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The First People had little desire to explore America:
They however led the way for the Coureurs de bois and Metis
They were fully aware of the four seas to the north/south, east/west,
they believed their own location was the best.
"These are the Peoples who learned to live without
the bold accents of the national ego-trippers of other lands." Marshall
Herbert McLuhan (1911-1980)
The life of the Coureur des Bois was one of adventure, freedom, danger and travel.
Pierre Esprit Radisson (1636-1710).
Metis: Some claim the first use of the word Metis appears in the Jesuit Relations of 1666, with a pejorative connotation of mongrel and bastard. I have read these translated books and must have missed it. The earliest notation of Metis, that I have seen, appears in 1750, in the Quebec records of death. Cyprien Tanguay (1819-1902) includes this Metis among the listing of Sauvages (Savages).
The focus of my research ,however, is the North West Algonquian Metis culture, being distinct from the South West Mississippi or Missouri Metis, or the other Mixed Blood Peoples of America. The Red River of the North West, from a Canadian perspective, has been traditionally acclaimed as the cultural apex of the Metis culture. The Metis culture, however, finds its apex- not in the Red River- but in the story of the Grand Kitchi Gami (Lake Superior), also known as the 'Old North West'.
The people of the Grand Kitchi Gami are the Ojibwa, who could be identified by their
moccasins. The Ojibwa word for Moccasin is Makisin. It is interesting that the
First People of Canada identified their neighbors by
cultural traits like their clothing, methods of cooking etc. Europeans use religion, skin color,
warlike nature, etc. They use these old world attributes and then assume
that First Nation People used the the same criteria.
Modern historians, political and religious folks still view the people with a European perspective. They still attempt to impose their prevailing system of beliefs and values when viewing other cultures. Their view is typically from a land, building and money perspective.
My original objective was not to research the Metis culture, nor the Indian (Peoples) culture, but to trace my Canadian ancestors. While conducting research into source documents, traders diaries, census records etc. I was forced to record dates, locations, cultures, clans, people, and events which assisted in my quest. Before long it became too big and had to be placed on my computer. Over the years it grew and grew. I now have over 25MB of data on line. It is now my turn to share my collection to those who might be interested.
What is Metis: Basically, it is a cultural tradition based on a premise of First Nation ancestry or adoption into that tradition. The word Metis is derived by the French from the Ojibwa word Wissakodewinmi, which figuratively means half burnt woodsman: not quite a full fledged woodsman. The Cree called the Metis Oteepaymsoowuk, which means their own boss; as distinct from French or English people. The Cree viewed the English as being slaves to their Company. In fact, many were in fact indentured slaves- as were the French. The Metis culture evolved from the Coureurs des Bois, Voyager and the Indian cultures. The Voyagers were of two types: the French Voyager pork eaters (mangeur de lard) and the more Metis type Winter Voyager, winterer (hivernant), who normally took country wives. The term voyager actually refers to one who paddles a fur trade canoe, but some have expanded its meaning to include all those who ventured into the interior via canoe, engaged in the fur trade or for exploration.
The Jesuit Father Vivier, in 1750, first introduced the derogatory term half breed into Canada. He believed the very condition of being Metis was against the Laws of God. The English, in Canada, first called the Metis 'those Peddlers' (about 1750) and later called them 'those Canadians'. The French were called 'those French Canadians'. The English would later also adopt the French term Half Breed. The term mixed blood was introduced by the American English during the 1800's treaty process.
The Jesuit also called the Metis, Couriers des Bois meaning illegal runners of the forests but more commonly used the terms savage, heathen or half-breed. The A.F. Ewing Commission of 1935 decided to be Metis, "a person had to either look like an Indian or be able to establish Indian ancestry. They also had to live the life of an ordinary Indian and non-treaty Indians would be included" as Metis. Malcolm Norris a member of the Commission maintained that, "if a person has a drop of Indian blood in his veins and has not assimilated in the social fabric of our civilization he is a Metis." This assimilation assumption is a European belief that is based on paternalistic logic.
(VI)-Louis Garneau, a Metis, born 1789 in the North West, son Frenchman (most likely (V)-Jean Baptiste Garneau (born 1762) and Sowayguay Ojibwa, is the motivation for this North West historical perspective. These, my ancestors, worked Lake Superior, La Pointe, Red Lake, Pembina, Red River and Manitoba. Records and family tradition indicate they acquired ‘Country Wives’, possibly Dakota Sioux and positively Ojibwa (Chippewa). It would appear that two generations of Garneau's worked for the North West Company and one or more for the Montreal Companies. One or more may also have worked for the French Trading Company. It is likely the Garneau's are Voyagers, Nor'wester and Coureurs des Bois. The family married into the Cadotte family who arrived in the West in 1671, and made it their permanent home about 1755. This family introduced Huron (Wendat) and Iroquois into the family. We also know that the Thomas clan, who joined the Garneau clan in marriage, arrived Hudson Bay, North West Territories 1789 and became some of the first recorded Prairie Metis with a Cree ancestry. I say recorded because the taking of native wives, or the recording of Metis children, was forbidden by the Hudson Bay Company until the 1790's. This section attempts to view history from the Mixed Blood Nature of the North West Territories. It therefore speaks of the Metis Nation of the North West. It is worth remembering that there are two North West Territories: the Old North West- first known as the west or interior, and the New North West.
