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 from mixed ancestry of First Nations and Europeans. 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 usually Cree, Ojibwe, Algonquin, Saulteaux, Menominee, Mi'kmaq or Maliseet, or of mixed descent from these people and Europeans. 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.
The Métis homeland includes regions scattered across Canada, as well as parts of the northern United States (specifically Montana, North Dakota, and northwest Minnesota). These were areas in which there was considerable intermarriage due to the fur trade.
- 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 descendants of unions between Métis individuals. Over the past century, countless Métis are thought to have been absorbed and assimilated into the general 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 some Aboriginal blood, and could be classified as Métis by any genetic measure. There is substantial controversy over who qualifies as Métis. Unlike among First Nations peoples, there is no distinction between "status" and "non-status" Métis. The legal definition 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 during the fur trade in south-eastern Rupert's Land, primarily in the Red River Settlement (now Manitoba) and the Southbranch Settlements (Saskatchewan). In the late nineteenth century, they became politically organized and had confrontations 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 ethnic national identity among the mostly French- and Michif-speaking Metis along the Red River of the North, demonstrated during the Riel Rebellions, affected the spread of the term "Metis" as the main word used by Canadians for all mixed Euro-Native groups.
The ultimate outcome was inclusion of "the Métis" as one of the 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 define criteria for an individual 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 to all mixed-heritage groups and individuals. Many members of First Nations may have mixed ancestry, but identify primarily by the tribal nation, rather than as Metis. Since passage of the 1982 act, many groups Canada 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. 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. The question is open as to who should receive Aboriginal rights flowing from Métis identity. No federal legislation defines the Métis.
Alberta is the only province to have defined the term in law. 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 (that is, a member of a First Nation), an exclusion which was upheld by the Supreme Court in Alberta v. Cunningham (2011).
The number of people self-identifying as Métis has risen sharply in recent years: between 1996 and 2006, the population of Canadians who self-identify as Métis nearly doubled to approximately 390,000. Until R v. Powley (2003), there was no legal definition of Métis. The case involved a claim by Steven Powley and his son Rodney, two members of the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario Métis community, 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. In addition, 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.
The court was explicit that its ten-point test is not a comprehensive definition of Métis.
Issues of ambiguity include whether or not Métis have treaty rights; this is an explosive issue in the Canadian Aboriginal community today. Some say that as only First Nations could legitimately sign treaties with the government so, by definition, Métis have no Treaty rights. One Treaty names Metis in the title: the Halfbreed (Métis in the French version) Adhesion to Treaty 3. Another Treaty, the Robinson Superior Treaty of 1850, listed 84 named "half-breeds" in the Treaty, so included them and their descendants. 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). Each uses different approaches to define Métis individuals. 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 based 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 of "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 national umbrella groups, several local Métis organizations have been founded in Canada that 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; it does not support a particular definition of Métis. It has 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 identification 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 documented genealogy and family tree dating to the mid 1800s, proving descent from one or more members of historic Métis groups. In comparison, the Canadian Métis Council will accept people with more recent First Nations ancestry, provided they have a letter from a Métis elder stating that the individual is accepted in the Métis community.
The Métis Nation of Ontario requires that successful applicants for what it calls "citizenship", must "see themselves and identify themselves as distinctly Métis. This requires that individuals make a positive choice to be culturally and identifiably Métis". They note that "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 use of creole 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 a traditional economy based on hunting, trapping, and gathering. But, there is increasing diversity in recognition that 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 French Canadian and British fur traders married First Nations and Inuit women, mainly First Nations Cree, Ojibwa, or Saulteaux located in the Great Lakes area and to the west. The majority of these fur traders were French and Scottish; the French were Catholic. These marriages are commonly referred to as marriage à la façon du pays or marriage according to the custom of the country. Their children, the Métis, were exposed to both the Catholic and indigenous belief systems, and two cultures. In many cases, as the fur trappers lived with women at the location of their tribes, the children grew up in primarily First Nations societies. But, as more Metis lived in communities with a fur trapping tradition, they created 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 native languages, sewed new clothing for their husbands, and generally were 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. As adults, the men often worked as interpreters as well as fur trappers in their turn.
According to historian Jacob A. Schooley, the Métis developed over at least two generations. 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 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 often became employees of the companies (Foster cites the legendary York boat captain Paulet Paul as an example). Eventually this second-generation group ended employment with the company and became "freemen" traders and trappers. They lived with their families raising children in a distinct culture based around freetrading, buffalo hunting, and so on. He considered that the third generation, who were sometimes Metis on both sides, 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. In the Fort Edmonton region, many House Indians never adopted a Métis identity but continued to identify primarily as "Cree" and so on.
