Ukraine Today

In the next post, I will cover the patterns of culture, settlement and religion which Assiniboia actively exported to The Columbia District, compared to those that the USA exported and how this Cold War became hot, as the Ukraine War, which has simmered since the 1930s, has now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.