To bring some order to our understanding of the evolving Territories and cultures, you can visualize three classical periods.
These trading periods are:
The exclusion of the English is due to the fact that they had little real impact on the formation of early Canadian culture, until after the 1790's, when they adopted the Canadian Metis method of conducting business. Their unique contribution only began in 1812, in the Red River, and with their acquisition of the North West Company in 1821. My exclusion of the Eskimo, or Inuit, is only due to the fact that I have not discovered a relative associated with this very interesting culture, which came early on to the American scene. There are surely many Metis among their numbers, but they seem to have been absorbed into the Inuit culture.
Another more European perception of the trading periods is:
Montreal and North West Company period - (1763 to 1821).
Hudson Bay Company period (1787 to 1870). The Hudson Bay Company is established in 1670, but had very little impact on Canadian culture until after about 1787. They considered themselves as foreign traders; not allowed to mix with the Indians, Canadians (French) or those Peddlers, as they called the Metis.
Dutch West India Company period (1621 to 1664). They had an indirect impact on Canadian culture through the Iroquois.
Thirteen English States Trader period (1664 to 1776), whose impact is also through the Iroquois and the English wars against Canada.
American Trading Companies period (1776 to 1834), whose impact was lost among the North West Company and the Free Traders, but which set the stage for the Mountain men of America.
Russian Trading period (1784 to 1867), that impacted Alaska, British Columbia and California.
Metis, Mixed Blood or Half Breed peoples, are the only indigenous people
of the Americas. The three major founding cultures of Canada are
the Indian, Inuit and Dene, who themselves are of mixed blood origin. There
has been a continuous migration of peoples from and to the Americas since the
beginning of human history. It is noteworthy that the European cultures are reluctant to admit that
they also are all of mixed blood origin, or Half Breeds. The Native
Americans inherently knew this great truth and therefore freely accepted
all people as their brothers. Most European people do not hold this
great truth, thereby creating a transitional culture called the Metis.
Metis, therefore, is a transitory state of mind; a figment of our imagination;
a cultural anomaly. That it still remains an anomaly surely speaks
to unresolved Canadian cultural issues.
By the year 2000, some estimate that 50 percent of the population of Western Canada will have Native blood and will, therefore, be Metis by any genetic measure. As a result of four hundred years of persecution, by year 2000, only about one million Canadians will freely admit to Native origins by the end of the twentieth century. If we don't understand the historic Metis condition, we are consigning our children to repeat the errors of the past. We don't have a large Aboriginal Native population, with strong brotherhood and an integrated set of beliefs and values, to accommodate the transformation of the Canadian, Asian and European Half Breeds into a 21st century Canadian Metis culture.
Metis a Stereotype The new world defines its cultures primarily by their clothing, so it comes as no surprise that the Metis adopted a unique attire. A short shirt, red woolen cap, deer skin leggings, the azion (breech cloth) and a pair of deer skin moccasins. Their thighs are left bare- like the Indians. Let us not forget the blue capote, inevitable pipe, gaudy sash (long colorful wide belt), gay beaded bag or pouch which hangs from the sash and the fiddle. You now have a pro-type Metis. It is said if a Metis has a fiddle, he doesn't need sleep. This attire evolved over time, but it is noteworthy that present day Metis usually search back to their roots to recover components of a cultural attire, and then to recover their real culture of principles, beliefs and values.
The Metis culture was originally called irrepressible, made up of unassuming gens libre (freemen) who were humble and filled with peals of laughter, songs of merriment, campfire stories, tall tales, foaming rapids, birch rimmed lakes, shallow winding streams and, 'Oh Yes', lets not forget the grand bison (buffalo) hunts. I was fortunate to have experienced the tail end of this dying culture, which is now going through a 'Grand Renaissance'.
The Aboriginal American culture had already accommodated Buddhist Chinese, East Indian, Judaism, Celtic, Viking, Norwegian and Basque, before the arrival of the Spanish, Dutch, French, and English. The Spanish diseases, as they were called, had already killed tens of millions of the Aboriginal peoples, before the French and English ventured into this region of the world. Most historians, for the last few hundred years, claim that America gave Europe the French disease Syphilis, that took a terrible toll in Europe. The theory says that syphilis must have been brought to Europe by Columbus, as there was little trace of the disease before 1492. Recent evidence, however, points to Hull, England, where an excavated priory unearthed evidence of the disease in many of the 14th century monks, prior to the Columbus trip. Other evidence also suggests this disease is evident in Italy (Greater Greece) about 700 B.C. It has now been suggested that Columbus spread this terrible disease to the Americas.
