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Story of Gabriel Dumont brings filmmaker to Fort Assinniboine

 

Havre Daily News/Derek Hann

Ron VandenBoom, right, shakes hands with Trevor Cameron while the two are filmed for Cameron's documentary Saturday at Fort Assinniboine near Havre.

Earlier this month, a Canadian film crew from Karma Film visited Fort Assinniboine as one of their stops around the country tracking the history of historic Native American leader Gabriel Dumont.

"It's always interesting when you realize that history isn't so far away," said Trevor Cameron, writer, director and executive producer of the documentary and relative of Dumont. "I mean, we're talking grandfather's grandfather. And we're at a pivotal moment in Western Canadian growth."

Dumont was a historic leader of the Métis, people of mixed indigenous and and Euro-American descent, during the time of the Second Riel Rebellion - also known as The North-West Rebellion of 1885 - which was a brief and unsuccessful uprising by the Métis people under the leadership Louis Riel and Dumont against the government of Canada.

At the time, many Métis believed Canada was not protecting their rights, their land and their survival as a people. Riel had been invited by Dumont to lead the movement of protest with hopes of a peaceful agreement between the Metis and the Canadian government, but Riel wanted a rebellion.

"What I find interesting is that a lot of Americans, especially like in Montana, they really sometimes put too much emphasis on the idea of rebellion," Cameron said. "I think they saw it as this, Tiananmen Square, you know, 'we will get our democracy.' It wasn't that at all. It was really we were worried about our land ... you have to remember that."

Despite some notable early victories at Duck Lake, Fish Creek and Cut Knife, the rebellion ended when the Métis were defeated at the Siege of Batoche. Riel was captured, put on trial and hanged for treason, despite numerous pleas for amnesty.

Dumont escaped capture and sought refuge in the United States, surrendering at Fort Assinniboine where he was soon released under presidential orders. After being released, Dumont traveled across the United States, living in places such as Big Sandy and New York City.

For a brief time, he also traveled with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Road Show, which traveled across the America's as well as in Europe.

"But when I think of him, I think of a man that was born before Canada, you know before the official U.S.-Canada border was established. There was just a wide-open plain," Cameron said.

Dumont didn't start out a rebel, he started as a gifted young man who realized that education on the prairies were vital, he said. Although Dumont did not know how to read and write, he could speak eight different languages and became a leader for the Métis at a young age, being well-respected by the people.

"You had to lead from the front and he became a leader of the buffalo hunt at a very young age, and he eventually began leading his people," he said.

Many people would describe Dumont as illiterate, but that was a misconception, Cameron added. Dumont was a skilled leader, fighter, diplomate, linguist and strategist, in a time that education was not widely available to the Native people.

"I'm not a historian, I'm not a documentarian, but I like telling stories, I like hearing stories and I don't mind somebody tell something completely wrong as long as they tell it well," Cameron said. "... I know my subject fairly well and personalized it and I'm not looking for professional historians to teach me. Instead. I'm trying to communicate our shared history while being taught and teaching at the same time."

Cameron has worked on a number of television programs over the years, starting as a writer for the Canadian children's television program "Wapos Bay," wapos meaning rabbit in the Cree language. He also has writing credits for "Rabbit Falls," "Mixed Blessings," "Cashing In" and "Wynter." He added that, during his career, he has also previously worked with Karmafilms and knows the crew well.

"I actually got into this show because I really wanted to do miniseries," Cameron said. "I thought it would be a cool idea to do a miniseries on Gabriel Dumont. So I did."

He said that he pitched the idea to a Canadian broadcaster who told him that they did not have the funding for a miniseries but wanted to know if they could turn it into a documentary.

"I had an idea that I wanted to go to these places and see kind of the history as it's receding and it got me thinking about that feeling of disconnect that everyone gets from their own cultures," he said.

People have rich culture, but as they get older it slowly fades, generation after generation, he said. A big motivating force for him pursuing the documentary was the death of his mother in 2017. Mothers, he said, are instrumental in the development of children and the source of creating a community. After his mother died, he realized that as the older generations fade it is up to the next to continue the culture.

