The Métis are members of ethnic group native to Canada and parts of the United States that trace their descent to indigenous North Americans and European settlers. The Métis in Canada are recognized as an aboriginal people under the Constitution Act of 1982; they number over 1.4 million as of 2011. Smaller communities identifying as Métis exist in the U.S.
Métis communities descended from unions between Native Americans and white settlers have developed over the centuries since European contact. In Canada, Métis in the western regions were heavily involved in the fur trade, and formed communities that have retained a unique culture.
The word "Métis" (originally from the French adjective métis: 1. something that is half of one thing and half of another, and 2. someone whose father and mother are of different races, or mixed-race):1080 was first used to refer to people of mixed race born generally to indigenous women and French men in New France and La Louisiane. Over time in Canada, many mixed-race people married within their own group, maintaining contact with their indigenous culture. The term developed in association with these particular communities of mixed-race people and their unique culture.
The word is a cognate of Spanish mestizo and Portuguese mestiço, which have the same meaning but refer to descendants with Indigenous and European ancestry in Latin American colonies. The English word mestee is a corruption of the Middle French mestis (the letters 's' both pronounced at the start of the Middle French period, and both silent at the end of the Middle French period).
The term mestee was widely used in the antebellum United States for mixed-race individuals, according to Jack D. Forbes, used for people of European and Native American ancestry, as well as European and African, or tri-racial. In the 19th century, the census takers recorded people of color as mulatto, also meaning mixed race. In former French colonies, a group known as free people of color had developed from unions between African or mixed-race women and French male colonists; often the men freed their children.
After the Civil War, the term "mestee" gradually fell into disuse when the millions of slaves were made freedmen. As whites worked to re-establish white supremacy during and after Reconstruction, they passed laws after the turn of the 20th century to enforce the "one-drop rule." By this anyone with any known Sub-Saharan African ancestry was legally "Black", a more restrictive definition than had previously operated in the South, especially on the frontier. American Indian scholar Jack D. Forbes has attempted to revive "mestee" as a term for the mixed-race peoples established as free before the Civil War.
The term métis is used outside of North America, mostly in former colonies or countries that were historically part of the French Empire and had French as an official language, such as Vietnam. As in North America, the term indicates a person of mixed indigenous and European ancestry. Anglophones generally restrict the use of the word "Métis" to peoples of North America, preferring the term "Eurasian" for people of mixed Asian and European ancestry.
Métis people in Canada
The specific meaning of Métis in Canada varies depending on context. The Canadian Encyclopedia indicates that there is no complete consensus as on the definition of Métis in Canada. It uses the following definition:
It is important to define specific meanings for the term as used in this discussion, while cautioning that writers past and present have not achieved consensus on the matter. Written with a small m, métis is an old French word meaning "mixed", and it is used here in a general sense for people of dual Indian-White ancestry. Capitalized, Métis is often used but not universally accepted as a generic term for all persons of this biracial descent. It may variously refer to a distinctive socio cultural heritage, a means of ethnic self-identification, and sometimes a political and legal category, more or less narrowly defined.
The Métis people's history begins in the 17th century with the unions of various French colonists, typically trappers and traders, and Algonquian women, including but not limited to Mi'kmaq, Algonquin, Ojibwe, and Cree peoples. These unions began in the east, extending from the Atlantic coast to the Great Lakes. The fur trade and colonial development drew French voyageurs and coureurs de bois to the west, along with the later Hudson's Bay Company employees. Wintering partners of the fur trading companies typically took country wives for their months away from the eastern cities.
After the fall of New France in 1763, many Métis populations continued to establish themselves, often specializing in the fur trade and related hunting. Some served as interpreters as they often were fluent in both indigenous and European languages. English and Scottish traders also married indigenous women, often the daughters of high-ranking chiefs, forming an elite mixed society. As the eighteenth century ended, the fur trade moved westwards into the Plains. In 1812, Cuthbert Grant led a battle in the Pemmican War, flying the Métis flag. Many treaties throughout Canada were being negotiated in the nineteenth century, including in Ontario with the Robinson-Huron treaty. In 1870 the Métis at Red River, led by Louis Riel, resisted the colonial efforts of Canada, and negotiated entry into Canada as the province of Manitoba with promises to protect their rights. In 1885, the Métis were resisting Canadian colonialism with the Northwest Rebellion. The Métis were defeated and Riel was hanged as a traitor to Canada, but his role in history is controversial.
Métis in the western provinces faced scrip after 1885, and many were considered 'Road Allowance people'. Racism towards Métis peoples in the west was a large part of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the east, many Métis continued to live their lifestyles and were often considered invisible.
In 1982, Métis were included as Aboriginal people in the Canadian Constitution. They are defined as an ethnic group with their own culture, distinct from First Nations and Inuit peoples. Métis peoples have formed a variety of political organizations to promote their interests, including the Métis National Council (MNC), the Canadian Métis Council (CMC), the Métis Federation of Canada (MFC) and the Métis Nation of Canada to name a few.
In 2003, the Powley Case ruled that a family of Métis people in Ontario had the right to hunt moose as part of their Métis Aboriginal rights. This case was funded by the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO), a provincial affiliate of the MNC. The case established the Métis history in Ontario, which was long debated by many people. The case also established the Powley test, which helps to define who is Métis, and therefore eligible to rights as an Aboriginal person.
In 2013, the Daniels Decision ruled that Métis people were legally considered 'Indian' under section 95 of the Constitution. This does not mean that Métis peoples are a First Nation, but rather that they are a federal responsibility. First Nations are distinct from Métis peoples, and they are not synonyms. The case is being appealed.
- 2011 National Household Survey: Aboriginal Peoples in Canada: First Nations People, Métis and Inuit
- Peterson, Jacqueline; Brown, Jennifer S. H. (2001) "Introduction". In The New Peoples: Being and Becoming Métis in North America, pp. 3–18. Minnesota Historical Society Press. ISBN 0873514084.
- Robert, Paul (1973). Dictionnaire alphabétique et analogique de la langue française. Paris: Dictionnaire LE ROBERT. ISBN 978-2-321-00858-3.
- Forbes, Jack (1993). Africans and Native Americans: The Language of Race and the Evolution of Red-Black Peoples. ISBN 978-0-252-06321-3.
- Jennifer S.H. Brown. "Métis". The Canadian Encyclopedia. online version. Historica Foundation. Retrieved October 31, 2012.
- Barkwell, Lawrence J.; Dorion, Leah; Hourie, Audreen (2006). "Métis legacy Michif culture, heritage, and folkways". Métis legacy series. 2. Saskatoon: Gabriel Dumont Institute. ISBN 0-920915-80-9.
- Barkwell, Lawrence J.; Dorion, Leah; Prefontaine, Darren (2001). Métis Legacy: A Historiography and Annotated Bibliography. Winnipeg: Pemmican Publications Inc. and Saskatoon: Gabriel Dumont Institute. ISBN 1-894717-03-1.
- The Rupertsland Institute (Alberta) - A service dedicated to the research and development, education, and training and employment of Metis individuals. It is affiliated with the Metis Nations of Alberta. Along with providing financial aid, the Rupertsland Institute helps Metis individuals acquire essential skills for employment.