The Métis people are neither First Nations nor Inuit, although they
do share a common ancestry. The Métis people still consider their homeland to be what was known as
Rupert's land, which includes most of southern and some of central Alberta . The Métis
nation is unique to the cultural map of Canada in the way they emerged with the very
first arrival of the Europeans and the intermarriage of English or French Canadians with
aboriginal, predominantly Cree, women. The children born of these marriages were called "Métis"
which is the French term for "mixed blood". They developed their own culture and
language which are based on a mixture of French, English,
Cree and Ojibway cultures, traditions and languages that is very
distinct and very unique.
The Métis were, for the most part, egalitarian nomads who
possessed little or no property and followed the buffalo herd
across the plains, participating in the summer buffalo hunt
returning to their "home
base" for winter. With the fur trade and the expansion into the west, the need for a relationship and communication
between the European settlers and the First Nations people became of increasing importance.
The unique background of the Métis people, particularly their
knowledge and command of English and, in many cases, several Indian languages, they
were a natural
choice to serve as interpreters and guides and, therefore an essential part of the
history and development of Alberta.
Although the Métis people share a cultural identity, they also recognize some differences between them.
The French-speaking Métis generally associated themselves with the North West Company, while the
English-speaking Métis associated more with the Hudson's Bay Company. Also, the French-speaking
Métis people were generally known to be religious, generous people who excelled as
voyageurs as they were exceptionally skilled canoers and guides. The English-speaking
Métis were known more for their
skill in business and animal husbandry.
St. Albert, Lac la Biche, Buffalo Lake, Victoria Settlement and Duhamel
were home for
many Métis and Mixed Blood families in Alberta. Some of these families came from
as far away as Red River, but many traced
their roots back to local marriages at nearby missions and trading posts. Like many First Nations
people, large numbers of Métis embraced the new opportunities offered by growing settlement in the
1870s and 1880s, but as buffalo herds dwindled and fur trade companies shifted their operations
northward, conditions changed. Unlike other First Nations groups, the Métis and the families of former fur
trade employees were expected to integrate themselves into the new settlement society.
This was not
such a large problem as long as the numbers of new arrivals remained relatively small. However, by the
1890s, a huge wave of new settlers would change the face of western
the course of the negotiation of what have been referred to as the
"numbered treaties" (1867-1923), the
Métis were not recognized by the federal government to be Indians
and therefore they were not offered treaty. During the early decades of the twentieth century, many Métis
survived by trapping, trading, working at mixed farming or hiring
themselves out as labourers to local homesteaders. As they were not
official "treaty Indians", they were not eligible for education, medical benefits
or any sort of social assistance from the government. Destitute
and starving to death, liquor became an increasing problem within
Alberta's Métis population. Many men enlisted during the First World War, but because their
surnames are those most identifiably English, Scots or French,
they did not reflect their distinct culture and therefore the numbers of Métis men
who actually served their country during the war remains unknown.
During the 1920s, when most other Albertans were experiencing the post-war boom, the Métis as a group remained the poorest of the poor. They suffered greatly from malnutrition, tuberculosis, pneumonia and other communicable diseases.
It was not until 1938, after many years of poverty and starvation,
with the passing of the
Métis Betterment Act that the Alberta Government set aside land for the Métis people.
At that time eight
Métis settlements were created at Buffalo Lake, East Prairie, Elizabeth, Fishing Lake, Gift Lake, Kikino, Paddle Prairie, and
Peavine. In total, these settlements are comprised of 1.25 million
acres and have contributed greatly to the betterment of the lives
Métis families in the province.
Although the Métis continue to face hardship and battles with the
health and welfare of their community, they are an integral part
of Albertan society. As a community they are growing ever-stronger
with the passing of each year as the focus has begun to shift from
healing past wounds to ensuring a positive future for their youth
through enhanced educational and financial opportunities and the
building up of a strong community of support.
For more information on First Nations issues and history,
please visit some of the following websites: