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Lesson 3: Culture and Language of the Métis Nation

Grade 11: Aboriginal Studies
Theme 1: The Métis: Conflict and Cultural Change
Outcome 1: Demonstrate an understanding of the emergence of the Métis and how they evolved into a new Aboriginal culture in Canada.

Generalization

Students will demonstrate an understanding of the Métis roles in the settlement of western Canada.

Teacher Information

Some historians claim that the first person of Aboriginal and European heritage was born nine months after the first Europeans arrived on the shores of Canada. Those of mixed Aboriginal and European ancestry were certainly an important group in the settlement of New France by the 1600s, and the distinct society called Métis (French meaning "mixed blood") are the children of the fur trade in the Canadian West. The term "Métis" generally applied to those born from the marriage between French traders and predominately Cree and Anishinabe (Ojibway) women. The development of Métis culture can be traced back to the 1690s. Métis culture developed in the Great Lakes region as they began to live separately from their parents.

"Half-breeds" or "breeds" were names applied to those of Scots and English and Aboriginal ancestry. In the Peace Country, the following were common French Canadian names: Courtoreille, Cardinal, Bellerose, Bourassa, Chalifoux, Beaudry, and Laboucan. The names Ross, MacDonnell, MacDonald, Gray, Cunningham, and Isbister reflected Métis with Scottish, English and Orkadian heritage. Many of these are still common names of Métis families today.

Many factors contributed to the development of Métis culture and identity, including the fur trade, the Hudson's Bay Company, the Catholic Church, and Aboriginal People. By 1750, the Métis had developed unique economic and social institutions. By 1820, they had taken up permanent residence at Red River as a semi-isolated community.

Initially during the contact period the French were dependent on the Aboriginal people as guides and trading partners. However, the relationship changed as intermarriage between French men and Aboriginal women developed into strong unions. Aboriginal women provided the fur traders with the connections that they needed in order to be successful in the trade industry. The women served as interpreters and as a labour force, processing foods, sewing clothing, and manufacturing various goods used by the traders. These marriages and the children that resulted are the earliest beginnings of a northern Métis population, with kinship ties to Indians and Métis at other posts throughout the northwest. However, not all of these relationships were based on economic desires as the men had romantic and legal responsibilities to their wives and children. The development of Métis culture can be traced back as far as 1690s. Métis culture began to develop in the Great Lakes region as they begin to live separately from their Indian mothers and European fathers. (http://www.albertasource.ca/treaty8/eng/Peoples_and_Places/
Northwind_Dreaming/northwind_europeans_1.html
)

Many factors have contributed to Métis identity. The influence of the fur trade, the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Catholic Church, and Aboriginal people all play intertwined roles in the development of Métis culture. By 1750, the Métis had developed economic and social institutions that were unique. 1820 marked their permanent residence at Red River as a semi-isolated community. http://www.albertasource.ca/treaty8/eng/Peoples_and_Places/
Profiles_of_the_Treaty_Makers/Bands_and_Nations/metis.html

Métis people did not sign any treaties across Canada as they were not recognized by the Canadian government as being ‘Indian’. Instead, Métis were given a certificate, called "scrip", worth either $240.00 or 160 acres. Most Métis chose money scrip. Because scrip was difficult to redeem, it was often sold for ready cash at a lesser value to scrip buyers who were close in attendance. After this one-time settlement, Métis were considered legally to be ordinary citizens with no special protections. (http://www.albertasource.ca/treaty8/eng/Peoples_and_Places/
Northwind_Dreaming/northwind_treaty8.html
)

While there is no single definition of Métis people that is universally accepted the following are two popular examples as the political definition:

The Métis National Council defines the Métis as:

  1. Aboriginal people distinct from Indian and Inuit.
  2. Descendants of the historic Métis who evolved in what is now western Canada as a people with a common political will.
  3. Descendants of those Aboriginal people who have been absorbed by the historic Métis.

Alberta Métis Nation Association defines Métis as:

  1. Someone who declares him or herself as Métis, has traditionally held him/herself as Métis, and is accepted by the Métis community as Métis.

There are eight distinct Métis settlements in Alberta:

  1. Paddle Prairie known as Keg River Settlement Area No. 1 (north of Edmonton)
  2. Big Prairie
  3. Gift Lake or Utikuma Lake ( north of Lesser Slave Lake)
  4. East Prairie (west of Grouard)
  5. Kikinow (Lac La Biche area)
  6. Wolf Lake
  7. Elizabeth (south of Cold Lake)
  8. Fishing Lake

In order for a Métis person to be legally recognized in the province of Alberta they must reside on one of the above mentioned Métis settlements or colonies. There are currently over 60,000 Métis living in Alberta.

Introductory Activity

Write the word Métis on the board. Break students into groups giving each group a large piece of paper and a marker. Each group is responsible for coming up with a definition of Métis people. The groups will share their definition as well as the reasoning behind how they defined Métis. Hang up the various definitions around the word Métis on the board. Read aloud the following definitions of Métis:

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