The Metis Families

The Metis

Métis peoples are those of mixed French and Native ancestry, often including other cultural origins as well, especially Scottish. The French word Metis, meaning mixed blood, came into common use in the 1800s on the Canadian prairies to describe the children of French-Canadian traders and indigenous women, mostly Cree and Ojibwa. These intermarriages established a new culture, including distinct languages (Mitchif or Métchif), as well as clothing, food, and music.

In the late 17th through 18th century, fiddle music–and the dances associated with it–came to Canada largely with men hired by the Hudson’s Bay Company, many of whom were from the Orkney and Shetland Islands, to work in the fur trade. By the 19th century, this body of Scottish dance music had evolved into a distinctive fiddle tradition in Quebec, which then came west in the hands of French-Canadian voyageurs, mixing further with Scottish influence and, in many instances, taking on characteristics of local Native cultures.

Métis peoples live in every province and territory of Canada and many states in the U.S. Many are French-speaking, though many are not, speaking English and/or Aboriginal languages. However, to some extent all share an Aboriginal-French-Scottish cultural legacy which varies from one region to another and even from one family to another.

Indigenous women were the link between cultures; they provided companionship for the fur traders, treated and processed their furs, and aided in their survival. Many times Native women served as translators, usually managed their husband’s households, and generally were involved in resolving any cultural issues that arose. The fur traders benefited greatly from their wives’ knowledge of the land and its resources.

The Métis played a vital role in the success of the western fur trade. Not only were the Métis skilled hunters, but they were also raised to appreciate both Aboriginal and European cultures. Métis understanding of both societies and their customs helped bridge cultural gaps, and improved trading relationships. The Métis were invaluable employees of the fur trading companies. They navigated the rivers, they managed the pack trains, they hunted for food, and they served as the critical link between the Natives and Company management.

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