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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
Tools (snowshoes, traps, scrapers)


The traditional tools the Aboriginal and Métis used were pots of stone, arrow-points, spearheads, hatchets, and other edged tools of flint, knives of buffalo rib, fishhooks made out of sturgeon bones, and awls from bones of the moose. The fibrous roots of the white pine were used as twine for sewing their bark canoes, and a kind of thread from a weed for making nets. Spoons and pans were fashioned front the horns of the moose. They sometimes made fishhooks by inserting a piece of bone obliquely into a stick and sharpening the point. Their lines were either thongs fastened together or braided willow bark.

Dog SledThe Métis toolbox held an assortment of tools from both their European and Aboriginal heritage. It also held some adaptations that were specific to the Métis. The first tool adapted from the Aboriginals was probably the snowshoe. They also learned quickly to make traps from native materials, such as deadfalls, roots for snares, etc. They used metal traps when they were available, but would have always chosen to use the method that was most efficient. Along the way, they would have learned to use the metal European traps in Aboriginals ways, such as using a metal trap where they had previously used a snare.

In the area of knives and scrapers, they showed their skills at adaptation. Fur trade posts generally had a resident blacksmith who was responsible for making knives and other tools from scrap metal. Métis fur trade employees learned to make their own tools as well. Barrel staves were particularly prized for knife blades, complete with the tang, and for scrapers or flesher. The scrapers were knives with two handles and an arced blade with the inner edge sharpened. They were used to clean the flesh and tissue off the hide before it was tanned. Next, they stretched the hide. They stretched small animals’ skins without slitting open the skin, by placing a shaped board inside the inside out skin. Larger skins were stretched by lacing them to a wood frame. To stretch a moose hide or buffalo hide, they made the frame from poles. They made another tool out of barrel staves. They notched one edge of half a barrel stave until it looked like a fine saw blade, and then fastened it to the outside of a shed wall It was bowed out from the wall and fastened again at the bottom. This tool was used to break up the tissue in the dried hide, softening it after it was treated. The skin was rubbed across the notches, in all directions, until the whole skin had lost its stiffness. The skin was then smoked to complete the tanning process.

The Métis seemed to have continued using Aboriginal methods, only substituting the materials of which the tools were constructed. The Aboriginals had always fished, using gillnets in lakes through the ice in winter, weirs in narrows or rivers, and with hook and line. Over time, the materials used to make nets changed, but the use of gill nets to catch lake fish is still a routine practice. While the Aboriginals and Métis first used bone fish hooks, they began to use steel hooks. However, the custom of fishing, and the importance of certain locations as important fishing spots has persisted. Certain Provincial Campgrounds in Alberta are traditional locations.

Specific tools were also used in Métis building construction. Tools such as a scriber, drawknife, saws, offset broad axe, froe, chisels, mallet, and adze are used in log construction, but it was said that a good man with a broad axe could build the whole house.

The Red River Cart, hand hewn from native pine, aspen and cottonwood, and lashed together with bison hide and sinew, was a vital tool of the Métis. The cart, fabricated by hand and primitive metal tools using only wood and buffalo hide as materials, was used to transport pemmican, furs and other trade goods. It is a mixture of European design and Aboriginal inventiveness. The coming of transcontinental railroads doomed the cart as a functional cartage vehicle. But it remains a vital symbol of the Métis.

Dog sleds were another tool that neither the fur trade nor the Métis could survive without. The dog sled was a vital form of winter transportation for the fur traders of the Northwest, and was used by both the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company. The dog sleds used seem to have had two basic designs—the open 'sledge', and the enclosed 'cariole'. Sledges were used routinely in the fur trade as early as 1797, and possibly earlier. Some drawings from after 1821 show sledges shaped very much like a toboggan, but with a higher front curl. These sledges were pulled by one to four dogs harnessed in a line. Carioles seem to have been less commonly used than sledges, but better documented.

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Tools (snowshoes, traps, scrapers)

Toys (rattles, dolls, games)

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