Métis people (Canada)
1.4% of the Canadian population
|Regions with significant populations|
|Predominantly Roman Catholic, Protestant; mixed with traditional beliefs|
|Related ethnic groups|
The Métis (//; Canadian French: [meˈtsɪs]; Michif: [mɪˈtʃɪf]) are one of the recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada. They trace their descent to mixed First Nations and European heritage. The term was historically a catch-all describing the offspring of any such union, but within generations the culture syncretised into what is today a distinct aboriginal group, with formal recognition equal to that of the Inuit and First Nations. Mothers were often Cree, Ojibwe, Algonquin, Saulteaux, Menominee, Mi'kmaq or Maliseet. At one time there was an important distinction between French Métis born of francophone voyageur fathers, and the Anglo-Métis or Countryborn descended from English or Scottish fathers. Today these two cultures have essentially coalesced into one Métis tradition. Other former names—many of which are now considered to be offensive—include Bois-Brûlés, Mixed-bloods, Half-breeds, Bungi, Black Scots and Jackatars.
- 1 Self-identity and legal status
- 2 History
- 3 Culture
- 4 Distribution
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
Self-identity and legal status
In 2011, 451,795 people identified as Métis. They represented 32.3% of the total Aboriginal population and 1.4% of the total Canadian population. Most Métis people today are not so much the direct result of First Nations and European intermixing any more than English Canadians today are the direct result of intermixing of Saxons and Britons. The vast majority of Métis who self-identify today are the direct result of Métis intermarrying with other Métis. Over the past century, countless Métis are thought to have been absorbed and assimilated into European Canadian populations making Métis heritage (and thereby aboriginal ancestry) more common than is generally realized. Geneticists estimate that 50 percent of today's population in Western Canada have Aboriginal blood, and therefore would be classified as Métis by any genetic measure. There is substantial controversy over who qualifies as Métis. Unlike First Nations people, there is no distinction between status and non-status Métis. The legal definition itself is not yet fully developed.
Historical view of identity
The most well-known, and best historically documented, mixed-heritage population in Canadian history are the groups who developed out of the fur trade in south-eastern Rupert's Land, primarily in the Red River Settlement (now Manitoba) and the Southbranch Settlements (Saskatchewan), and who were politically organized in the late nineteenth century leading to confrontation with the Canadian government. This was not the only place where métissage (mixing) between European- and Native-Canadians was occurring, however. The practice had been ongoing for centuries throughout what is today Canada. The strong sense of national identity among the mostly French- and Michif-speaking Red River Metis, demonstrated during the Riel Rebellions, had an impact on the spread of the term "Metis" as main word used by Canadians for all mixed Euro-Native groups. The ultimate outcome was inclusion of "the Métis" as one recognized Aboriginal groups in S.35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which states:
- 35(1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal People of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.
- (2) In this Act, "Aboriginal Peoples of Canada" includes the Indian, Inuit, and Métis Peoples of Canada.
Section-35(2) does not provide a definition of who is Métis. This has left open the question of whether "Métis" in this context should apply only to the descendants of the Red River Métis or all mixed-heritage groups and individuals. Since 1982 many groups from across the country who are not related to the Red River Métis have adopted the word "Métis" as a descriptor.
Lack of a legal definition
It is not clear who has the moral and legal authority to define the word "Métis". There is no comprehensive legal definition of Métis status in Canada; this is in contrast to the Indian Act which creates an Indian Register for all (Status) First Nations people. However, some commentators have argued that one of the rights of an indigenous people is to define its own identity, precluding the need for a government sanctioned definition. Nevertheless, the question still remains as to whom should be extended Aboriginal rights flowing from Métis identity. No federal legislation defines the Métis. In one province, Alberta, there is a legal definition, however. The Métis Settlements Act defines a Métis as "a person of aboriginal ancestry who identifies with Metis history and culture" in the context of creating a test for legal eligibility for membership in one of Alberta's eight Métis settlements. This test excludes people who are Status Indians, an exclusion which was upheld by Supreme Court in Alberta v. Cunningham (2011).
