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The Peoples, Their Places

The Métis Nation: Traditional Lifestyle

   

metis womenThe mixed-bloods of both French-Canadian and Scots/English ancestry adopted the lifestyles of their parents, blending the values and lifestyles of both cultures to form a unique culture of their own.  In the mid-1800s, the Lac Ste. Anne and Red River Métis were still living a semi-nomadic lifestyle based on the seasonal round and trapping.  In the spring whole families joined together for the annual buffalo hunts to acquire meat to make into pemmican.  During the summers they gathered berries and farmed their small vegetable gardens along the rivers.  In the fall they would go on another buffalo hunt, this time to provide enough meat to get them through the winter.  The winter was spent in trapping activities, in which the whole family participated.

Religion formed an important part of their lives.  Most Métis were devout Catholics, and mixed-bloods of Scottish or English ancestry were Anglicans, Methodists or Presbyterians.  A priest would often accompany the Métis on their annual buffalo hunts.  Feast days were a time to socialize with other families.  With the arrival of the Grey Nuns at Red River settlement in 1844, the Métis children had access to religious and secular education, however brief it might be.

With the decline of the buffalo on the plains in the 1870s and following the Red River Insurrection of 1869-1870, many families from the Red River colony dispersed to join their relatives in Saskatchewan and in Alberta at St. Albert, Lesser Slave Lake and Lac La Biche, where they hoped to escape the intervention of the Dominion government and invasion of new settlers from the East.  Their lifestyle reflected where they chose to settle.  In the Peace Country, they adopted a lifestyle of their Cree relatives, hunting moose, fishing, trapping, trading, and working off and on for the HBC as rivermen, freighters, guides, carpenters and labourers.  The Métis women formed an indispensable work force, making clothing, beaded moccasins, snowshoes, and doing silk embroidery fancy work they learned from the Sisters, which could be sold or traded to the HBC.  In the Peace Country, by the 1870s there were several communities of mixed-bloods living around Lesser Slave Lake, Dunvegan, Peace River Crossing, Spirit River, Flying Shot Lake, Saskatoon Lake, and Fort St. John.  A later group of Métis entered the Peace Country and northeastern Alberta following the Riel uprising of 1885.

Reprinted from "A Sense of the Peace," by Roberta Hursey with permission of the Spirit of the Peace Museums Association and the author.