O’SOUP, LOUIS (Osoop, Ousupe, Ochoup, literally “backfat”), Plains Saulteaux orator, chief, farmer, and hunter; b. probably during the late 1830s, likely in the Riding Mountain (Man.) region, eldest son of Okanase (Michel Cardinal) and his Assiniboin wife; m. Omasinakikewiskwew of the Nez Percé; he was the father of two sons and six daughters; d. 1913, probably on the Cowessess Indian Reserve, Sask.
Louis O’Soup was an eloquent spokesman for the treaty and human rights of the Cree, Saulteaux, and Assiniboin of the Treaty No.4 area (southeastern Saskatchewan and southwestern Manitoba). He lived through a time of fundamental demographic and economic change brought about by the demise of the buffalo, the incorporation of the plains region into Canada, and the arrival of increasing numbers of newcomers. Like many people indigenous to the Canadian west, O’Soup was linked to several heritages. He was of Métis and Assiniboin ancestry, yet he identified himself, and was regarded, as Ojibwa and specifically Plains Saulteaux. His father was from a numerous Métis family located in the Bow River region of the Rockies during the early 19th century. In the 1820s Michel Cardinal and his followers migrated to the southwestern slopes of Riding Mountain where, as Chief Okanase, Cardinal led a band that lived by hunting, trapping, and trading with the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Ellice and Riding Mountain House. O’Soup’s brothers included St Paul (perhaps Jean-Baptiste Lolo*, also known as St Paul), Mekis (Eagle), and Cowessess [Kiwisānce*]. Among his half-brothers were Keeseekoowenin*, Baptiste Bone (Baptiste Okanase), Samuel Bone, and John L. Bone.
While many members of the Okanase family remained in the parkland region of southwestern Manitoba, O’Soup was among the Plains Saulteaux who migrated west in the 1860s and 1870s in order to pursue the buffalo and who wintered and camped regularly in the Qu’Appelle valley. In 1872 O’Soup was regarded by the HBC postmaster at Fort Qu’Appelle (Sask.) as one of three influential Saulteaux headmen of the district whom the company knew well. In September 1874, when Treaty 4 was made with the Cree, Saulteaux, and Assiniboin nations at Fort Qu’Appelle, O’Soup was associated with a band of Plains Cree and Saulteaux under the leadership of Cowessess who hunted buffalo as far west as the Cypress Hills. He was present at the negotiations but did not speak. In 1911 he recalled being with the crowd that “made the bargain” with Lieutenant Governor Alexander Morris* and his thoughts were, “Oh, we will make a living by the promises that are made to us.” After the treaty, however, he was continually to assert that the bargain was not being kept and that his people were not able to make a living by the promises.
In 1877 the band led by Cowessess splintered into two factions. Chief Cowessess remained in the Cypress Hills, and O’Soup led a smaller group to Crooked Lake where in 1880 the O’Soup Reserve (later the Cowessess Indian Reserve) was surveyed for the entire band. This move by O’Soup has been interpreted as a bid to have himself recognized as chief. Government officials approved of his willingness to settle on a reserve and in 1881 attempted to take advantage of his considerable influence and following by appointing him messenger to the people of Treaty 4 who had congregated at Fort Walsh in the Cypress Hills [see Ne-can-nete*]. He was to urge them to remove themselves to their reserves along the Qu’Appelle. The majority of his own band did not go to Crooked Lake until the next year when the government ordered rations discontinued in order to effect the removal of all aboriginal residents from the Cypress Hills. Controversy over the chieftainship ceased. Louis O’Soup had been listed in government records of annuity payments as one of the headmen for Chief Cowessess from 1875 until 1879, and he appeared in this role again from 1881 to 1887. In 1888 he was paid as chief and he received his final annuity payment as holder of this office in 1890.
Regular glimpses of Louis O’Soup are provided in the documentary record for the 1870s and 1880s since he was often spokesman for Treaty 4 bands assembled to meet government or crown officials. At a large gathering in the Cypress Hills in 1876, O’Soup expressed the dissatisfaction of the Cree and Saulteaux with the failure of the government to furnish the farm equipment, seed, and cattle promised. He sought revisions to the treaty that would provide adequate means to create an agricultural subsistence base. Most Treaty 4 people were by this time in distress for famine accompanied the disappearance of the buffalo from their territory, and those who desired to begin farming received little assistance or encouragement. In 1877 at Fort Qu’Appelle, O’Soup was chosen spokesman for the 14 bands, or 2,290 people, who were assembled, many in “starving condition.” He emphasized their keen resentment of the fact that Treaty No.6, negotiated in 1876, had contained more favourable terms, such as a clause promising aid from the crown in case of widespread famine or pestilence, than had Treaty 4. O’Soup was among the men at Fort Qu’Appelle who addressed Governor General Lord Lorne [Campbell] during his 1881 visit to the North-West Territories. Here he was sketched by artist Sidney Hall of the illustrated weekly the Graphic (London). O’Soup wore a magnificent outfit, now housed at the Museum of Mankind in London, which featured a beaded bull’s-eye chest-rosette characteristic of Plains Saulteaux ceremonial dress.
