Prior to Canada’s
crystallization as a nation, a new Aboriginal people emerged out of the
relations of Indian women and European men. While the initial offspring
of these Indian and European unions were individuals who simply
possessed mixed ancestry, subsequent intermarriages between these mixed
ancestry children resulted in the genesis of a new Aboriginal people
with a distinct identity, culture and consciousness in west central
North America – the Métis Nation.
The Métis are recognized by the government
as one of the recognised Aboriginal peoples in Canada. They developed as
the mixed-race descendants of unions between, generally, First Nations
women and European men, but over time there were more intermarriages
within the group. The term historically described all mixed-race people
of First Nations and European ancestry. Within generations in the 19th
century, particularly in central and western Canada, a distinct Métis
culture developed. Since the late 20th century, the Metis people have
been recognized as an Aboriginal people, with formal recognition equal
to that given to the Inuit and First Nations peoples.
The early mothers were usually Mi'kmaq, Algonquin, Saulteaux, Cree,
Ojibwe, Menominee, or Maliseet, or of mixed descent from these peoples
and Europeans. After New France was ceded to Great Britain's control, at
one time there was an important distinction between French Métis born of
francophone voyageur fathers, and the Anglo-Métis (known as "countryborn")
descended from English or Scottish fathers. Today these two cultures
have essentially coalesced into one Métis tradition. Such mixed-race
people were referred to by other terms, many of which are now considered
to be offensive, such as Mixed-bloods, Half-breeds, Bois-Brűlés, Bungi,
Black Scots, and Jackatars.
The Métis homeland includes regions scattered across Canada, as well as
parts of the northern United States (specifically northwest Minnesota,
North Dakota, and Montana). These were areas in which there was
considerable intermarriage due to the 19th-century fur trade.
Del Majore, MSW with the Indigenous Health
Program, discusses Métis history, culture and the impacts of
colonization on Métis communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
In 2011, 451,795 people in Canada identified as Métis.
They represented 32.3% of the total Aboriginal population and 1.4% of
the total Canadian population. Most Métis people today are not the
direct result of intermarriage between First Nations and Europeans. The
vast majority of those who identify as Métis are the descendants of
unions between generations of Métis individuals.
Over the past century, countless Métis have assimilated into the general
European Canadian populations, making Métis heritage (and thereby
aboriginal ancestry) more common than is generally realized. Geneticists
estimate that 50 percent of today's population in Western Canada have
some Aboriginal blood. They could be classified as Métis by any
genetic measure but most are not part of its ethnic culture. There is
substantial controversy over who qualifies as Métis.
Unlike among First Nations peoples, there is no distinction between
"status" and "non-status" Métis. The legal definition is not yet fully
Understanding the Métis Nation in BC by Bruce
Have you ever wondered what the difference in language, culture,
heritage, and citizenship is between Métis people and First Nations in
Canada? Did you know that since 2006, the Métis Nation in British
Columbia has had a Métis Nation Relationship Accord with the Province of
The North-West Is Our Mother
The Story of Louis Riel’s People, the Métis Nation by Jean Teillet
Reviewed by Connie Wyatt Anderson — Posted
September 22, 2021
Imagine if your story — the story of your family, your people, your
culture — was often told by someone else. Imagine further that some of
these outsiders were tale-twisters, spinmeisters, propagandists,
racists, many of them with underlying imperialist motives. Now pull this
flawed narrative forward and embed it into the story of Canada; muddle
it even more, so that some modern day Canadians with no arterial
connection to your nation or homeland either dismiss and malign you or
reimagine — and insert themselves into — your people’s history. Such is
the story of the Métis Nation that Jean Teillet’s The North-West Is Our
Mother seeks to set straight.
At more than five hundred pages, the book’s length makes it appear like
one of the many tomes that have explored Métis history with an academic
lens. But the stylistically hand-drawn map of the North-West, the Métis
homeland, on the book’s inside front cover tells readers that they are
in for a different approach — a fireside chat, rather than a didactic
Teillet, a lawyer, lecturer, and great-grandniece of Louis Riel, begins
in the late 1790s with the generation that will become the founders of
the Métis Nation and ends in the present day, highlighting the current
struggles the Métis face: reconciliation, recognition, resources, and
the newest among them, race shifting, which involves white people
claiming Métis identity.
Interwoven throughout the narrative are the movers and shakers of Métis
history: Jean-Baptise Lagimodičre, Cuthbert Grant, Louis Riel, Gabriel
Dumont, Jim Brady, and Malcolm Norris. Teillet writes, “This book
contains the best-known stories of the Métis Nation as well as some
forgotten ones.” She shares the ubiquitous stories of often-silent yet
dauntless voyageurs, fierce nomadic buffalo hunters, Métis bards and
balladeers, and the indomitable Métis women.
Teillet’s story of the Métis is framed around five resistances, which
are set against the backdrop of events leading up to the creation of the
Canadian state: the First National Resistance against Lord Selkirk and
his settlers, where she highlights the birth of the Métis Nation at the
Battle of Frog Plain in 1816; the Second National Resistance, a “cry for
freedom” against the goliath Hudson’s Bay Company; the Third National
Resistance against Canada — more particularly, against Orangeist
Ontarians seeking the spoils of the West — and the resultant Red River
Resistance; the Fourth National Resistance, or “La Guerre Nationale,” in
1885 at Batoche; and the Fifth National Resistance, a Métis collective
renaissance in opposition to the Canadian government.
She upends the typical historiography surrounding chronicles of the
Métis by relying not only on historical and anthropological records but
on her own family history and the rich oral tradition of the Métis.
Teillet intentionally employs Métis terminology (differentiating between
a voyageur and a Freeman — an independent hunter-trader), toponyms (Frog
Plain, not Seven Oaks), and names of historical events (the “reign of
terror,” not the Red River Expeditionary Force), and she clearly
identifies the Métis Nation’s homeland in words and in maps.
She does not pussyfoot when making statements such as “Lord Selkirk was
a racist”; she is not Pollyannish when calling out the backroom
duplicity of the Catholic Church; and she does not conceal the internal
struggles within the Métis Nation itself.
The North-West Is Our Mother embodies the heart of Métis storytelling —
and, like her Métis forebears, Teillet is a seasoned raconteur. In her
book, she builds a story of a people born of the plains and levered by
kinship, resistance, a stalwart sense of identity, and the “belief that
their past battles, celebrated in their stories and songs, will
eventually enable a future where they will be free to be the nation of
their dreams, the one they first sang into being in 1816.”
The North-West Is Our Mother is not only a paean to the genesis and
survival of the Métis Nation but also a bellwether for reconciliation in
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