In Canada, the Métis Nation refers to people of both European and Indigenous ancestry. They are descendants of First Nations mothers and European fur trappers and traders who arrived in the 1700s. The Métis are one of the three Aboriginal Nations in Canada, along with the First Nations and Inuit that are recognized in the Canadian constitution. Métis communities exist throughout Canada, however, the Plains region is considered the physical, cultural, and political home of the Métis people. The Métis have their own unique customs, vibrant culture, language, and storied history. There are over 587,000 Métis living in Canada today.
The Métis are an Indigenous people who are distinct from the First Nations and Inuit who also call Canada home. They are the descendants of both First Nations women and European men who settled in North America as fur trappers and traders in the 1700s. For example, Scottish, French, and British fur traders married Cree and Anishinabe women, and the communities that developed became the Métis. These communities were historically located along fur trade routes in what is now Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, and the Northern United States from the Great Lakes region to the Rocky Mountains. The Canadian Constitution recognizes "Aboriginal peoples of Canada" includes First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples of Canada. As such, the Métis have "full status as a distinctive rights-bearing peoples". Today in Canada, the Métis have a population of about 587,545, which is 35.1% of the total Aboriginal population and 1.5% of the total Canadian population (as stated in the 2016 census). The language of the Métis is called Michif. It is primarily a mix of Plains Cree, Canadian French, English, and other First Nations languages.
While today the Métis live throughout Canada, their traditional "homeland" is in the Canadian Prairies historically along the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in Manitoba. By 1840, there were about 4000 Métis people living in and around what is now Manitoba. Many Métis blended their indigenous beliefs and culture with European Catholicism. The Métis were traders, hunters, and farmers, and they played an important role in the fur trade. They were often able to speak multiple languages and serve as interpreters in addition to trappers, traders, and freighters. In the 1700s, Métis buffalo hunting began on the North American plains and continued until 1878 when the buffalo herds went into decline due to increased settlers and overhunting. The hunt was a vital part of Métis peoples livelihood. When the buffalo went into decline and the Canadian government began to confiscate more of Métis homeland, leaders like Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont helped to lead resistance movements in the late 1800s.
The Métis are known for their beautiful craftsmanship and artistry. They are masters of decorative arts, some of which are focused on brightly colored floral motifs in beadwork and embroidery. The Dakota and the Cree even refer to the Métis as the “Flower Beadwork People” because of their brightly colored mosaics of flowers. The fiddle (violin) is another important part of Métis music and culture past and present. The Métis have been "fiddling" for hundreds of years and many Métis craftspeople make their own fiddles. The Métis jig, the famous "Red River Jig", is dancing that accompanies the music. Fiddle and jigging contests are popular and festive events. Today, Métis people live in both urban and rural areas and are a vibrant part of all aspects of Canadian society. Métis are artists, authors, politicians, activists, scientists, athletes, and more. The Métis people continue to thrive and celebrate their proud history and cultural traditions in Canada.
With the activities in this lesson plan, students will demonstrate what they’ve learned about the Métis Nation of Canada. They’ll become familiar with their environment, resources, traditions, and culture.