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© Lawrence J. Barkwell Revised May 2012
The history of Metis National identity spans over 300 years. • A nation with its own Bill of Rights (1849) In 1849, Alexander Isbister presented the first list of Metis rights to the Colonial Office in London. In 1869 Riel presented a list of rights to Canada. A nation with its own unique language – Michif (1790) A nation with its own national flag (1816) A nation with its own national anthem (1817) La Bataille des Sept Chênes The Red River Jig Proud to be Metis
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The Metis Infinity Flag
Metis infinity flag
The Metis infinity flag is based upon one of the world’s oldest flags, the Saltire flag of Scotland, traditionally dating back to the 9th century. The flag of Scotland features a white saltire, a crux decussate (X-shaped cross) representing the cross of the Christian martyr Saint Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, on a blue field. It is named the Saltire or the Saint Andrew's Cross. In heraldic language, it is called a blazoned Azure, a saltire argent. However, history records that the Saltire was used on both red and blue backgrounds.
Flag of Scotland
According to Metis history, North West Company partners at the Qu’Appelle Valley gave the infinity flag to them in May of 1816. Peter Fiddler describes the Metis flying this flag on May 31, 1816: At half past noon about 48 Halfbreeds, Canadians, Freemen and Indians came all riding on Horseback, with their flag flying blue about 4 feet square and a figure of 8 horizontally in the middle, As a symbol of nationhood, the Metis infinity flag predates Canada’s Maple Leaf flag by about 150 years. For the Metis, the white infinity symbol has two meanings:
The joining of two cultures. The existence of a people forever.
Metis history of self-governance dates back to the 1700s. The Metis developed a communal democratic system of governance. The smaller units were independent and autonomous, until there was an outside threat, or task that required the mobilization of a very large group. The Metis and their First Nations forbearers had large annual gatherings on a seasonal basis (spring and fall).
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Basic unit is the family, then clan, then community. Community Councils Regional Councils Provincial annual General Assemblies National Assemblies
Fierce independence within a democratic tradition (assemblies as the basic vehicle). The Metis called themselves Otipemisiwak (Oh-t-paym-soo-wuk) “The Independent Ones.” Historically they resisted measures to limit free trade and any government structures where they were not represented by democratically elected representatives.
Metis history of democratic election of leaders dates from the early 1800s. In Metis governance, the military is always subject to civilian control.
Local, regional and national assemblies date back to these times.
Metis history of lawmaking dates from the 1700s. Metis oral and custom law dates back to the rules of the voyageur boat brigades and the Metis Laws of the Hunt, these laws were codified in written form at St. Laurent Saskatchewan in 1863. The Metis negotiated Manitoba’s entry into Confederation (1870) This was the first Constitutional recognition of Metis rights. They are referred to as HalfBreeds in the English version of the Manitoba Act and as Metis in the French language version.
The Metis Nation has its own history, stories and legends • Nanabush (Wesahkayjack) • Ma-ma-kwa-se-sak (Little People), • Pahkack, • la Veille de la Careme (the Old woman of Lent), • Kookoush, • Rougarou • Ti Jean stories, • Battle of Seven Oaks • Battle of the Grand Coteau, • Battles of Duck Lake, Tourond’s Coulee and Batoche The Metis were known for their language abilities, multi-lingual, in the 1800s most families spoke five or more languages, the Metis were the interpreters for every treaty in the west (USA and Canada). The Metis have their own music and dances, the Red River Jig, the Sash Dance, the Rabbit Dance, the Reel of Eight, Drops of Brandy or the Hook Dance (Danse du crochet), the Duck Dance (le danse de canard), the Handkerchief Dance etc. These dances are a combination of Celtic step dancing and First Nations dance. The Metis controlled the transportation system of the Northwest. • By canoe, voyageurs, the York boats, later they operated the steamships on the large rivers and lakes, by land the carts and dog sleds in winter. • The Metis controlled the first postal system in the west. • Developed the overland routes to Edmonton and St. Paul Minnesota. • The Metis had a riverine voyageur culture and a plains horse culture. • Metis were known as superb horsemen. Some said that they were such good riders that Half-Breed meant half man, half horse Distinct Clothing and Dress • See Sherry Farrell Racette’s Ph.D. thesis “Sewing Ourselves Together.” • Sash – clan colours and designs would denote your family, how you wore your sash would denote occupation and whether you were married or single. Beadwork style would denote your community. • Family and individual colors in beadwork, much like Scottish clan tartans. • Just as the Knights of old had their family crests on their shields and armour, distinctive clothing and beadwork was necessary in the Old Northwest. It was important to be able to identify an enemy at a distance. • “Dressing for success” in the fur trade. • The five-petal prairie rose was the trademark of Metis women. • In the mid-1800s 75% of the beads sold at Red River were sold to Metis. • Men known for their decorated hats and fedoras • Important items such as cartridge bags were usually made of red cloth, so you could find them in a hurry.
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Could tell a person’s religion from their blanket coats, Protestant’s wore white capotes, Roman Catholic wore blue. Metis were known by the Sioux as the “flower beadwork people” Highest award is a Metis Sash or a beadworked “presentation”coat, Harry Daniels presented one to the Pope at Yellowknife. David Chartrand presented one to Prime Minister Paul Martin at the Kelowna conference. Metis dressed their horses and dog teams in bright ribbons, bells and pom poms
Unique holidays and events: • New Years: shaking hands day or kissing day, celebration went to January 6th, • All Kings Day, boys born on that day would be named King. • Louis Riel Commemoration Day, November 16th • Louis Riel Day, a Civic holiday, third Monday of February • National Aboriginal Day June 21st • Metis Nation Day July 24th • St. Joseph’s Day, March 19th – the patron saint of the Metis • St. Laurent (Saskatchewan) Pilgrimage • Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage (Alberta) • Assemblies in the fall and spring. • Deaths denoted by tolling the church bell nine times if a man died and seven times if a woman died. Foods: pemmican, rubabou, bannock, li baignes, lentil soups (soupe aux pois and soupe aux bin), Bees milk, boulettes, boudin blanc, bouyon or fish liquor, poutine glissantes, les grandperes, maple sugar, neepees, seepoo nuts, pouchine au sac or “son-of-a-bitch-in-asack”…etc. Summary: The Primary Markers of Metis Identity: • High mobility — arising from control and involvement in the transportation system and the buffalo hunt. Multilingual — acted as translators for every treaty in the Canadian and American west. Language skills derive from the Metis’ multicultural ancestry. Distinctive dress and clothing — known as the Flower-Beadwork People — the distinctive Metis sash. Fierce independence within a democratic tradition (assemblies as the basic vehicle). The Metis called themselves Otipemisiwak (oh-t-paym-soo-wuk) “The Independent Ones.” Historically they resisted measures to limit free trade and any government structures where they were not represented by democratically elected representatives.
After the dispossession and oppression that occurred to the Metis after 1870s and 1880s the Metis went underground, and many of these cultural markers were not visible.
Compiled by Lawrence Barkwell Coordinator of Metis Heritage and History Research Louis Riel Institute
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