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The Métis in Western Canada: O-Tee-Paym-Soo-Wuk

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The BeginningsThe People and Their CommunitiesCulture and Lifeways
Origins and Identity

The term Métis refers to those people who were those born of a mixture of French and Scottish fur traders and Cree, Ojibwa, Saulteaux, and Assiniboine women, the Métis in the north-west developed as a people, distinct from either Indian or European.1 During the French Era (1600-1760), intermarriage between white traders and Aboriginal women was so common that it is estimated that 40% of French-Canadians in Quebec today can claim to have at least one Aboriginal ancestor.2 The term Métis should only be applied to those whose sense of identity falls with others who share their mixed-blood culture, and who do not identify with a particular side of their Aboriginal and European descent. Before the end of the French era a sizable Métis community developed around the Upper Great Lakes and later on more communities developed in the Prairies. The origins of the Métis Nation link them with the history of the Fur Trade and the history of Western Canada. 

The origin of the Métis community is inextricably tied with that of the Fur Trade in Canada. The British entered the Fur Trade in 1670 with the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The French had already been actively involved in trade. It was not until the late 18th century that British traders chose to pursue trade in the same way as the French, pushing inland, planting small posts, and sending employees out to find furs. The same rivalry which led the two streams of fur trade to compete for customers also led them to plant fur trade posts near each other. This led to fraternizing among the employees, and as a result, children born to Aboriginal mothers and Orcadian, Scottish or English fathers became the newest additions to the Métis Nation.

The development of the Métis Nation began in colonial New France. While the Catholic Church frowned upon interracial marriage and the Hudson’s Bay Company forbade it outright, Aboriginal tribes had no qualms about the issue because it echoed their previous practices of intertribal marriages.3 Traditionally inter-tribal marriages established trade and military relationships. Traders often abandoned their Aboriginal wives and children, at which point most of the abandoned wives would attempt to reintegrate into their former communities. As the number of mixed-blood women increased, they became preferable as marriage partners to white men, while men of mixed-blood origin were often employed at trading posts.4 However, their jobs were usually low-paying and they were often unable to advance in the company.

As mentioned above the term Métis should only be applied to those people who culturally viewed and conducted themselves differently from both Aboriginal and European cultures. As numbers of Métis increased they started to develop a new and distinct culture. Offspring of the French developed their own language, Michif, a language that combined French and plains Cree. Offspring of English origin developed a language called Bungi, which was a combination of Cree and a Scots dialect from the Orkneys. By the mid-19th century, Métis villages started to appear around the Great Lakes.

As European explorers started to push further west, traders from New France accompanied them as they opened up new trade territory. On occasion, a few men would choose to stay inland, either as freemen or as employees maintaining an outpost. In such instances, the cycle of establishing relationships with the local Aboriginals would begin again.

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Liens Rapides

Origins and Identity

The Fur Trade Era

Métis of the Northwest

Political Life

Métis Technology

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