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The Métis
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Religion
  • The religious beliefs of the Métis people were a combination of two worlds, like most aspects of their culture. Their spirituality was influenced by both their mothers’ Native heritage and their fathers’ more European beliefs.
  • It was common for the Métis to combine elements of Native (mostly Ojibwa and Cree), and Catholic or Protestant religions.
  • Church - Many Métis people went to Catholic or Protestant churches on a regular basis.
  • Marriage and other customs - Many Métis were married in a church (following Catholic or Protestant traditions) and were buried in Catholic or Protestant cemeteries.

Métis burial

Church at Batoche

St. Boniface Cathedral

Métis marriage

Graves at Batoche
Ceremonies / Music / Dance

Métis musicians
  • Music and dance were important parts of Métis culture. They were famous for their fiddle music and dancing.

Métis fiddle
Music
  • Music played an important role in the lifestyle of the Métis people. They held many community events that involved music and dancing.
  • The fiddle was the most common instrument used by the Métis. Other instruments included the concertina, harmonica, hand drum, mouth harp, and finger instruments (like bones and spoons)
  • Fiddle
    • It was the French and Scots who first introduced fiddles to the Métis.
    • The fiddles were handmade from maple and birch wood. Eventually the Métis people learned how to make their own fiddles, because they were so expensive to buy or trade for.
    • The Métis fiddle music had a distinct sound to it. The bottom string of the fiddle was tuned to an A (up a tone from G), and the rhythm of the songs was based on syncopation and extra beats (for dancing).
    • Fiddle music was often played accompanied by someone playing the spoons, drumming on a tin pan, or stomping (to keep the beat).

Fiddle

Dancing outside

Métis jig
Dancing
  • The traditional music of the Métis was up-tempo and lively, which made it perfect for dancing. Extra and irregular beats were added to give bounce to the music, making the dance a lot faster.
  • The Métis dances were a blend of European (French, Scottish, Irish) and Native influences.
  • Red River Jig
    • The traditional dance of the Métis people was the Red River Jig. In a jig, the faster the fiddle music, the faster the dancers’ feet had to move (dancer always followed the fiddle muic). The rhythm was kept by toe tapping or playing the spoons.
    • The jig had two parts:
      • One part: traditional jig steps, where the fiddle played the high section
      • Second Part: fiddle played the lower section, and there was fancier, faster footwork
    • Dancers often competed with one other dancers for the fastest, most complicated footwork.
Art
  • Métis art was greatly influenced by both European and Native cultures. However Métis art has also influenced other Native groups in Canada. Métis art was often wrongly labeled, with credit given to another Native group in Canada. Many Europeans wanted to buy art from ‘real’ Native artists, so the Métis were often forced to sell their art to other Native groups (who resold it to European traders). This caused the confusion over the origin of the art.

Example of typical beadwork

Leggings with beadwork
Beadwork
  • The Métis were famous for their floral beadwork, and were often called the ‘Flower Beadwork People’. The symmetric floral beadwork, often set against a black or dark blue background, was inspired by European floral designs. They used seed beads.
  • Beadwork was added to:
    • Jackets
    • Bags
    • Leggings
    • Gloves
    • Vests
    • Pouches
  • These items were traded throughout North America and Europe.
  • It was common for the Métis to decorate their saddles and other horse gear.

Vest with beadwork

Pouch with beadwork

Moccasins with beadwork

Hat with beadwork

Typical embroidery pattern

Métis beaded saddle

Métis gloves
Embroidery
  • The Métis were also well known for their floral silk embroidery, which was introduced to them by the Ursuline Nuns (from Europe) who taught the Métis girls the art of embroidery at Mission Schools.
Clothing
  • The clothing of the Métis people, like most aspects of their culture, was a combination of both Native and European styles. Their clothing was greatly inspired by the clothing of the French-Canadian fur traders (les coureurs des bois), as well as the Native clothing of the area.
  • The Métis women were in charge of making all the clothing for their families.
  • They either used tanned animal skins, such as deerskins or moose hide, or they used cloth that they had acquired through trade with the Europeans.

Full Métis dress (leather)
Beadwork and Floral Design
Beadwork on front of coat
  • The Métis decorated their clothing with fancy beadwork and floral patterns. They were so talented, in fact, that they became known as the ‘Flower Beadwork People’.
  • The floral beadwork became an important part of Métis culture, as it was distinctively ‘Métis’.
  • Beadwork was used on: jackets, bags, leggings, gloves, vests, moccasins.
Sash
Métis sash


