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The History of the Métis

Prior to Canada’s crystallization as a nation, a new Aboriginal people emerged out of the relations of Indian women and European men. While the initial offspring of these Indian and European unions were individuals who simply possessed mixed ancestry, subsequent intermarriages between these mixed ancestry children resulted in the genesis of a new Aboriginal people with a distinct identity, culture and consciousness in west central North America – the Métis Nation.

The Métis are recognized by the government as one of the recognised Aboriginal peoples in Canada. They developed as the mixed-race descendants of unions between, generally, First Nations women and European men, but over time there were more intermarriages within the group. The term historically described all mixed-race people of First Nations and European ancestry. Within generations in the 19th century, particularly in central and western Canada, a distinct Métis culture developed. Since the late 20th century, the Metis people have been recognized as an Aboriginal people, with formal recognition equal to that given to the Inuit and First Nations peoples.

The early mothers were usually Mi'kmaq, Algonquin, Saulteaux, Cree, Ojibwe, Menominee, or Maliseet, or of mixed descent from these peoples and Europeans. After New France was ceded to Great Britain's control, at one time there was an important distinction between French Métis born of francophone voyageur fathers, and the Anglo-Métis (known as "countryborn") descended from English or Scottish fathers. Today these two cultures have essentially coalesced into one Métis tradition. Such mixed-race people were referred to by other terms, many of which are now considered to be offensive, such as Mixed-bloods, Half-breeds, Bois-Brűlés, Bungi, Black Scots, and Jackatars.

The Métis homeland includes regions scattered across Canada, as well as parts of the northern United States (specifically northwest Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana). These were areas in which there was considerable intermarriage due to the 19th-century fur trade.

Learn more about them from Wikapedia.

Metis in Canada

Del Majore, MSW with the Indigenous Health Program, discusses Métis history, culture and the impacts of colonization on Métis communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

In 2011, 451,795 people in Canada 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 the direct result of intermarriage between First Nations and Europeans. The vast majority of those who identify as Métis are the descendants of unions between generations of Métis individuals.

Over the past century, countless Métis have 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. They could be classified as Métis by any genetic measure but most are not part of its ethnic culture. 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.

Understanding the Métis Nation in BC by Bruce Dumont
Have you ever wondered what the difference in language, culture, heritage, and citizenship is between Métis people and First Nations in Canada? Did you know that since 2006, the Métis Nation in British Columbia has had a Métis Nation Relationship Accord with the Province of BC?

Metis Anthem

We Are Métis

Gabriel Dumont: Métis Legend

Gabriel Dumont Institute
The mission of the Gabriel Dumont Institute is to promote the renewal and development of Métis culture through research; materials development, collection, and distribution; and the design, development, and delivery of Métis-specific educational programs and services.
The Métis Nation of Ontario

Métis National Council
The Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture
Back to Batoche
The Buffalo Lake Métis Site
A Late Nineteenth Century Settlement in the Parkland of Central Alberta (1988) (pdf)
Caslan Métis Settlement
Land Use Planning Inventory (pdf)
Father Ritchot

Alberta Government Initiatives
Of Significance to Metis People (1984) (pdf)
The Metis
Colonization, Culture, Change and the Saskatchewan Rebellion of 1885 by Robert J. Devrone (pdf)
Metis Association & Saskatchewan Newsletter
November 1965 (pdf)

The North-West Is Our Mother
The Story of Louis Riel’s People, the Métis Nation by Jean Teillet

Reviewed by Connie Wyatt Anderson — Posted September 22, 2021

Imagine if your story — the story of your family, your people, your culture — was often told by someone else. Imagine further that some of these outsiders were tale-twisters, spinmeisters, propagandists, racists, many of them with underlying imperialist motives. Now pull this flawed narrative forward and embed it into the story of Canada; muddle it even more, so that some modern day Canadians with no arterial connection to your nation or homeland either dismiss and malign you or reimagine — and insert themselves into — your people’s history. Such is the story of the Métis Nation that Jean Teillet’s The North-West Is Our Mother seeks to set straight.

At more than five hundred pages, the book’s length makes it appear like one of the many tomes that have explored Métis history with an academic lens. But the stylistically hand-drawn map of the North-West, the Métis homeland, on the book’s inside front cover tells readers that they are in for a different approach — a fireside chat, rather than a didactic lecture.

Teillet, a lawyer, lecturer, and great-grandniece of Louis Riel, begins in the late 1790s with the generation that will become the founders of the Métis Nation and ends in the present day, highlighting the current struggles the Métis face: reconciliation, recognition, resources, and the newest among them, race shifting, which involves white people claiming Métis identity.

Interwoven throughout the narrative are the movers and shakers of Métis history: Jean-Baptise Lagimodičre, Cuthbert Grant, Louis Riel, Gabriel Dumont, Jim Brady, and Malcolm Norris. Teillet writes, “This book contains the best-known stories of the Métis Nation as well as some forgotten ones.” She shares the ubiquitous stories of often-silent yet dauntless voyageurs, fierce nomadic buffalo hunters, Métis bards and balladeers, and the indomitable Métis women.

Teillet’s story of the Métis is framed around five resistances, which are set against the backdrop of events leading up to the creation of the Canadian state: the First National Resistance against Lord Selkirk and his settlers, where she highlights the birth of the Métis Nation at the Battle of Frog Plain in 1816; the Second National Resistance, a “cry for freedom” against the goliath Hudson’s Bay Company; the Third National Resistance against Canada — more particularly, against Orangeist Ontarians seeking the spoils of the West — and the resultant Red River Resistance; the Fourth National Resistance, or “La Guerre Nationale,” in 1885 at Batoche; and the Fifth National Resistance, a Métis collective renaissance in opposition to the Canadian government.

She upends the typical historiography surrounding chronicles of the Métis by relying not only on historical and anthropological records but on her own family history and the rich oral tradition of the Métis. Teillet intentionally employs Métis terminology (differentiating between a voyageur and a Freeman — an independent hunter-trader), toponyms (Frog Plain, not Seven Oaks), and names of historical events (the “reign of terror,” not the Red River Expeditionary Force), and she clearly identifies the Métis Nation’s homeland in words and in maps.

She does not pussyfoot when making statements such as “Lord Selkirk was a racist”; she is not Pollyannish when calling out the backroom duplicity of the Catholic Church; and she does not conceal the internal struggles within the Métis Nation itself.

The North-West Is Our Mother embodies the heart of Métis storytelling — and, like her Métis forebears, Teillet is a seasoned raconteur. In her book, she builds a story of a people born of the plains and levered by kinship, resistance, a stalwart sense of identity, and the “belief that their past battles, celebrated in their stories and songs, will eventually enable a future where they will be free to be the nation of their dreams, the one they first sang into being in 1816.”

The North-West Is Our Mother is not only a paean to the genesis and survival of the Métis Nation but also a bellwether for reconciliation in twenty-first-century Canada.

Return to our History of the First Nations Page



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