The Métis played a vital role in the success of the western fur trade. They were skilled hunters and trappers, and were 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 respected as valuable employees of both fur trade companies, due to their skills as voyageurs, buffalo hunters, and interpreters, and their 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 territory then called Rupert's Land, assigned plots of 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. Profits from the fur trade were declining because a reduction in European demand, as well as the need for the Hudson's Bay Company 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. But, the Plains Métis tended to identify by occupational categories: buffalo hunters, and pemmican and fur traders, and "tripmen" in the York boat fur brigades among the men; and moccasin sewers and cooks among the women. The largest community in Assiniboine-Red River district had a different lifestyle and culture from those located 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 of the land 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 traditional 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), by which turned they ceded property 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 in the Red River area 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. Due to his political actions, Louis Riel was charged and fled to the United States for refuge, where he lived in exile.
In March 1885, the Métis heard that a contingent of 500 North-West Mounted Police was heading west. They organized a newly formed coalition to action; it was called the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan, with Pierre Parenteau as President and Gabriel Dumont as adjutant-general. 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. They suffered defeat by Canadian armed forces government in a conflict known as the North West Rebellion, which occurred in northern Saskatchewan from March 26 to May 12, 1885. Gabriel Dumont fled to the United States, while Louis Riel, Poundmaker and Big Bear surrendered to the government. Big Bear and Poundmaker each were convicted and received a three-year sentence. On July 6, 1885, Riel was convicted of 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, and some filed land claims for the return of certain lands. 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 form the 1934 "Ewing Commission", headed by Albert Ewing, to deal with land claims. The Alberta government passed 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.)
During renewed First Nations activism in the 1960s, political organizations were formed or revived among the Metis as well. The Lake Nipigon Metis Association was the first to be organized in Ontario, resulting in several other Metis 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, the Alberta government restored land titles 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." The council debated issues ranging from military policy to local bylaws and theological issues. It met at Batoche, Saskatchewan, and exercised real authority only 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 hold province-wide ballot box elections for political positions in these associations, held at regular intervals, for regional and provincial leadership. 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 represent 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. 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 Métis organization in British Columbia was formed in June 2011; it is called the British Columbia Métis Federation (BCMF). They have no affiliation with the Métis National Council and have not been officially recognized by the government.
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. Its representatives think the MNC is too focused on the Metis of the prairies.
The Nation Métis Québec is also not affiliated with the Métis National Council.
None of these claim to represent all Métis. Other Métis registry groups also focus on recognition and protection of their culture and heritage. They 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 an indigenous language such as Mi'kmaq, Cree, Anishinaabemowin, etc. A few in some regions spoke 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, and Michif in the United States, notably in the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation of North Dakota. There Michif is the official language of the Métis who reside on this Chippewa (Ojibwa) reservation. After years of decline in use of these languages, the provincial Métis councils are encouraging their revival, teaching in schools and use in communities. The encouragement and use of Métis French and Michif is growing due to outreach within after at least a generation of decline.
The 19th-century community of Anglo-Métis, more commonly known as Countryborn, were children of people in the Rupert's Land fur trade; they were 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. The Gaelic spoken by Scots and Orcadians became part of the creole language referred to as "Bungee".
The Métis flag is one of the oldest patriotic flags originating in Canada. The Métis have two flags. Both flags use the same design of a central infinity symbol, but are different colours. Red was the colour associated with employees 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 to mixed-race children of the union of Frenchmen (Europeans) and Native women. The first records of "Métis" were made by 1600 on the East Coast of Canada, where French exploration and settlement started.
As French Canadians followed the fur trade to the west, they made more unions with Cree people. Descendants of English or Scottish and natives were historically called 'half-breeds' or 'country born.' They sometimes adopted a more agrarian culture of subsistence farming and tended to be reared in Protestant denominations.  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, recognizing the many people of varied racial ancestry. Capital 'M' Métis refers to a particular sociocultural heritage and an ethnic self-identification that is based on more than racial classification. Some argue that people who identify as métis should not be included in the definition of 'Métis'. Not all such people would meet the legal tests and criteria defined by Metis organizations. Some Metis have proposed that only the descendants of the Red River Métis should be constitutionally recognized, as they had developed the most distinct culture as a people in historic times. Such a limitation would result in excluding some of the Quebec and Ontario Métis, classifying them simply by the lower case 'm' métis status.
According to the 2006 census in Canada, there were a total of 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.
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- Wall, Denis (2008), The Alberta Métis letters, 1930–1940: policy review and annotations, DWRG Press, ISBN 978-0-9809026-2-4
- Sylvia Van Kirk (1983). Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670–1870. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-1847-5.
- Marcel, Giraud, Le Métis canadien / Marcel Giraud ; introduction du professeur J.E. Foster avec Louise Zuk (in French), Saint-Boniface, Man. : Éditions du Blé, 1984., ISBN 0920640451