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The Métis
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The Métis: A New Canadian Nation
Métis family
  • The Métis people helped to shape the Canada of today, mainly in terms of the expansion of the west.
  • The first Métis people were born in Eastern Canada as early as the 1600s. They were the children born to European fishermen and their Native wives.
  • However, it was the Red River region, in present day Manitoba, where the Métis Nation was really first established.
  • When the fur trade moved west, in the 1700s and 1800s, many French-Canadian fur traders found Native wives and had children. The children born from these unions formed a new Nation in Canada - the 'Western Métis'.
  • Today there are 350,000-400,000 Métis in Canada.

Métis woman
  • The Métis people had a distinct way of life that incorporated aspects of both French-Canadian and Native cultures. This could explain why they were called the 'Métis', which came from the French word for 'mixed'.
  • During the height of the fur trade in the 1700s and 1800s, many French-Canadian fur traders married Native women, mainly Cree, Ojibwa, or Saulteaux women.
  • Most of the fur traders were French and Catholic. Therefore, their children, the Métis, were exposed to both the Catholic and Native belief systems.
  • The Native people were eager to establish strong relationships with their European allies and trading partners, so they offered wives to the traders.
  • Native women not only provided companionship for the fur traders, they also aided in their survival. They were able to translate the language, sew new clothing for their husbands, cook food, and help resolve any cultural issues that arose.
  • The First Peoples had survived in the harsh west for thousands of years, so the fur traders benefited greatly from their knowledge of the land.

Métis chuch

Fur Trader in Alberta

Cree woman wearing HBC blanket

French traders at trading post with
Native woman and child
Métis Areas and Groups
Red River area of Manitoba
  • Due to their close ties with the fur trade, most Métis people were spread along the Canadian fur trade routes.
  • However, the first major Métis communities were established in the Red River area of Manitoba, and they eventually moved further west into Saskatchewan, and Alberta.
  • The Métis also lived in parts of:
  • Ontario (around the Great Lakes)
  • Quebec
  • British Columbia (Mackenzie River)
  • Northwest Territories

French-Canadian fur trader
The Fur Trade and the Métis
  • The Métis played a vital role in the success of the western fur trade. Not only were the Métis skilled buffalo hunters, but they were also raised to appreciate both Native and European cultures.
  • Their understanding of both societies helped bridge cultural gaps, resulting in better trading relationships.
  • Initially, the Hudson's Bay Company (the British fur trading company) discouraged unions between their fur traders and Native woman, while The Northwest Company (the French fur trading company) supported such marriages. Despite their reluctance to accept these cross-culture marriages, there was not a lot that the Hudson's Bay Company could have done to stop them.
  • Over time, the Métis became valuable employees of both fur trade companies: the North-West Company (NWC) and even the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC).
  • The Métis were skilled voyageurs, buffalo hunters, traders, and interpreters.

Métis fur trader

Fur Trade areas

HBC coat of arms

NWC coat of arms
The Merger of the Hudson's Bay Company and the Northwest Company
Map of Rupert's Land (yellow)

Settlers arriving in the West
  • Rupert's Land
    • Rupert's Land was a large area of Canada that was owned by the Hudson's Bay Company.
    • It included all of the watersheds draining into and out of Hudson's Bay, giving the HBC a monopoly on trade in the area.
    • King Charles II of England was the one who gave the land to the HBC.
  • Conflicts over Red River land
    • In 1812, many immigrants (mainly Scottish farmers) moved to the Red River Valley, in present day Manitoba.
    • The Hudson's Bay Company, who owned the land at the time, assigned the land to the settlers, who were called the 'Selkirk Settlers'.
    • The allocation of Red River land caused conflict with those already living in the area (for example, the Métis), as well as with the Northwest Company, whose trade routes had been cut in half.
  • The Merger
    • Conflicts over the Red River land finally forced the amalgamation of the Hudson's Bay Company and the Northwest Company in 1821. The North-West Company had no choice but to join forces with the Hudson’s Bay Company, since their trade routes had been drastically cut.
    • Land owned by the HBC after the amalgamation, covered most of present-day Canada.
    • After the merger of the two companies, most trade Forts were abandoned, and many jobs in the fur trade were lost. There was a substantial loss of income for the Métis, since only one company, instead of two competing companies, controlled the price for furs.

Selkirk Settlers

HBC land, 1821-1870

Métis flags
Métis Flag
  • The Métis flag was the oldest flag that originated in Canada. It was used even before the Battle of Seven Oaks in 1816.
  • The Métis actually had two flags. Both flags had the same design, an infinity sign, but were 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.
  • The infinity sign had two meanings:
    • It represented the joining of two distinct cultures
    • It also represented the immortality of the Métis Nation
  • The Michif language is disappearing. There are only an estimated 400 completely fluent Michif speakers still alive in Canada.

Métis flag

Métis family
Métis Language
Métis traders
  • The Métis people spoke a language called ‘Michif’, which is a variation on the French word ‘Métis’. Michif was essentially a mixture of both French and Native words and grammar.
  • When the French-Canadian fur traders married Native women, most were not fluent in the local Native languages, and most Native women did not speak French.
  • Therefore, children born into these marriages were exposed to both French and a Native language (usually Cree).
  • It was the first generation Métis children who started blending parts of both languages into the new Michif language.
  • The Michif language originated with Métis people in Ontario and Manitoba in the 1700s. The language spread west with the fur trade, becoming an official bartering language.There were several regional dialects of the Michif language. Most dialects were a combination of French and Cree, but, depending on the area where the Métis were living, Michif could also have been a combination of French and another Native language, like Sioux or Ojibwa.
  • Milchif included:
    • French nouns (vocabulary)
    • Cree verbs (grammar rules)
    • French masculine/ feminine rules
    • Cree living/ non-living rules
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