The Metis matter. In the 2016 census, nearly 600,000 Canadians identified themselves as Metis. More and more people are feeling comfortable identifying themselves as Metis.
Yet being Metis can mean a lot of things. Even people familiar with their communities don't understand their history or traditions.
What exactly is the definition of being Metis? What are some organizations working for Metis rights today? What are the basics of Metis history, culture, and spirituality?
Answer these questions and you can gain a better knowledge of Canada's rich diversity. Here is your comprehensive guide.
Who Are the Metis?
The Metis are a diverse group of people with a long history. There are a few core concepts you should understand so you can appreciate the finer details of Metis culture.
Metis people are descendants of both First Nations people and Europeans. Some writers describe the Metis as the descendants of people who lived along the Red River in Manitoba. But most uses of the term are more expansive, covering descendants from anywhere in the entire country.
The Constitution Act of 1982 provides the official definition for the Indigenous people of Canada. The First Nation, Inuit, and Metis peoples are all Indigenous. They are entitled to the same rights under the Canadian Constitution as non-Indigenous people.
The word, "Metis," comes from the French word for "mixed." This alludes to how many Metis people describe themselves as mixed-race. But some may describe themselves as being Indigenous or white.
Many Europeans arrived in Canada during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They came to trade fur and goods with First Nations people, namely of the Cree and Ojibway communities.
Some individuals shared romantic connections with members of First Nations communities. They had children and made their homes in Canada.
French Metis and Anglo Metis communities initially stayed separate from each other. As time went on, they began to connect.
One reason was continued discrimination against Metis. First Nations and Euro-Canadian societies excluded the Metis. When the Canadian government bought the Northwest Territories in 1869, Metis settlers were not included during negotiations.
Metis communities then began to develop their own culture and traditions. Many communities organized for civil rights and government protections throughout the 20th century. Their activism helped bring about the Constitution Act amongst other pieces of legislation.
Metis Culture and Spiritual Practices
Metis culture is vibrant. Each community has its own cultural traditions, but many Metis communities share several things in common.
Dance and Music
Metis dance is more than the Red River Jig. Some towns have held impromptu dances every week for decades.
Many dances are improvisatory, with dancers making up their own moves. Others prefer European forms of dance like the polka and waltz.
Metis dancers try to be light on their feet. As they keep time to the music, they execute many steps in quick succession. They travel in circles throughout the room, allowing everyone to see their skill.
Audience members can help the dancers keep their rhythms. They can stomp or tap their feet on the hard floor, creating an audible beat.
Fiddle music is the most common type of Metis music. It combines European and Indigenous influencers to create bouncy and danceable tunes. Many performers write their own songs, expressing personal and historical stories.
Other musicians like to play the accordion, spoons, and jaw harp. Some people like to make their own instruments, or they will take household objects and turn them into instruments.
Metis cuisine is diverse and versatile. Many dishes are high in calories and fat in order to support a subsistence lifestyle. But recipes can be adjusted to meet different dietary needs.
Bison meat is a common element in many meals. Thin strips of dried meat are a popular snack and good for quick consumption.
To make pemmican, a chef grinds meat into a powder. They mix the meat with fat and then add berries, including cranberries and blueberries. A person can eat pemmican raw, or they make patties and fry them.
Bannock is a dish common amongst the Indigenous people of Canada. It is made with wheat flour, baking powder, and milk. Once the ingredients are mixed, the slices are fried in rendered fat or vegetable oil.
Popular vegetables include Indian corn and barley. Chefs like to incorporate barley into a range of recipes, including soups and stews.
Drying is the most common way to preserve foods. Some chefs also can meat and berries so that they last well into the winter.
Meat pies and meatballs are also served at Metis tables. Traditional desserts include dried berries, tarts, and fruit cakes.
One nickname for the Metis is the "Flower Beadwork People." Many Metis artists have learned how to create elaborate beadworks. They may make beads following Indigenous traditions, but they will then create European floral designs.
Artists have designed and decorated coats and mittens in addition to sashes. Some artists have even made clothes for animals. Horse halters and pouches contain elaborate designs celebrating the animal that wears them.
Coats can contain hide and porcupine quills. The capote is a special kind of coat with a hood and a wide bottom. This allows the wearer to move around while they remain warm.
Artmaking was a traditional activity for women. But men and women alike make Metis art pieces today.
Michif is the primary Metis language. It emerged during the early decades of the nineteenth century.
In broad strokes, Michif is a mixed language that combines aspects of French and Cree. The language does not have a unified spelling standard, meaning it can be difficult to understand its vocabulary. But many common words combine French and Cree terms together.
The syntax relies on French grammatical rules. But the word order relies on Cree rules, which are relatively free.
Michif is not the only Metis language. Metis French is a dialect of French with some Cree loanwords and grammatical rules. Bungi is an English dialect inspired by Metis people of Scottish descent.
