The Métis (pronounced “May-tee”) are one of the recognized distinct Aboriginal Peoples in Canada. During the height of the fur trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, many European fur traders married First Nations women. The eventual establishment of Métis communities outside of these cultures and settlements, as well as the intermarriage between Métis men and Métis women, resulted in a new Aboriginal people—the Métis. The Métis people helped to shape the Canada of today, mainly in terms of the expansion of the West.
The Métis are a distinct Aboriginal nation and share a history, culture (song, dance, dress, national symbols, etc.), a unique language (Michif), distinct way of life, and a collective identity. The Métis homeland includes regions scattered across Canada, as well as parts of the northern United States.
The Sash is a finger woven belt made of wool approximately three meters long. Traditionally it was tied at the waist to hold a coat closed. The sash was used for both decorative and practical purposes. It could be used as a rope, the fringes could be used as thread to repair items, a first aid kit, and a wash-cloth just to name a few. Today it is a symbol of nationhood and cultural distinction and it is still an important part of traditional Métis dress.
Traditionally, Métis food included dried meat, pemmican, bannock, berries, wild game and buffalo. The Métis made bannock, which was introduced by the early 18th century fur traders. Bannock is traditionally made from lard, water and flour and was cooked over an open fire. Many Métis people today still enjoy this snack.
The Red River Cart was a large two-wheeled cart that was simple to build, easy to repair, and almost indestructible. Because nails were unavailable or very expensive, these carts contained no iron at all and were entirely constructed of wood and animal hide. Often drawn by oxen, these carts were used throughout most of the 19th century in the fur trade in the area of the Red River and on the plains west of the Red River Colony. The cart was developed by the Métis for use in their settlement on the Red River, for buffalo hunts, farming and hauling goods.
Music and dance are very important aspects of Métis culture. They are famous for their fiddle music and dancing. The origins of Métis jigging lies in the traditional dances of their Irish and Scottish ancestors and was also influenced by tradition First Nations dance; however, it is important to note that Métis Jigging is different. The traditional music of the Métis was up-tempo and lively, which made it perfect for dancing. Extra and irregular beats were added to give bounce to the music, making the dance a lot faster. The traditions of Métis song and dance have survived over the centuries, and still maintain an important role in their culture.
Both European and First Nations cultures influenced Métis art; however, Métis art also had an influence on First Nations groups. Métis art often was mislabeled and credit was given to other groups, even when the Métis were the first to bead. The Métis were famous for their floral beadwork, and were often called the ‘Flower Beadwork People’. The symmetrical floral beadwork was often set against a dark background, was inspired by European floral designs. The needle workers used materials from both cultures: quills, beads, and silk embroidery thread. The Métis used geometric patterns, and floral motifs to create unique and distinct style.