WHO ARE THE METIS
1.1 "Métis" means a person who self-identifies as Métis, is distinct from other Aboriginal peoples, is of Historic Métis Nation ancestry, and is accepted by the Métis Nation. Defined Terms in National Definition of Métis 1.2 "Historic Métis Nation" means the Aboriginal people then known as Métis or Half-breeds who resided in the Historic Métis Nation Homeland . 1.3 "Historic Métis Nation Homeland" means the area of land in west central North America used and occupied as the traditional territory of the Métis or Half-breeds as they were then known. 1.4 "Métis Nation" means the Aboriginal people descended from the Historic Métis Nation which is now comprised of all Métis Nation citizens and is one of the "aboriginal peoples of Canada" within the meaning of s.35 of the Constitution Act 1982. 1.5 “Distinct from other Aboriginal peoples" means distinct for cultural and nationhood purposes
The word Métis comes from the Latin "miscere", to mix, and was used originally to describe the children of native women and French men. Other terms for these children were Country-born, Black Scots, and Half-breeds. The Métis quickly became intermediaries between European and Indian cultures, working as guides, interpreters, and provisionary to the new forts and new trading companies. Their villages sprang up from the Great Lakes to the Mackenzie Delta. The Métis Homeland encompasses parts of present-day Ontario, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Métis culture was a fusion of French, English and Indian influences that took root and flourished until the late 1800s. The Métis developed a unique language called Michif. Their fiddlers combined jugs and reels into their music. Métis attire included woven sashes, embroidered gun sheaths, deer hide caps, quilled and beaded pipe bags. The Métis developed technologies such as the Red River Cart. Expert hunters, they made formidable soldiers. They also developed a unique political and legal culture, with strong democratic traditions. The Métis had elected buffalo councils to organize buffalo hunts. By 1816, the Métis had challenged the Hudson Bay Company’s monopoly in the fur trade, and began to develop a national consciousness.
The Métis formed the majority of the population at the Red River Colony. Louis Riel’s provisional government negotiated the entry of Manitoba into Canadian confederation in 1870. But federal promises of land in the Manitoba Act were not fulfilled. After ten years of delay, the government introduced the now-notorious scrip system. These certificates for land or money replaced direct land grants. Speculators who followed the Scrip Commissions snapped up scrip. Aware that the Métis were defrauded of their land, the government ignored the abuse and facilitated the business of the speculators.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 made the crown responsible for the well being of aboriginal peoples and forbid the dismembering of their lands. But the federal government refused to acknowledge its responsibilities for the Métis, and their political rights as a sovereign people were not recognized. Impoverished and frustrated, the Métis appealed to Louis Riel once again and in 1885 he led a resistance in North-western Saskatchewan, near the Métis settlements of Duck Lake and Batoche. Despite support from farmers, Blackfoot and Cree, the Canadian army crushed the resistance. Riel and his provisional government were arrested and tried, and Riel was executed in Regina on November 16, 1885. By the 1930s, associations to lobby for a land base were formed in Saskatchewan and Alberta. In 1936, Alberta government granted 1,280,000 acres of land for Métis Settlements, a precedent that has allowed the contemporary Métis of Alberta to obtain limited control of housing, health, child welfare and legal institutions. The 1960s saw the emergence of renewed political organizations. During the constitutional talks of 1989, the Métis were recognized as one of the three aboriginal peoples of Canada.
- Music played an important role in the lifestyle of the Métis people. They held many community events that involved music and dancing.
- The fiddle was the most common instrument used by the Métis. Other instruments included the concertina, harmonica, hand drum, mouth harp, and finger instruments (like bones and spoons) Fiddle
- It was the French and Scots who first introduced fiddles to the Métis. The fiddles were handmade from maple and birch wood. Eventually the Métis people learned how to make their own fiddles, because they were so expensive to buy or trade for.