The number of people self-identifying as Métis as risen sharply in recent years: between 1996 and 2006, the population of Canadians who self-identify as Métis nearly doubled to approximately 390,000. Besides self-identification, until R v. Powley (2003), there was no legal definition of Métis. The case involved a claim by two members of the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario Métis community, Steven Powley and his son Rodney, who were asserting their Métis hunting rights. The Supreme Court of Canada outlined three broad factors to identify Métis rights-holders:
- self-identification as a Métis individual;
- ancestral connection to an historic Métis community; and
- acceptance by a Métis community.
All three factors must be present for an individual to qualify under the legal definition of Métis. Further the court stated that
[t]he term Métis in s. 35 does not encompass all individuals with mixed Indian and European heritage; rather, it refers to distinctive peoples who, in addition to their mixed ancestry, developed their own customs, ways of life, and recognizable group identity separate from their Indian or Inuit and European forebears.
Nevertheless, the court was explicit that its ten-point test is not a comprehensive definition of Métis.
There is still a great deal of ambiguity. Whether or not Métis have treaty rights is an explosive issue in the Canadian Aboriginal community today. Some say that only First Nations could legitimately sign treaties so, by definition, Métis have no Treaty rights. There is one Treaty—the Halfbreed (Métis in the French version) Adhesion to Treaty 3. Another Treaty, the Robinson Superior Treaty of 1850, included 84 "half-breeds" in the Treaty. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Métis were initially included in a number of other treaties and then unilaterally excluded under later amendments to the Indian Act.
Definitions used by Métis organizations
Two main groups claim to speak for the Métis in Canada: the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) and the Métis National Council (MNC), and each uses different approaches to define who is Métis. The CAP, which has nine regional affiliates, represents all Aboriginal people who are not part of the reserve system, including Métis and non-Status Indians. It does not define Métis and uses a broad conception centered on self-identification. The MNC broke away from the CAP's predecessor in 1983 because, it says "[i]ts pan-Aboriginal approach to issues did not allow the Métis Nation to effectively represent itself." MNC views the Métis as a single nation with a common history and culture centred on the fur trade "west central North America" in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The MNC, which has five provincial affiliates, adopted its own "Definition of Métis" in 2003, as follows
Métis means a person who self-identifies as a Métis, is distinct from other aboriginal peoples, is of historic Métis Nation ancestry, and is accepted by the Métis Nation.
Besides these two umbrella groups there are several local Métis organizations across the country which do not belong to either. In Northern Canada neither the CAP nor the MNC have affiliates: here local Métis organizations deal directly with the federal government and are part of the Aboriginal land claims process. Three of the comprehensive settlements (modern treaties) in force in the Northwest Territories include benefits for Métis people who can prove local Aboriginal ancestry prior to 1921 (Treaty 11).
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the relevant federal ministry, deals with both the CAP and the MNC and does not support a particular definition of Métis. It has however, begun to work with the provincial member organizations of the MNC to help build up a registry of their members.
In response to the Powley ruling, Métis organizations have begun issuing Métis cards to their members, similar to the Status cards used by Registered Indians. Several organizations are registered with the Canadian government to provide Métis cards. The criteria to receive a card and the rights associated with the card vary with each organization. For example, for membership in the Métis Nation of Alberta an applicant must provide a completed genealogy and family tree dating back to the mid 1800s which proves descent from historic Métis groups. In comparison the Canadian Métis Council will accept people with much more recent First Nations ancestry, provided they have a letter from a Métis elder stating that that person is accepted into the Métis community. The Métis Nation of Ontario requires that successful applicants for what it calles "citizenship", must "see themselves and identify themselves as distinctly Métis. This requires that individuals make a positive choice to be culturally and identifiably Métis". Furthermore, "an individual is not Métis simply because he or she has some aboriginal ancestry, but does not have Indian or Inuit status". It also requires proof of Métis ancestry: "This requires a genealogical connection to a 'Métis ancestor' – not an Indian or aboriginal ancestor".
Cultural definitions of Métis identity also informs legal and political ones. The 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples stated:
Many Canadians have mixed Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal ancestry, but that does not make them Métis or even Aboriginal … What distinguishes Métis people from everyone else is that they associate themselves with a culture that is distinctly Métis.
