The Métis are a group of people who, under the Constitution Act of 1982, are recognized as an aboriginal people of Canada, along with the First Nations and Inuit. The true description of the name itself is a messy topic. Its meaning has changed through history and even today it lacks legal definition. Today, the term Métis, meaning “mixed” in old French, is commonly used to refer to people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry as a result of the many European settlers taking Indigenous women as wives during the fur trade. The focus of this investigation is this question: How did the Métis people develop their identity over the course of the fur trade? Why is this an important and significant question to ask about the past? It helps people understand how history has lasting effects. The Métis people are a people whose culture is rooted in their history because of the consequences of the fur trade.

The raising of a Métis flag in Port Colborne, Ontario.

The raising of a Métis flag in Port Colborne, Ontario.

Why did it happen the way it did and what were the consequences? During the late 17th century, the height of the North American fur trade, many European traders and fur trappers married Indigenous women in the areas they settled in. This included, but was not limited to, Cree, Objiwe, Algonquin, Mi’kmaq, and Saulteaux women. These marriages were referred to by the French as “marriage à la façon du pays” (or “marriage according to the custom of the country” in English). Most of the settlers were either French or British. Most of the French settlers were Catholic. It was at this time that the first generation of Métis children were born. The children of these marriages grew up with the cultures of their mothers but were exposed to Catholic beliefs as well as Indigenous beliefs. Many of the fur trappers lived with their Native wives in their tribes, providing a primarily First Nations environment for their children. Overall, Métis children were then typically more aboriginal. However, these first generation Métis were generally French-speaking. In the 18th century, the Métis people started marrying among themselves. This continued into the 19th century. Later in the 18th century, British settlers entered the fur trade. English and Scottish men came to Canada as traders and they too took First Nations women as wives. Their descendants were English-speaking, but unlike the French settlers before them, these British settlers were not as kind to Métis culture. These British settlers were opposed to Catholicism. Most of them were either Protestant or Presbyterian. This caused tension between the Métis people and the European settlers. In 1812, when the fur trade had moved west, the Red River Colony was established. This is where the Métis Nation emerged as a political force in 1869, when Louis Riel established the Métis Provisional Government in what is now known as Manitoba.

The Métis Provision Government, 1870. Louis Riel sits in the centre.

The Métis Provisional Government. Louis Riel sits in the centre.

How have our lives and conditions similar to those found in this research and how have they changed? Religious views are no longer being opposed or criticized in Canada, or at least not to the scale they were during the time of the fur trade. Catholic, Protestant, Presbyterian, and other forms Christianity are acceptable in Canada along with Indigenous belief systems and other religions from other parts of the world. Marriage is still a normal part of everyday life in Canada, but its role in our society has changed. Today, marriage is seen as more of a choice than a necessity. Of course, racial tension has died down significantly over the years, and interracial marriage is a common practice, especially in Canada. However, the ratio between Indigenous people and immigrants, including European settlers and their descendants, has grown tremendously over the last century. Indigenous people currently make up less than 5% of the population of Canada. The world the birthed the Métis people is very different from the one we live in presently. It is unlikely that a similar event would arise in Canada today.

A group of Métis women and children in Alberta in 1931.

A group of Métis women and children in Alberta.

What conclusions can be reached about the inquiry question based on this research? The Métis people, though a mix of European and Indigenous bloodlines, are first and foremost an aboriginal group in Canada. Their cultures have remained primarily more Indigenous throughout the centuries. This is because the children of the original marriages between European settlers and Indigenous women were usually raised by their mothers. Many of the children were even raised in First Nations villages. The Métis people are unique because they have ties to both Indigenous belief systems and Catholicism. Métis culture was not a result of forced influence from European settlers as some might assume, but a result of cultural preservation and preservation of values by the Indigenous people over the years. Though standards of marriage have changed, and cultural diversity in Canada has inflated, Métis Canadians have still managed to keep their unique culture alive to this day.