Sashes
  • The Métis or L’Assomption Sash became the most recognizable part of Métis dress and a symbol of their people.
  • Originally, the sashes were made in a small Quèbecois town called L’Assomption, hence their name. They were also called a ‘ceinture flechée’.
  • The sashes were used by voyageurs of the fur trade, but they became a popular trade item for the HBC, NWC, and the western Métis. Eventually the Métis started producing their own sashes in the Red River area.
  • The first sashes were used as back supports for the voyageurs in their canoes.
  • The hand-woven sashes were made of brightly coloured wool, mainly red and blue. Certain colours and patterns represented different families.
  • The fringed ends of the sashes were decorative, but were also used as an emergency sewing kit.
  • The fringes could be used as extra thread for sewing, if they needed to mend anything while traveling.
  • The 3 metre long sash was usually wrapped around the midsection of the body, either to keep the coat closed, or to hold belongings, like a hunting knife or fire bag.
  • The colourful Sash had many uses, including:
    • Carrying items (knife, fire bag)
    • Coat tie (tied around the waist to keep coat closed)
    • Emergency sewing kit (fringed ends)
    • Makeshift tumpline
    • Markers left on buffalo (after killed- to mark buffalo as their property)
    • Tourniquet for injuries
    • Rope
    • Saddle blanket
    • Towel
    • Washcloth
Coats
Red River Coat
  • The Métis had three different types of coats: a capote, a buckskin jacket, and a Red River coat.
  • Red River Coat
    • A Red River coat was made of animal hide, and was adopted from a Cree design.
    • The coats had a European influenced cut, beadwork, floral designs, quillwork, and embroidery.
  • Capote
    • A Capote or ‘Capot crait-rien’ was a knee-length wool jacket with a hood. It was made out of a single HBC blanket, and was most commonly tied around the waist with a Métis sash.
  • Buckskin jacket
    • A buckskin jacket, made from deerskin or moose hide, usually had fringes and elaborate beadwork.
    • An example would be the Métis riding coats, which were major trade items in Canada and Europe.
    • They were often made of moose hide, and were decorated with porcupine quills, bird feathers, glass beads, and coloured thread and paint.

Capote

Capote

Louis Riel's Coat (buckskin)

Riding Buckskin Coat
Other Clothing
Leggings


Caribou moccasin


Moccasins, rabbit fur and beads

  • Vests
  • Métis vests were made out of elk hide or velvet (acquired through trade) and decorated with glass beads, plastic buttons, and beaded floral designs.
  • Leggings
  • Leggings or ‘mitasses’ were worn over pants. They were made out of leather or velvet, and decorated with beadwork and embroidery.
  • Hats
  • Métis flat hats were made out of animal skins or cloth, and were decorated with beadwork and embroidery.
  • Moccasins
  • Métis moccasins were adapted from the moccasins of the Plains people.
  • The moccasins were made of animal hide and decorated with decorated with beadwork, fringe and fur (such a rabbit fur).
  • It was also common to decorate the moccasin with embroidery and beadwork, mainly floral designs.
  • The Métis women were responsible for tanning all the hides to make clothing. Moccasins were usually made from brain-tanned caribou or moose hide.
  • Bags
  • The Métis made bag to carry supplies, such as gun powder and tobacco.
  • The Métis made a special type of bag that became known as an ‘Octopus’ pouch.
  • An Octopus pouch was named that because it appeared as though it had several leg hanging down.
  • These bag were carried over the shoulder and were used to carry pipes, tobacco, flint, and steel.
  • Bags were decorated with fancy beadwork that often represented family specific patterns.
  • Gloves
  • Gloves (also called gauntlets) were often decorated with embroidery, quillwork, and beading.
  • They were usually made from deer hide. The embroidery style (with the floral designs) was greatly influenced by European missionaries.
  • Shawls
  • Shawls, made of cotton or wool, were part of the traditional Métis dress. Women usually wore the shawls on special occasions.
  • Mot shawls were decorated with the traditional Métis floral motif.
  • Dresses
  • Métis dresses were fashioned after European designs. Most were made of cotton, wool, or velvet.
  • The ‘Basque’ design was common with the sleeves that puffed out between the shoulders and elbows.

Porcupine quill and moose hide moccasins

Beaded moccasin

Tobacco pouch

Beaded pouch

Octopus pouch

Panel bag

Octopus bags

Beaded pouch

Decorated gloves

Deer hide gloves

Métis shawl

Métis woman in dress
A typical Métis man's clothing
Sketch of Red River man
  • Cloth or tanned deerskin or moose hide trousers
  • Beaded suspenders (sometimes)
  • Shirt (brightly coloured wool or cotton) OR
  • Shirt (tanned deerskin or moose hide
  • Jacket (with beadwork)
  • On feet: woolen stockings and beaded moccasins
  • Leggings (deerskin or moose hide)
  • Hat (woolen caps, large brimmed hats)
  • In winter: capote (like parka) made from HBC blanket
  • Sash (wool) to fasten the capote
A typical Métis woman's clothing
Woman in 'Basque' style dress
  • Dresses (long, straight, dark coloured, with high neckline) OR
  • Skirt (gathered and decorated with ribbon)
  • Blouse
  • Decorated wool or velvet leggings (worn with dress)
  • Moccasins (beaded)
  • Scarves or shawls (on head)
  • In winter: wrapped in blanket (usually HBC blankets) or HBC coat
  • The early Métis women wore dresses that were inspired by Native styles. Over time, their styles became more ‘European’ in appearance.
Colour Meanings
  • Métis clothing was often elaborately decorated with bright colours. Different colours had different meanings:
    • Red: represented the blood shed fighting for their rights
    • Blue: represented the depth of the Métis spirit
    • Green: represented the fertility of the Métis Nation
    • White: represented the connection to the earth and the creator
    • Yellow: represented the prospects of future prosperity
    • Black: represented the dark period of suppression
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