Many Metis organizations are working to preserve Michif. You can find phrasebooks and educational resources from a variety of groups.
Many Metis communities prefer to pass their stories down through oral storytelling. These stories are reminiscent of those found in First Nations and Inuit communities.
The majority of traditional stories do not have linear narratives. This allows the narratives to reflect contemporary events and continue onward through time.
The storyteller delivers a story to teach an important lesson. Most stories use trickster characters to teach about following rules and abiding by nature.
Other stories have a more practical purpose. They tell narratives that contain information on where natural resources are. This allows people to make meals and move when the seasons change.
Kinship networks and genealogies have survived through stories. Some of this information has been written down, while other pieces remain in oral presentations.
In addition to the Metis flag, there are other Metis symbols. The Metis sash is a long belt made of finger-woven fabrics. Men and women can wear the sash for a variety of purposes, including as a scarf or tourniquet.
The Red River cart is a horse-drawn cart with large wheels. It is made of wooden planks that a person fastens together with rope and sinew. The cart is versatile, able to carry large loads and people.
The Red River Jig is a dance competition. Competitors must shuffle their feet in a series of steps while refraining from using their arms or shoulders. Most dances take place to the tune of a fiddler.
The Metis flag displays a white infinity symbol against a blue background. A variant flag features the same symbol against a red background. One or the other may be flown, or both can get flown at once.
The infinity symbol represents the resilience of the Metis people. It also suggests the mixing of Europeans and First Nations people, as two circles join together.
The flag was first flown before the Battle of Seven Oaks in 1816. Metis soldiers fought against the Hudson's Bay Company to keep it from taking over their territory. The flag predates the modern Flag of Canada by more than a century.
Spirituality centers around the importance of nature. The land is interconnected with all living creatures, and all parts of the world are sentient beings. The purpose of each person is to live in harmony with all other things.
Spirits reside in human beings and offer them life. Yet if a person does not maintain their spirit, their health can suffer. This serves as encouragement to stay healthy and develop inner strength.
Metis people have a series of creation stories, explaining how different things came to be. Many of these stories involve tricksters in order to encourage children to fulfill their ethical obligations.
Some Metis people are Christian and do not consider Indigenous spirituality to be accurate. Others combine Christian beliefs with Indigenous cosmologies.
Some communities do not disclose their spiritual stories to outsiders. They tell creation accounts at certain times and only to official Metis members.
More Facts About the Metis
There can't be enough said about the admirable cultural practices, spiritualty and history of the Metis. Let's now take a closer look at some Metis organizations in Canada.
Metis Nation of Ontario
The Metis Nation of Ontario (MNO) is an organization for Metis residents in Ontario. It is the only organization that the federal government has recognized to represent Metis Ontarians.
The MNO emerged from the Native Council of Canada in 1993. Some Metis people felt their concerns were scorned in favour of non-Status Indians. They wanted to create citizenship requirements and regulate the number of people labelling themselves as Metis.
The MNO maintains the provincial registry for Metis people within Ontario. Individuals can submit application forms and genealogical charts for official recognition. An MNO employee can then ask them to take an oath of allegiance.
But the organization offers more than the registry. It runs healing and wellness programs for Indigenous people who would like spiritual support. It also offers education, land, and housing services.
Metis members can vote on MNO representatives. The representatives can then lobby the federal and provincial governments to adopt reforms to help with Indigenous issues. Representatives live in all of Ontario's best cities, including Toronto.
Manitoba Metis Federation
The Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) is the Manitoba Metis's democratically elected government. The Canadian government signed an agreement with the Federation in 2021 so it could practice self-government.
The MMF is structured similarly to other governments. Metis members elect a president who serves as the chief executive of the community. The president is also the representative for the Manitoba Metis when the community needs to deal with the federal government.
Metis Nation BC
Metis Nation BC (MNBC) is the provincial organization for Metis people in British Columbia. It grew out of grassroots efforts in the 1990s for self-government. In 2003, MNBC reached an agreement with the government of Canada to represent BC Metis interests.
MNBC runs a registry so people can apply for citizenship and trace their family histories. It runs a number of ministries akin to government bodies, providing resources for veterans and families.
The organization has also taken an interest in the Sixties Scoop. They work to help survivors tell their stories and heal their trauma.
Metis Crossing is a cultural center located in Alberta. The center offers numerous resources, including art installations and historical exhibits. Visitors can sample Metis dishes and camp in the local woods.
The Metis Nation of Alberta is the representative organization for Metis people in Alberta. It does not run Metis Crossing, but it does support the institution.
The Essentials of the Metis
The Metis descend from European settlers and First Nations inhabitants. They have developed a unique history and culture that continues to exist today.
The Metis have had a long history of political activism. You can glimpse this in organizations like Metis Nation BC that support communities throughout Canada.
Many people know about the Metis through their dance and artistic traditions. Yet the Metis also have an incredible cuisine and oral history tradition. This includes new languages like Michif.
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