- The Métis fiddle music had a distinct sound to it. The bottom string of the fiddle was tuned to an A (up a tone from G), and the rhythm of the songs was based on syncopation and extra beats (for dancing).
- Fiddle music was often played accompanied by someone playing the spoons, drumming on a tin pan, or stomping (to keep the beat).
- The traditional music of the Métis was up-tempo and lively, which made it perfect for dancing. Extra and irregular beats were added to give bounce to the music, making the dance a lot faster.
- The Métis dances were a blend of European (French, Scottish, Irish) and Native influences.
- Red River Jig The traditional dance of the Métis people was the Red River Jig. In a jig, the faster the fiddle music, the faster the dancers’ feet had to move (dancer always followed the fiddle muic).
- The rhythm was kept by toe tapping or playing the spoons. The jig had two parts: One part: traditional jig steps, where the fiddle played the high section Second Part: fiddle played the lower section, and there was fancier, faster footwork Dancers often competed with one other dancers for the fastest, most complicated footwork.
METIS ART AND BEADWORK
Métis art was greatly influenced by both European and Native cultures. However Métis art has also influenced other Native groups in Canada. Métis art was often wrongly labeled, with credit given to another Native group in Canada. Many Europeans wanted to buy art from ‘real’ Native artists, so the Métis were often forced to sell their art to other Native groups (who resold it to European traders). This caused the confusion over the origin of the art.
The Métis were famous for their floral beadwork, and were often called the ‘Flower Beadwork People’. The symmetric floral beadwork, often set against a black or dark blue background, was inspired by European floral designs. They used seed beads. Beadwork was added to: Jackets Bags Leggings Gloves Vests Pouches These items were traded throughout North America and Europe. It was common for the Métis to decorate their saddles and other horse gear.
The clothing of the Métis people, like most aspects of their culture, was a combination of both Native and European styles. Their clothing was greatly inspired by the clothing of the French-Canadian fur traders (les coureurs des bois), as well as the Native clothing of the area. The Métis women were in charge of making all the clothing for their families. They either used tanned animal skins, such as deerskins or moose hide, or they used cloth that they had acquired through trade with the Europeans.
THE METIS SASH
- The Métis or L’Assomption Sash became the most recognizable part of Métis dress and a symbol of their people. Originally, the sashes were made in a small Quèbecois town called L’Assomption, hence their name. They were also called a ‘ceinture flechée’.
- The sashes were used by voyageurs of the fur trade, but they became a popular trade item for the HBC, NWC, and the western Métis. Eventually the Métis started producing their own sashes in the Red River area.
- The first sashes were used as back supports for the voyageurs in their canoes. The hand-woven sashes were made of brightly coloured wool, mainly red and blue. Certain colours and patterns represented different families.
- The fringed ends of the sashes were decorative, but were also used as an emergency sewing kit. The fringes could be used as extra thread for sewing, if they needed to mend anything while traveling.
- The 3 metre long sash was usually wrapped around the midsection of the body, either to keep the coat closed, or to hold belongings, like a hunting knife or fire bag.
The colourful Sash had many uses, including:
- Carrying items (knife, fire bag)
- Coat tie (tied around the waist to keep coat closed)
- Emergency sewing kit (fringed ends)
- Makeshift tumpline
- Markers left on buffalo (after killed- to mark buffalo as their property)
- Tourniquet for injuries
- Saddle blanket
THE METIS SASH COLORS SYMBOLIZE
- Red: represented the blood shed fighting for their rights
- Blue: represented the depth of the Métis spirit
- Green: represented the fertility of the Métis Nation
- White: represented the connection to the earth and the creator
- Yellow: represented the prospects of future prosperity
- Black: represented the dark period of suppression
THE BUFFALO HUNT
The buffalo hunt played an integral part in the development of the Métis Nation. Buffalo hunting provided the Métis with a livelihood, and helped sustain their way of life. Annual Buffalo Hunt They usually organized two big hunts every year, one in the spring and one in the fall. They traveled in large groups or ‘caravans’, sometimes with over 1,000 people and 1,000 carts for a single hunting expedition.
