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Who are the Métis?

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,


Today we are going to dive into Métis identity. I would have loved to share my experience of what it was like to grow up within the culture, but I never had that experience, as my mother was raised in foster care for most of her childhood. In my family, Métis culture and language was lost within two generations. I have had to learn what it means to be Métis as an adult. There is a lingering sadness because I am genetically connected to multiple generations of Métis family members who I know nothing about, and that information may be lost forever as traditional Métis culture was orally based.


Photo Credit: https://www.metismuseum.ca/resource.php/148372


Métis peoples are distinct from First Nations in many ways. Métis are a post-European contact group of Indigenous peoples with their own culture, customs, and language. The early beginnings of Métis peoples originated with First Nations women and European fur traders who eventually settled into their own communities, usually along the fur trade routes. [1] In time, the Métis became the intermediaries between Europeans and First Nations and played a large contributing role in developing Canada westwards. [2]


The word Métis translates into “to mix”, which was the term created for the original generations of children who had European and First Nations parents [3] The term gradually evolved to refer to a distinct group of communities. [4] Métis is not used in reference to every person who has Indigenous and non-Indigenous heritage. Métis is also not synonymous with half-French and half-First Nations heritage. In the early days post-contact, French traders were highly encouraged to build strong family connections through marriage with First Nations women to enable the fur traders and future settlers to adapt to a new foreign land. [5] There is a predominant French influence within Métis culture because they started to colonize what is now Canada in the seventeenth century.


The official language is Michif but many Métis speak many different dialects influenced by the languages spoken by the surrounding First Nations communities. [6] It can be thought of as a hybrid language. While the language will differ by region, at the basic level Michif is composed of Plains Cree dialect verbs and verb phrases with French nouns and noun phrases. [7] Historically many Métis were multilingual; French or English, Cree or other First Nation languages, and Michif. [8] According to a 2016 census, there are only 1170 people who can speak Michif well enough to conduct a conversation and less than two percent of Métis can speak an Indigenous language. [9]



One of the most symbolic aspects of Métis culture is the sash. They were traditionally finger woven wool belts of varying lengths with a multi-purpose function. It was used as a tumpline (strap used over the top of the head to help carry heavy loads), a sewing kit, a scarf, a washcloth, a tourniquet, a saddle blanket, a rope to pull canoes, to hold knives or medicines, and used to mark a bison kill. [10] In the days of the fur trade the sash was a popular trade item. More recently, it has become a symbolic honour bestowed upon Métis members who have made cultural, political, or social contributions to the community. [11]


Photo Credit: https://blueworldtreasures.com/en-de/products/metis-sash-earrings-lassomption-sash-made-of-alpaca-wool-with-tiny-metis-infinity-symbol


The Métis flag is a white infinity sign over a sky-blue background or red background. The Infinity symbol acknowledges how European and First Nation peoples are interwoven and have become indistinguishable from one another; a creation of a new society meant to last forever. [12] The flag was first flown in the Battle of Seven Oaks by Métis resistance fighters and predates the Canadian maple leaf flag by one hundred and fifty years. [13] The Métis flag was raised in Ottawa two weeks ago to commemorate the wrongful execution in 1885 of a man who founded Manitoba and defended Métis rights, Louis Riel. [14]


Photo Credit: https://albertametis.com/culture/symbols-of-culture/


Métis peoples can be found in every province from British Columbia to Ontario, the Northwest Territories, and a few of the northern American states such as Montana, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Here in Alberta, we have the largest population of Métis peoples (114,000) and the only province in Canada with a recognized land base (1.25 million acres) entrenched in 1938 in the provincial statute, the Métis Population Betterment Act. [15]


Métis peoples were traditionally known as the “forgotten peoples” but today they are one of the fastest growing demographic groups. [16] The road to recognition as a distinct cultural identity with rights from the government has been a lengthy struggle. As one of Canada’s founding Indigenous peoples, they have experienced the oppressive effects of colonization, assimilation, racism, and marginalization. [17] Discrimination led to many people to hide their Métis heritage. Growing up I was resistant about sharing my Métis roots because I was afraid that I would be associated with negative Indigenous stereotypes.


Identifying as Métis was not embraced when I was growing up. More Canadians are discovering our true history and challenging their ignorance with knowledge. A persistent socio-economic gap still exists between Indigenous people (First Nation, Métis, and Inuit) and non-Indigenous people in Canada. [18] There is much work to be done on the forefront of reconciliation especially in the areas of education, health, child welfare, and justice with Métis people but I am hopeful about what is in store for the future generations of Métis.


If you are interested in learning more about the Métis experience within Canada’s Residential Schools, check out The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (volume 3).


Until next time,

Team ReconciliAction YEG


[1] “History” (last visited 24 November 2022), online: Métis Nation of Alberta <https://albertametis.com/metis-in-alberta/history/#:~:text=M%C3%A9tis%20people%20are%20a%20post,strong%20Nationhood%20in%20the%20Northwest.>.

[2] “Brief History of the Métis” (last visited 24 November 2022), at 1, online: (pdf) Government of Alberta < https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/d3be27d3-abbb-492a-970f-d5ab70f0f75b/resource/278a8b91-1b56-425d-8c22-3a17823dbf07/download/briefhistorymetis.pdf>.

[3] First Nations Indigenous Studies Program, “Métis” (last visited 24 November 2022), online: University of British Columbia <https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/metis/#:~:text=M%C3%A9tis%20stems%20from%20the%20Latin,cultural%20identities%20these%20communities%20developed.>.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Languages” (last visited 24 November 2022), online: Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada <https://indigenouspeoplesatlasofcanada.ca/article/languages/>.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Métis” (20 September 2019), online: Facing History and Ourselves <www.facinghistory.org/en-ca/resource-library/metis>.

[9] “The Aboriginal languages of First Nations people, Métis and Inuit” (25 October 2017), online: Statistics Canada <www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/as-sa/98-200-x/2016022/98-200-x2016022-eng.cfm>.

[10] “Symbols of Métis Culture” (last visited 24 November 2022), online: Métis Nation of Alberta <https://albertametis.com/culture/symbols-of-culture/>.

[11] “Symbols and Traditions” (last visited 24 November 2022), online: Métis Nation of Ontario <www.metisnation.org/culture-heritage/symbols-and-traditions/>.

[12] ”The Métis Flag” (last visited 24 November 2022), online: Eastern Woodland Metis Nation <https://easternwoodlandmetisnation.ca/the-metis-flag/#:~:text=The%20flag%20was%20first%20used,were%20first%20flown%20in%20Europe.>.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Lorraine Carpenter, “The Métis flag was raised in Ottawa to commemorate the wrongful execution of Louis Riel” (16 November 2022), online: Cult MLT <https://cultmtl.com/2022/11/the-metis-flag-was-raised-in-ottawa-to-commemorate-the-wrongful-execution-of-louis-riel-day/>.

[15] “Métis Relations” (last visited 24 November 2022), online: Government of Alberta <www.alberta.ca/metis-relations.aspx>.

[16] “Métis Today” (last visited 28 November 2022), online: Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada <https://indigenouspeoplesatlasofcanada.ca/article/metis-today/>.

[17] Cathay Richardson, “Metis Identity Creation and Tactical Responses to Oppression and Racism” (2006), at 1, online: (pdf) Indigenous Governance, University of Victoria <https://www.responsebasedpractice.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Metis-Creation-and-Tactical-Responses-to-Oppression-and-Racism.pdf>.

[18] Joe Sawchuck, “Social Conditions of Indigenous Peoples in Canada” (27 May 2020), online: Canadian Encyclopedia <https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/native-people-social-conditions>.

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