Children's Administration, Department of Social and Health Services
Children's Administration, Department of Social and Health Services
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Indian Child Welfare Manual

THE CANADIAN METIS*

The Metis Nation evolved in the historic Northwest region of Canada in the 18 th and 19 th centuries. Born of a mixture of French and Scottish fur traders and Cree, Ojibwa, Saulteaux, Dene, and Assiniboine women, the Metis in the Northwest Territories developed as a people, distinct from either Indian or European.

Following the annexation of the Northwest Territories by Canada in 1869-1870, the political economy of the Metis was destroyed. The Manitoba Act (1870), an Act Representing the Appropriation of Certain Dominion Land in Manitoba (1874), and the Dominion Lands Act (1879) recognized Metis claims to Aboriginal title, but the federal government moved tounilaterally extinguishthese claims through individual land grants and scrip. Denied the recognition of their collective rights, the Metis became Canada’sforgotten people.Only in Alberta was any action taken to alleviate Metis distress through the establishment of Metis settlements by the provincial government in 1938. The Metis were officially recognized as one of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples in the Canadian Constitution of 1982.

The estimated number of Metis in Canada varies widely, from 300,000 to 800,000. According to 1996 Census data, there are over 210,000 Metis in Canada, representing 26 percent of the Aboriginal population.

Most Metis live in Western Canada, both in remote and urban communities and in Metis-only and mixed communities. There are over 300 Metis communities. Most communities are English-speaking, with some communities using Michif or other Aboriginal languages. The Metis are distinguished by their unique Michif language.

*This article has been adapted from documents produced by the Metis National Council of Canada. The documents indicate that the Metis National Council was established in 1938 and has been recognized as the voice of the Metis Nation in constitutional negotiations at the national level. The Council acts as an advocate and negotiator for the Metis people with the Government of Canada.

The Metis are one of three distinct Aboriginal peoples of Canada, recognized under the 1982 Constitution. Fiercely independent, the Metis were instrumental in the development of western Canada. But unlike the Indian and the Inuit, the historic role played by the Metis has not been acknowledged, nor have their inherent rights to land and and self-government been respected by governments.

The wordMetiscomes from the Latin miscere , to mix, and was used originally to describe the children of native women and French men. Other terms for these children were Country-born, Black Scots, and Halfbreeds.

The Metis quickly became intermediaries between European and Indian cultures, working as guides, interpreters, and provisioners to the new forts and new trading companies. Their villages sprang up from the Great Lakes to the Mackenzie Delta. The Metis Homeland encompasses parts of present-day Ontario, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Metis culture was a fusion of French, English, and Indian influences that took root and flourished until the late 1800s. The Metis developed a unique language called Michif. Their fiddlers combined jibs and reels into their music. Metis attire included woven sashes, embroidered gun sheaths, deerhide caps, quilled and beaded pipe bags. The Metis developed technologies such as the Red River Cart. Expert hunters, they made formidable soldiers.

They also developed a unique political and legal culture, with strong democratic traditions. The Metis had elected provisional governments to organize buffalo hunts. By 1816, the Metis had challenged the Hudson Bay Company’s monopoly in the fur trade and began to develop a national consciousness.

The Metis formed the majority of the population at the Red River Colony. Louis Riel’s provisional government negotiated the entry of Manitoba into Canadian confederation in 1870. But federal promises of land in the Manitoba Act were not fulfilled. After 10 years of delay, the government introduced the now-notorious scrip system. These certificates for land or money replaced direct land grants. Scrip was snapped up by speculators who followed the Scrip Commissions. Aware that the Metis were defrauded of their land, the government ignored the abuse and facilitated the business of the speculators.

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 made the Crown responsible for the well-being of aboriginal peoples and forbade the dismembering of their lands. But the federal government refused to acknowledge its responsibilities for the Metis, and their political rights as a sovereign people were not recognized.

Following an unsuccessful rebellion of Metis and other peoples led by Louis Riel in 1885, for the next century, the federal government did not acknowledge any responsibility for the Metis. As a consequence, the Metis suffered from racism and poverty. But the Metis continued to press their claims with Canada: To be recognized as a sovereign people, with their own culture and traditions, with inherent claims to land and self-government.

In 1936, Alberta government granted 1,280,00 acres of land for Metis Settlements, a precedent that has allowed contemporary Metis of Alberta to obtain limited control of housing, health, child welfare, and legal institutions.