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The Métis in Canada

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This title expires June 30th, 2021

Subject(s): Canadian History, Canadian Social Studies, First Nations Studies, History, Social Studies
Grade Level: 6 - 8, 9 - 12, Post Secondary

The Métis are one of Canada's three official Aboriginal peoples and have played an instrumental role in shaping the Canada we know today. Narrated and produced by multi award winning Métis film maker Matt LeMay , The Métis in Canada provides the viewer with a compelling overview of the history, culture and heritage of the Métis people. 

Running Time: 11
Country of Origin: Canada
Captions: CC
Producer: LeMay Media
Copyright Date: 2016
Language: English

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  • One of the greatest gifts to emerge from the early settlement of the new world was an entirely new race of people that would be no one as the Metis. Recognized officially as one of Canada's three aboriginal peoples, the Metis had a distinct way of life that incorporated aspects of both European and indigenous cultures. The Metis are a fascinating people with their own unique traditions and language called Michif which is a mixture of French and indigenous languages.
  • While many of the Metis were a mix of French and indigenous heritage, there were also many Metis people that were a product of English, Irish, or Scottish and indigenous unions. The first Metis people were born in eastern Canada as early as the 1600s. But as the fur trade moved west, many Metis communities were established around the waterways of Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories. These sons and daughters of a new world order played an instrumental role in shaping the Canada we know today.
  • The most distinct element of Metis dress was the assumption sash. Named after the Quebec village of L'Assomption where they originated, this style of sash became very popular with the Metis in Quebec and further west. The typical sash is made of brightly colored wool and is worn as a wrap around the midsection of the torso. The sash was often used by the Metis to keep their coat closed, but also could be used in many innovative ways.
  • The fringes on the sash serve not only as a decorative purpose but could be used as thread for sewing while travelling. When not used as a wrap, the sash could be used to serve a variety of different functions from a scarf to a wash cloth, towel, saddle blanket, rope, or even a turniquet. Metis women occasionally wear the sash over the left shoulder while others wear it in the traditional way, around the waist and tied in the middle with the fringes hanging down. Today the sash is worn by all members of the Metis nation as a symbol of nationhood and pride.
  • Traditional Metis dress also included garments that were both functional and design geared towards withstanding the harsh environmental challenges of the new land but also beautifully crafted reflecting the artistry of the Metis culture. One example of a Metis style garment is the capote. This piece of outer wear clothing was designed for the Canadian winters and was often made of heavy Hudson Bay Company blankets. Another distinctive style of coat worn by the Metis was the buckskin jacket. Many of the buckskin jackets that were produced for sale by Metis women were works of art and included extensive floral beadwork and fringes.
  • Flags have traditionally been important symbols of uniting a nations people. Both of the two most common Metis flags feature the infinity sign. Like all great symbols, the infinity sign is open to a variety of interpretations. Some say it represents the Metis as a distinctive unification of two peoples, the European and the First Nation. Others claim that the infinity represents the Metis nation is robust and adaptable and will survive forever.
  • The Metis are famous for their fiddle music and dancing. Fiddles were introduced to the Metis by the Scots and the French. The music is often up tempo and accompanied by the clap of the spoons and the stop of a foot, which makes the music fantastic for dancing. The Red River Jig is probably the most famous of all the Metis dances. But it's important to note, there are many different kinds of traditional Metis dances that can be done individually or as part of a group.
  • Without the help of First Nations people in Canada, the early explorers never would have survived their first harsh Canadian winters. Many Metis worked as voyageurs or les coureur des bois, runners of the woods. The roots of the Metis people go back to the first explorers who penetrated the interior of Canada where Canada's indigenous people had been living for thousands of years. Many of the First Nation women worked in partnership with the European men, helping them to develop their survival skills on the new land. They also assisted as interpreters, helping to resolve any cultural issues or disputes that may have arisen.
  • Due to their close ties with the fur trade, most Metis people were spread out along Canada's fur trade routes. As the fur trade moved west, small Metis communities were established along the waterways and around the Great Lakes. However, the first major Metis communities were established in the Red River area of Manitoba and eventually moved further west into Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories.
  • The Metis played a vital role in the success of the western fur trade. Not only were the Metis skilled Buffalo hunters, but they were also raised to appreciate both indigenous and European cultures. Their understanding of both societies helped bridge cultural gaps resulting in better trading relationships between all parties. The Metis became valuable employees of both fur trade companies, the North West Company and the Hudson Bay Company. The Metis were skilled voyageurs, Buffalo hunters, traders, and interpreters that made a significant contribution to the development of early Canada.
  • One of the most important and controversial leaders from Canadian history was the Metis leader Louis Riel. Later to be known as the father of Manitoba, Riel was born in the Red River settlement. Educated in St. Boniface and Montreal, Riel eventually rose to become the leader of the Metis. Riel was a devout Catholic that believed a higher power had chosen him to lead the Metis people.
  • As racism and colonialism began to spread throughout early Canada, Riel sought to preserve Metis rights and culture. He led two resistance movements against the Canadian government and its first post-confederation prime minister, Sir John A Macdonald. His first resistance was the Red River Rebellion. Riel formed a provisional Metis government and ultimately negotiated the terms under which the modern province of Manitoba entered Canadian confederation.
  • While leading the provisional government, Riel ordered the execution of Thomas Scott, a Protestant who opposed Riel. As a result of his actions, Riel had to flee to the United States. While in exile, Riel was elected three times to the Canadian House of Commons, although he never was able to assume his seat.
  • In 1884, Riel returned to Canada. He was called upon by the Metis leaders in Saskatchewan to articulate their grievances to the Canadian government. Instead, he organized a military resistance that escalated into a military confrontation. This was the Northwest Rebellion of 1885. Sir John A MacDonald used Canada's new railway lines to send thousands of combat troops to squash Riel's rebellion. This resulted in Louis Riel being arrested and eventually hung for treason.
  • After the hanging of Riel, there was much racism towards the Metis and aboriginal people in many parts of Canada, forcing the Metis movement underground. During the mid and latter parts of the 20th century, Metis leaders began to work with other aboriginal groups across Canada to advance aboriginal rights, which ultimately led to the Metis being recognized as one of Canada's aboriginal peoples under section 35 of Canada's Constitution Act of 1982.
  • Since 1982, Canada's Metis communities have had numerous legal victories asserting their Metis rights in every region of Canada, and there's been a vibrant resurgence in Metis culture and history in every region across the Metis homeland.

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