The Métis people of Red River had gradually built an understanding of themselves as a "New Nation," a people distinct from either the Aboriginal people of the north or from their European ancestors. The annual buffalo hunt, with its attendant caravans of Red River carts, formed one component of the New Nation's cultural life, as did the songs and legends associated with hunting, trapping, and farming in the West. One event that would become an integral component of the New Nation's self-image was the Battle of Grand Coteau. The Dakota (Sioux) were a traditional enemy of the Métis people, and, with expansion of American settlement into the Dakotas, the competition between the Dakota and the Métis for the increasingly limited buffalo was intensified. During the annual buffalo hunt in 1851, a group of Métis was attacked on the open plains by a much larger force of Dakota. By forming an enclosure of Red River carts, the Métis were able to hold off the attack over the course of two days, and the successful defence of their position became a part of the New Nation's folklore and history.

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