Joseph Francis Dion

research link: documents / reports / academic papers

Key active links:  James Brady  Adrian Hope MNAA (MAA)

Joe Dion (1888-1960 an enfranchised Indian - non-status/treaty Indian - nephew of Big Bear see Dobbin) was a founder, organizer and president of the Metis association in Alberta from 1932 to the spring of 1940 when a provisional Executive Council proclaimed itself leading the association and Malcolm Norris was elected Chairman (according to the Edmonton Bulletin/Journal at the time). From there to 1960 the association was in a state of disarray;   Adrian Hope became president in 1960 and the association became more organized and was finally registered in 1961 according to Lusty (1977).  The Association was known by various names such as the "Half-breed" Association,  The Half-breed Association of Northern Alberta (Dion was mentioned as the Secretary of this association in November 1932), the Metis Brotherhood of Alberta, L'Association des Métis d'Alberta et des Territoires du Nord-Ouest after a meeting December 1932, and l'Association des Métis d'Alberta by 1935 dropping the reference to the NWT, or the Metis Association of Alberta, 1961; and eventually the Metis National of Alberta Association.

Dion was a teacher at Kehiwin and lived in Gurneyville when the Association was incorporated. On December 28, 1932 in St. Albert after many community meetings organized by Dion and the Department of Lands and Mines through the summer including a general province-wide meeting July 15-16, 1932, Dion was elected president.  The association was not registered but became more formalized as a provincial association (source: Dobbin 1981:63).  He wrote a series of articles in the St. Paul newspaper on the Metis and these became a book "My Tribe, the Crees." (Calgary: Glenbow Museum, 1996, 1979.)

At the time the  Settlements (Colonies by Orders-in-Council 1938/39) were formed, Dion (appointed a provincial Commissioner of Oaths Feb. 3 1939 by OC 155/39) and Peter Tomkins were civil servants (Supervisors of Colonies around Fishing Lake and Grouard, respectively) under the direct supervision themselves of F. J. Buck and J. Blair (in the Alberta Bureau of Relief and Public Welfare - letterhead reads only Bureau of Public Welfare after Nov. 1939).  They were also on the executive of the association and questions about conflicts of interest were raised particularly by James Brady and Malcolm Norris, fellow executive members.

Besides being a Supervisor in the Fishing Lake area in 1939 Dion applied for land patents he appears to have held since 1929.  (Glenbow Archives, Dion files re: letters of requesting process for patent application to the Alberta Department Lands and Mines - May - October, 1939)]


His activism was based on his knowledge of the destitute circumstances of the Metis (non-status Indians and Metis) who had no real stable land-base in Alberta after St. Paul des Metis was disbanded much to Dion's and others continued bewilderment. In any event, health and education were major concerns for Dion and he and the executive of the association with help form some MLAs, e.g. J. M. Dechene, MLA, Bonnyville, R. G. Reid (Minister of Lands and Mines) and much against the wishes of the new United Farmers of Alberta Premier of the day, J. E. Brownlee, helped bring about the Ewing Commission (also known as the "half-breed commission"). Even the institution and operation of the Ewing Commission was questioned by some of the Executive of the association, in particular Malcolm Norris and James Brady for the lack of participation of the MAA Executive on the Commission and in its processes. It lacked democratic process in their view. 

The result of the Ewing Commission report was the formation of 12 Metis "Colonies" by Orders-in-Council in 1938 and 1939. 

Glenbow Museum notes that Dion was "born on the Onion Lake reserve. ...  In 1915 he opened the first school on the Kehiwin reserve near Bonnyville, Alberta. He taught there for 24 years. ... He was awarded the Gold Medal 'Benemerenti' by Pope Pius XII in 1957 for his work among his people." Dobbin, 1981:57 states "Dion was born in the Keehewin Reserve and was a nephew of Big Bear."

photo © Alberta Archives and Glenbow Museum

text and format © D. Wall

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