The Métis caravans followed the buffalo for long distances, usually hundreds of miles, until they reached buffalo grazing areas. It was at these grazing areas where the buffalo were most easily killed. Men, women and children all went along on the hunts, because they needed as many people as possible to transport all of the buffalo hides and meat back home. The annual buffalo hunt became an important social gathering. It was an opportunity for extended families to see each other once or twice a year and get caught up.
During a single buffalo hunt, Métis hunters could accumulate over a million pounds of meat and hide. Women were responsible for butchering the buffalo, and loading the carts with the meat and furs. The buffalo meat that was brought back fed the Métis, fur traders, and white colonists in the area.
All parts of the buffalo were used: Rawhide: containers, shields, buckets, moccasins, ropes, saddles, blankets, snowshoes Buckskin: cradles, moccasins, robes, shirts, leggings, dresses, bags, tipis Hair: headdresses, ornaments, moccasins, stuffing, amulets Skull: rituals Horns: arrows, spoons, ladles Bones: tools, pipes, knives, arrowheads, shovels, splints, clubs Meat: pemmican, jerky, soup Fat: soap, cooking, medicines
METIS REDRIVER CART
According to the journal of North West Company fur-trader Alexander Henry (the younger), the carts made their first appearance in 1801 at Fort Pembina, just south of what is now the United States border. Originally the carts were small horse-drawn affairs, with three-foot solid wheels cut from large trees, carrying up to 450 pounds. Later, larger wheels with four spokes were used and gradually the red river carts with their huge, many-spoked wheels evolved, carrying nearly twice as much. Some had "tires" made of shaganappi (green rawhide).
In 1878 Harper's Magazine carried a description of the red river cart, written by reporters who visited the territory and left a legacy of interesting information and sketches:
It is simply a light box with a pair of shafts, mounted on an axle connecting two enormous wheels. Ther is no concession made to the aversion of the human frame to sudden violent changes of level; there is no weakness of luxury about this vehicle. The wheels are broad in the felloes (rims), so as not to cut through the prairie sod. They are long in the spokes, so as to pass safely through fords and mud holes. They are very much dished so that they can be strapped together and rawhide stretched over them to make a boat. The whole cart is made of wood; there is not a bit of metal about it, so that, if anything breaks, the material to repair it is easily found. The axles are never greased and they furnish an incessant answer to the old conundrum: "What makes more noise than a pig in a poke?"
Each wheel was said to have its own peculiar shriek, announcing the coming of a train from a great distance. (Grease or oil would have only mixed with the dust, wearing down the axles.) As it was, a cart often used four or five axles on the trip to St. Paul from the Red River settlement. Harness was made from a buffalo hide, often in one piece. Carts moved single file, except when in danger from Indians, when they traveled several abreast. Each driver controlled five or six carts strung out behind him, each ox tied to the cart ahead.
Metis Resource Centre
The horizontal figure or infinity symbol featured on the Métis flag was originally carried by French 'half-breeds' with pride. The symbol, which represents the immortality of the nation, in the centre of a blue field represents the joining of two cultures.
Historically the Métis were strongly associated with the North West Company (NWC), a fur trading entity in competition with the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) and they fought often for NWC causes.
In a gift giving ceremony in 1814, NWC partner Alexander MacDonnell presented the Métis with this flag and it soon became a trademark for the nation. The Métis flag is carried today as a symbol of continuity and pride.
The Métis are a distinct Aboriginal people with a unique history, culture and territory that includes the waterways of Ontario, surrounds the Great Lakes and spans what was known as the historic Northwest. The citizens are descendants of people born of relations between Indian women and European men who developed a combination of distinct languages that resulted in a new Métis specific language called Michif. Michif is a mixture of old European and old First Nation languages and is still spoken today by some in the Métis community. Efforts are underway to rescue and preserve this critical component of Métis culture.