"It was all about going on this trip and not forgetting about the uprising, but kind of put it in perspective with all of these other historical moments," he said.

He added that Dumont is personally significant to him because he is a descendant of Dumont's brother, Isiadore Dumont - who was the first person shot in the Riel Rebellion battle at Duck Lake.

Cameron said that he got his start doing improvisational work and has brought that to the production.

"I don't have a plan in place," he said. "So it's always a good time when things fall in place."

While visiting Fort Assinniboine, he toured the facility and spoke with local historian and Fort Assinniboine Preservation Association Chair Ron VandenBoom.

"It went really well," Cameron said.

While at the fort the two of them shared the historical knowledge each of them had as well as discussing historical points that they both had knowledge of. Cameron also shared with VandenBoom several newspaper clippings and facts that he has found either in his own private research and information given to him during his other stops on the road.

Cameron added that he has been to the fort before, when the production was just beginning.

He said he also wanted to go visit Big Sandy, where Dumont lived for a brief time before eventually moving back to Canada. Many people don't know that Dumont lived in Big Sandy for a brief period of time, but according to a newspaper clipping from the time period Dumont owned a property in town. Cameron visited the Big Sandy Museum where he shared with the director the history he knew of Dumont's time in the town.

While living in Big Sandy, Dumont was stabbed, the crime being reported in Fort Benton at the time, he said.

"So I got the name of the person who stabbed him and I got the newspaper story with the headline which says, 'Frank de Mares tries to make sausage meat out of Gabriel Dumont,'" Cameron said.

He said he thought it was incredibly strange because the headline suggests two things: one, that Dumont was a man worthy enough to print by name, and two, that the reporter or editor may not have liked Dumont that much.

"But the fact that they wrote that meant I knew I had to go there," he said. "I didn't know who I was going to talk to."

He said that they went to Big Sandy and interviewed a woman at the museum because he wanted to tell her the story. She found it really interesting, he said. He said that he also found out during the interview that it was her birthday and to help her celebrate he brought her some sausage meat and buns so she could always remember the story.

"Suddenly, I had this present for this moment and I had a story for her," he said.

He said that sharing stories is one of his objectives, but another during the interviews is to humanize these distant historic futures, bring them to life for people.

American soldiers and settlers also saw many Native Americans as "boogeymen," even at times seeing them less than human, which can and has left a lasting stain in North American history, he said.

He added that, to this day, many people may be racist without even knowing it.

The film crew started in Toronto. After purchasing a van, which they decorated with a mural of Dumont, they drove from Toronto to Saskatchewan, he said. From Saskatchewan they have traveled to Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota.

After leaving Montana the film crew will return Saskatchewan and then fly to New York to shoot and then back to Canada, with New York their final stop before starting the editing process.

Cameron said that they hope to have the documentary done by next February. It will be shown on a number of Canadian broadcasting networks, with a film time approximately 90 minutes. However he hopes to be able to expand it to international showing through streaming on the internet.

He said that, for television, it may be split in half due to its long run time.

"What I am trying to accomplish is to share history while teaching history," Cameron said. "I'm trying to show people who don't know Dumont."

He added that his side mission, or other reason he wanted to make the documentary, was that he is trying to figure out the best way to reconnect himself to his cultural people.

He said because of his skin color he is unable to fit in with either the whites or the Natives, with his heritage having a foot in both worlds. For a long time he felt as if he was a cultural spy, with people wanting him to pick a side - either to be mainstream or indigenous.

"I kind of realized that I don't ... actually have to listen to anyone. I'm my own person, and my culture is my culture, and how I choose to do it is actually my business, and no historian or archivist or elder that I have never met before is going to take my culture from me," he said.

He said that the documentary is a way to reclaim his own culture and be open to people without having to worry about other people judging him.

He added that he is also working on a number of other projects and scripts, but now that he has his feet wet with filming a documentary he may be interested in the future in continuing the theme of his filming style - the road trip, improvisational interview method.

"I have a whole other side of my family that I haven't tapped yet," he said.

 

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