Traditional markers of (Prairie) Métis culture include mixed Aboriginal-European languages such as Michif (French-Cree-Dene) and Bungi (Cree-Ojibwa-English), distinctive clothing such as the arrow sash (ceinture flêchée), and a rich repertoire of fiddle music, jigs and square dances, as well as traditional economic methods such as hunting, trapping, and gathering. However, there is also much diversity beyond these: not all Métis hunted, or wore the sash, or spoke an Aboriginal language.
||This section may not provide balanced geographical coverage on Eastern and Northern Canada. (February 2014)||
During the height of the North American fur trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, many British and French Canadian fur traders married First Nations and Inuit women, mainly First Nations Cree, Ojibwa, or Saulteaux. The majority of these fur traders were Scottish and French and were Catholic. Therefore, their children, the Métis, were exposed to both the Catholic and indigenous belief systems, thus creating a new distinct aboriginal people in North America. First Nations women were the link between cultures; they not only provided companionship for the fur traders, but also aided in their survival. First Nations women were able to translate the language, sew new clothing for their husbands, and generally be involved in resolving any cultural issues that arose. The First Peoples had survived in the west for thousands of years, so the fur traders benefited greatly from their First Nations wives' knowledge of the land and its resources. Métis people were thought of as the bond between the Europeans and First Nations and Inuit peoples of Canada.
According to historian Jacob A. Schooley, the Métis were formed in a two generation process. In the first stage, "servant" (employee) traders of the fur trade companies would over-winter with First Nations bands, and become part of a "country marriage" with a high-status native woman. This woman and her children would then move to live in the vicinity of a trading post, becoming "House Indians" (as they were called by the company men). House Indians eventually formed distinct bands. Children raised within these "House Indian" bands would often become employees of the companies themselves (Foster cites the legendary York boat captain Paulet Paul as an example). Eventually this second-generation group would end their employment with the company and become "freemen" traders, and raise their families in a distinct culture based around freetrading, buffalo hunting, and so on, and this third generation were the first true Métis. He suggests that in the Red River region many "House Indians" (and even some non-"House" First Nations) were assimilated into Métis culture due to the Catholic church's strong presence in that region, whereas in the Fort Edmonton region, many House Indians never adopted a Métis identity but continued to think of themselves as "Cree" and so on.
The Métis played a vital role in the success of the western fur trade. Not only were the Métis skilled hunters, but they were also raised to appreciate both Aboriginal and European cultures. Métis understanding of both societies and customs helped bridge cultural gaps, resulting in better trading relationships. The Hudson's Bay Company discouraged unions between their fur traders and First Nations and Inuit women, while the North West Company (the English-speaking Quebec-based fur trading company) supported such marriages. The Métis were valuable employees of both fur trade companies, due to their skills as voyageurs, buffalo hunters, and interpreters and knowledge of the lands.
In 1812, many immigrants (mainly Scottish farmers) moved to the Red River Valley, in present day Manitoba. The Hudson's Bay Company, which nominally owned the land called Rupert's Land at the time, assigned the land to the settlers. The allocation of Red River land caused conflict with those already living in the area as well as with the North West Company, whose trade routes had been cut in half. Many Métis were working as fur traders with both the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company. Others were working as free traders, or buffalo hunters supplying pemmican to the fur trade. The buffalo were declining in number, and the Métis and First Nations had to go farther and farther west to hunt them. As well, profits from the fur trade were declining because the Hudson's Bay Company had to extend its reach farther and farther away from its main posts to get furs.
Most references to the Métis in the 19th century refer to the Plains Métis, particularly the Red River Métis. However, even the Plains Métis were divided into occupational categories: buffalo hunters, and pemmican and fur traders, and "tripmen" in the York boat fur brigades among the men moccasin sewers and cooks among the women. As well the largest community in Assiniboine-Red river district, was different in lifestyle from those living in the Saskatchewan, Athabasca, and Peace river valleys to the west.