Metis, as a cultural issue, did not surface in Canada until the 17th century. The Roman Catholic Jesuit Order is the first to introduce this cultural cast system into Canada, based on the color of one's skin, their religion and/or value system. Their classifications are: White French, Black Slaves, Savage Indian, Protestant English, and those Coureurs des Bois or Metis- who are at the low end of the scale. It is noteworthy that the Jesuit classified the Protestant English as lesser than black or Indians. They also had another value scale of Catholic, Pagan and Protestant , with Protestant being the worst evil. This implied that if you are a Protestant and English, you are grouped into the same class as the Coureurs des Bois regardless of your skin color.
The voyagers average height was 5 feet 6 inches, with a few being greater than 5 feet 8 inches. He could paddle 15-18 hours per day and still joke beside the campfire. He could carry 200 to 450 pounds merchandise. The voyagers always sang while they paddled; songs of their canoe, country, life, loves, church, old ballads, humorous jingles, poems, but always to the stroke of the paddle, sometimes as frequently as one per second. Canoe racing was one of the chief delights of these voyagers. These attributes were passed to the decedents the Metis.
Metis Colonies An American perspective suggests the more significant Metis Colonies include: Sault Ste Marie, La Pointe, Detroit, Mackinac, Chicago, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Prairie Du Chien, St Paul, St Louis, Winnipeg, and many more lesser historical locations. The Metis colonies are described as charming, with Acadian simplicity. They have time for friendliness, politeness, and have a note of picturesque-ness to their attire. They have a simple faith, and a childlike objectivity. They accepted the Indian at his own value, which was not low, whereas the American Frontiersman could scarcely find words for his contempt of what he considered a thieving, shiftless, dirty race.
The southern Mississippi (Louisiana) had very early Metis settlements, but they are referred to as Canadians and, occasionally, as Coureurs de Bois. The Spanish left a trail of Metis, but most appear to be absorbed into the Native cultures.
& First Nation You will notice I have avoided the more recent Indian,
Inuit, Dene, Metis and First Nation legal and political debates that have taken
place in Canada. There are hundreds of writers and historians trying to
focus on these issues so we don't need another paddle in the water.
It would be nice if there was one set of governing principles for all First Nation Peoples, respecting the diverse traditions within one Nation.
It would be nice if there was one set of beliefs that valued the dignity of each member, their religion and their environment; rather than Land, Buildings and Money.
It would be nice if there was one set of values that acknowledged the rights of all members regardless of their life style; such as life in the high-rise vs. life closer to nature; life off the reservation vs. life on the reservation.
Why can't we recapture the Old Spirit of caring & sharing in a new modern world? A new paradigm is possible- just as a 1,000 mile journey begins with the first step...
Dream dreams of what could be rather than dreams of what was- and is- lost.
E-MAIL RE: METIS NATION
Jean Champagne wrote: (10-2007)
Bonjour - Can you tell me why a Metis from Quebec is not recognized as a Metis in Manitoba? ? Who coined the phrase ' Metis nation" . It seems that Mr Chartrand and its western allies had an hidden agenda when they defined Metis as belonging or coming from the Metis nation. Can you shed some light on this. A group of Metis friends from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Quebec have difficulty understanding this issues. How come the Canadian government does not have a definition of the work Metis in their Charter of Right and Freedom?
Jean-Renan 'Lambert' dit Champagne
I can see you want me to jump into the POLITICALLY CORRECT definition of Metis. I usually don't pay homage to politically correctness. The term
'Metis Nation' is a current trend with lots of different hidden agendas.
In my opinion there is no such thing as 'Metis Nation' and there is no reference in history to Metis Nation.
NATION: "A politically organized body under a single government"
"A federation of tribes"
'The people who live in a nation or country".
The Metis People can best be described as an evolving 'Metis Culture', a 'Distinct Society' maybe!
The Metis People of North America are not politically organized under a single government.
The Metis People of North America were never a federation of tribes like the Iroquois or Algonquin tribes.
The Metis People of North America never lived in a nation or country, they were too busy exploring and developing America.
To call the Metis People, a Metis Nation, we have to accommodate the Metis from B.C., Alberta, Quebec, Acadia, or Louisiana and this is not likely to happen in the near future.
The Metis Culture developed primarily in Detroit; Wisconsin & Minnesota especially south of Lake Superior, and later in Red River, Manitoba. The first significant Metis settlement was Acadia but most preferred to call them selves Arcadians.
Manitoba is I believe one of the first to include the 'Metis Nation' philosophy to the exclusion of other Metis People. I believe this is driven by a desire for power, a sign of arrogance and an inferiority complex. This type of thinking had no place in early Indian Culture (The People) or early Metis Culture.