O’Soup’s ability to articulate the concerns and frustrations of aboriginal people and to mediate during tense situations was perhaps best illustrated during the Yellow Calf incident of 1884 on the Sakimay Indian Reserve. Protesting a new policy that curtailed rations, about 25 young armed men, led by Yellow Calf, broke into the warehouse of the Department of Indian Affairs, assaulted the farm instructor, and barricaded themselves in a shanty; they displayed a determination to fire if authorities attempted to enter. The situation was eventually settled through several days of negotiation. O’Soup served as the spokesman for the barricaded men, explaining that they justified their actions on the grounds that some of them were starving, that they had had no choice but to help themselves since their request for supplies had been refused, and that in doing so they had only taken what was their own because the rations were intended for the band. According to O’Soup, one youth reasoned that “if he were allowed to starve – he would die – and if [he] were doomed to die he might as well die one way as another.” In what his interpreter Alexander Gaddie characterized as “the most eloquent lecture he ever heard from an Indian,” he also appealed to the elders to guide and assist the young men in their dilemma. After his speech four of the men consented to go to Regina for trial where the charges against Yellow Calf were dropped and the other men were convicted but discharged on suspended sentence. Assistant Indian commissioner Hayter Reed* reported to his superior in Ottawa there was “no doubt that O’Soup who is an able orator and shrewd councillor is the man to whom the Indians look for guidance.” On several other occasions throughout the 1880s O’Soup was appointed spokesman for Crooked Lake bands and he pressured authorities especially for more oxen, seed, and equipment for “rising young men.”
O’Soup had initially advised his people to accommodate themselves rapidly to the new order, and he himself had become a successful farmer. By the mid 1880s he was one of a handful of men on the Cowessess reserve who were depicted in government publications as relatively well-to-do. He had numerous dependants, although three O’Soup girls had died over the winter of 1881. The family came to include a child of Irish ancestry who had been deserted by her parents. The adoption was arranged by Father Joseph Hugonard of the Qu’Appelle Industrial School which the five remaining O’Soup children attended. An 1887 visitor described O’Soup’s “splendid field of wheat of thirty or forty acres, and plot of excellent potatoes,” as well as his two large, comfortable, well-furnished log houses, joined together by a vestibule. At the Broadview fair in 1888 Chief O’Soup won, against all competitors, first prizes for the best milk cow and the best pair of three-year-old steers, and a special prize for the fattest steer.
For a time during this decade O’Soup enjoyed the unusual position of having the confidence of both his own people and government authorities who saw him as “intelligent, hardworking, trustworthy.” He was one of the four Treaty 4 men regarded by Department of Indian Affairs officials as having “sound judgment” and influence who travelled east in 1886 to witness the unveiling of a monument to Joseph Brant [Thayendanegea*]. This journey satisfied O’Soup’s long-standing desire to visit Ottawa. (“What is to be done with O’Soup?” wrote Indian agent Allan Macdonald* in 1881. “I never meet with him without his bringing up the subject of his visit to Ottawa.”) The 1886 delegates visited parliament and were entertained by Sir Frederick Dobson Middleton*, who had commanded the North-West Field Force the year before. O’Soup did not hesitate to ingratiate himself with government officials when expedient, as in his 1888 farewell address to Edgar Dewdney on the occasion of Dewdney’s retirement from the lieutenant governorship of the North-West Territories. O’Soup professed satisfaction with the treaty, praised Dewdney for his past kindness, and expressed the hope that his successor would “be as patient with our many Indian grievances.”
O’Soup’s public statements to government officials did not always conform, however, to the advice he gave to aboriginal people. When in 1889 surveyors began to subdivide Treaty 4 reserves into 40-acre lots without informing or consulting the residents, O’Soup clearly encouraged protest against a policy that he correctly feared was intended to diminish reserve land, although to officials he claimed he understood that there were no sinister motives involved. He met with Chief Piapot [Payipwat*] in Regina in July 1889 and warned him that the intention of the government was to restrain people within the new surveyors’ lines. For a time following this meeting, Piapot’s people refused to cooperate with the surveyors then at work on their reserve. Increasingly, O’Soup began to fall foul of government officials, who were introducing a cluster of policies designed to curtail the expansion of reserve farming in order that aboriginal people would not compete with the arriving whites. More and more disillusioned with a government that did not honour its commitment to provide agricultural assistance, in 1896 O’Soup left his farm to one of his sons and returned to Manitoba. He transferred to the Pine Creek Indian Reserve on Lake Winnipegosis, and he lived there and with Chief Gambler’s band at Valley River Indian Reserve up to 1908; he then transferred back to Cowessess. He made a living by hunting until 1904 when he lost the lower part of his right leg in a railway accident.