The Government of Canada exerted its power over the people living in Rupert's Land after its acquisition in the mid-19th century from the Hudson's Bay Company. The Métis and the Anglo-Métis (commonly known as Countryborn, children of First Nations women and Orcadian, Scottish or English men), joined forces to stand up for their rights and to protect their age-old way of life against an aggressive and distant Anglo-Saxon government and its local colonizing agents. During this time the Canadian government signed treaties (known as the "Numbered Treaties") with various First Nations (but not Métis), which turned over rights to almost the entire western plains to the Government of Canada. In return for signing over their lands, the Canadian government promised food, education, medical help, and other kinds of support. Emerging as a Métis leader was the educated Louis Riel, who denounced the government in a speech delivered in late August 1869 from the steps of Saint Boniface Cathedral. The Métis became more fearful when the Canadian government appointed the notoriously anti-French William McDougall as the Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories on September 28, 1869, in anticipation of a formal transfer to take effect in December. What followed was the generally successful Red River Rebellion of 1869 leading to the Manitoba Act and that province's entry into the Canadian Confederation. However, it also led to the exile of Louis Riel to the United States.
In March 1885, the Métis heard that a contingent of 500 North-West Mounted Police was heading west. They organized a newly formed coalition called the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan with Pierre Parenteau as President and Gabriel Dumont as adjutant-general to action. With the help of First Nations Chiefs Poundmaker and Big Bear they facilitated the return of Louis Riel to the coalition he founded in 1869. This led to an unsuccessful conflict with the Canadian government in northern Saskatchewan from March 26 to May 12, 1885 known as the North West Rebellion. Gabriel Dumont fled to the United States, while Louis Riel, Poundmaker and Big Bear surrendered to the government. Big Bear and Poundmaker each received a three-year sentence. On July 6, 1885, Riel was charged with high treason and was sentenced to hang. Riel's appeals went on briefly, but, as mandated by the government of the time, the execution was conducted on November 16, 1885.
During the 1930s, political activism arose in Métis communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan over land rights. Five men, sometimes dubbed "The Famous Five", (James P. Brady, Malcolm Norris, Peter Tomkins Jr., Joe Dion, Felix Callihoo) were instrumental in having the Alberta government hold the "Ewing Commission", headed by Albert Ewing, in 1934 dealing with land claims. The Alberta government would pass the Métis Population Betterment Act in 1938. The act provided funding and land to the Métis (The provincial government later rescinded portions of the land in certain areas).
The 1960s saw the emergence of renewed political organizations. The Lake Nipigon Metis Association was the first in Ontario spawning a series of community groups and a major provincial political association of some 100,000 members. (Ontario Metis and Non-Status Indian Association. The "Alberta Federation of Métis Settlement Associations" was established in the mid-1970s and provides a collective voice for the Métis Nation of Alberta. During the constitutional talks of 1989, the Métis were recognized as one of the three Aboriginal peoples of Canada. In 1990, land titles passed from the Alberta government to Métis communities through the "Métis Settlement Act", replacing the Métis Betterment Act.
The position of Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians was created in 1985 as a portfolio in the Canadian Cabinet. As the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is officially responsible only for Status Indians and largely with those living on Indian reserves, the new position was created in order provide a liaison between the federal government and Métis and non-status Aboriginal peoples, urban Aboriginals and their representatives.
The Provisional Government of Saskatchewan was the name given by Louis Riel to the independent state he declared during the North-West Rebellion of 1885 in what is today the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. The governing council was named the Exovedate, Latin for "of the flock", and debated issues ranging from military policy to local bylaws and theological issues. It met at Batoche, Saskatchewan, and only exercised real authority during its existence over the Southbranch Settlement. The provisional government collapsed that year after the Battle of Batoche.
The Métis National Council was formed in 1983, following the recognition of the Métis as an Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, in Section Thirty-five of the Constitution Act, 1982. The Métis National Council is composed of five provincial Métis organizations, They are:
- Métis Nation British Columbia
- Métis Nation of Alberta
- Métis Nation—Saskatchewan
- Manitoba Métis Federation
- Métis Nation of Ontario.
The Métis people mandate these governance structures through province-wide ballot box elections held at regular intervals for regional and provincial leadership. Further, Métis citizens and their communities are represented and participate in these Métis governance structures by way of elected Locals or Community Councils, as well as, provincial assemblies held annually.
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) and its nine regional affiliates, represents all Aboriginal people who are not part of the reserve system, including Métis and non-Status Indians.
The Métis Nation of Canada was founded on January 21, 2009 by Bryce Fequet, and the president is Edgar Gilbert Lefebvre. The Métis Nation of Canada states that it "is a “National” organization with a growing membership from all regions of Canada and is the “national representative” of its members." They are not affiliated with the Métis National Council.
Due to political differences to the MNBC, a separate, unrecognized Métis organization in British Columbia was formed in June 2011 called the British Columbia Métis Federation (BCMF). They have no affiliation with the Métis National Council.
The Canadian Métis Council - Intertribal is based in New Brunswick, and not affiliated with the Métis National Council.
The Ontario Métis Aboriginal Association - Woodland Métis is based in Ontario and is not affiliated with the Métis National Council, which it feels is too focused on the prairies.
The Nation Métis Québec is also not affiliated with the Métis National Council.
As none of these claim to represent all Métis, there are other Métis registry groups that also focus on recognition and protection of their culture and heritage, and reflect their communities' particular extensive kinship ties and culture that resulted from settlement in historic villages along the fur trade.
A majority of the Métis once spoke, and many still speak, either Métis French or a mixed language called Michif. Michif, Mechif or Métchif is a phonetic spelling of the Métis pronunciation of Métif, a variant of Métis. The Métis today predominantly speak French, with English a strong second language, as well as numerous Aboriginal tongues. Métis French is best preserved in Canada, Michif in the United States, notably in the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation of North Dakota, where Michif is the official language of the Métis that reside on this Chippewa reservation. The encouragement and use of Métis French and Michif is growing due to outreach within the provincial Métis councils after at least a generation of decline.
The 19th century community of Anglo-Métis, more commonly known as Countryborn, were children of the Rupert's Land fur trade; typically of Orcadian, Scottish, or English paternal descent and Aboriginal maternal descent. Their first languages would have been Aboriginal (Cree language, Saulteaux language, Assiniboine language, etc.) and English. It seems likely that their fathers spoke Gaelic, thus leading to the development of the creole language referred to as "Bungee".
The Métis flag is one of the oldest patriotic flags originating in Canada. The Métis actually have two flags. Both flags have the same design, an infinity symbol, but are different colours, either red or blue. Red was the colour of the Hudson's Bay Company, while blue was the colour of the North West Company.
Distinction of lower-case 'm' versus upper-case 'M'
The term Métis was originally used to refer children from the union of Frenchmen (Europeans) and Native women. The first records of "Métis" are shown as early as 1600 on the East coast of Canada.
Later the movement of the fur trade brought about more unions between French and Cree. Descendants of English or Scottish and natives were historically called 'half-breeds' or 'country born' and lived a more agrarian and Protestant lifestyle. The term eventually evolved to refer to all 'half-breeds', whether linked to the historic Red River Métis or not.
Lower case 'm' métis refers to those who are of mixed native and other ancestry, and is essentially an ethnic definition. Capital 'M' Métis refers to a particular sociocultural heritage and an ethnic self-identification that is not entirely racially based. Some argue that people who identify as métis should not be included in the definition of 'Métis'. In fact, not all such people might meet the legal test. Others have gone further and have suggested that only the descendants of the Red River Métis should be constitutionally recognized. The effect of this limitation would mean that people such as the some of the Quebec, and Ontario Métis would be excluded from the legal definition and relegated to lower case 'm' métis status.
According to the 2006 census in Canada, there were 389,780 Métis people. Alberta had the largest Métis population among the provinces and territories with 85,495 self-identifying as Métis, of these 7,990 are members of one of Alberta's unique Métis settlements.
- Statistics Canada, Census 2001—Selected Demographic and Cultural Characteristics (105), Selected Ethnic Groups (100), Age Groups (6), Sex (3) and Single and Multiple Ethnic Origin Responses (3) for Population, for Canada, Provinces, Territories and Census Metropolitan Areas 1 , 2001 Census—20% Sample Data
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- President Edgar Gilbert Lefebvre
- Frequently Asked Questions
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- The Ontario Métis Aboriginal Association - Woodland Métis
- Nation Métis Québec
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