In 1911 O’Soup was among nine representatives from Saskatchewan and Manitoba reserves who gained an audience in Ottawa with Frank Oliver*, minister of the interior, and Francis Pedley, deputy superintendent general of Indian affairs. David Laird, who had been present at the making of Treaty 4, also attended some of the meetings. O’Soup had clearly been instrumental in organizing this delegation over several years and he was a central spokesman during its eight days in Ottawa. He brought with him many letters outlining grievances from other reserves including Piapot, Leech Lake, Valley River, Gordon, and Muscowpetung. The delegates expressed a general dissatisfaction with treaties that did not allow them to make a living. They were particularly concerned about recent “surrenders” of portions of reserves and the disposition of funds raised from land sales. O’Soup criticized the school system in which there was so much manual labour, and so little academic learning, that graduates had difficulty in finding jobs. He raised the issue of the “Qu’Appelle flat,” where Treaty 4 had been made, which he claimed as Indian land. He objected to the loss of status and privileges women such as one of his daughters experienced when they married non-Indians. He protested the confiscation of some ponies that he had brought from the United States and on which he was unable to pay duties. “You take our little ponies from us although we gave you the country and you are making money on the country we gave you and we have not money to pay for the ponies.” O’Soup also asked that he be granted the funds to purchase an artificial limb. “All the Indians wished him to come home with a leg on which he will be able to walk about,” he stated. He was authorized by the Department of Indian Affairs to purchase a “peg leg” in Winnipeg on the way home. According to the Manitoba Morning Free Press, during the eight days in the capital O’Soup received special attention because he had “long been quite a celebrated character, a great moose hunter, and an eloquent orator.” It was reported widely that the delegates were well satisfied with the reception and the information they received, but unpublished Department of Indian Affairs correspondence shows that they were not, for Cowessess band members continued to protest policies through a Broadview lawyer.
Although the visit of the 1911 deputation is regarded today as a significant event in the early treaty-rights movement, Indian Affairs officials of the day were distressed, and they blamed O’Soup for making “mischief among the Indians, and [creating] discord between them and those working with them for the Department.” Officials attempted to marginalize and discredit all outspoken critics of government policy and the reserve regime. O’Soup’s death, which occurred sometime between 26 Feb. and 9 July 1913, was not even mentioned in the annual report of the Cowessess reserve. It seems likely that if the reserve’s residents and his family and friends, rather than the Indian agent, had written the report for that year they would have noted with great regret the passing of such a distinguished orator who had so energetically spoken for the rights and privileges of the people of Treaty 4 through nearly four decades.
Sidney Hall’s 1881 sketch of Louis O’Soup is in NA, Documentary Art and Photography Div., C-12947.
NA, RG 10, 3560, file 75-2; 3561, file 82-4; 3637, file 7088; 3656, file 9092; 3666, file 10181; 3710, file 19550-3; 3732, file 26638; 3768, file 33642; 4053, file 379203-1; 9449-1, no.192. Qu’Appelle Progress (Qu’Appelle Station [Qu’Appelle, Sask.]), 26 July 1888. George Bryce, Holiday rambles between Winnipeg and Victoria (Winnipeg, 1888). Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1882, 1889, reports of the Dept. of Indian Affairs, 1881, 1888. S. [A.] Carter, Lost harvests: prairie Indian reserve farmers and government policy (Montreal and Kingston, Ont., 1990). Isaac Cowie, The company of adventurers: a narrative of seven years in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company during 1867–1874 . . . (Toronto, 1913). R. B. Deane, Mounted police life in Canada: a record of thirty-one years’ service (London, 1916; repr. Toronto, 1973). P. L. Neufeld, “How the Saulteaux-Cree were driven out of Riding Mountain Park,” Indian Record (Winnipeg), 44 (1980–81), no.3: 16–17, no.4: 21–23, concluded as “How the Clear Lake Band lost their land,” 45 (1981–82), no.1: 20–22; and “The notable Michael Cardinal family,” Indian Record, 49 (1986), no.1: 20–21. James Trow, Manitoba and North West Territories; letters, together with information relative to acquiring dominion lands . . . (Ottawa, 1878).