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Cunnawa-bum, Metis (Plains Cree and British ancestry) by Paul Kane, c. 1849–56 (Courtesy: Art Institute of Canada)

The Métis in Canada

“The term ‘Métis’ does not mean any white person who believes they also have some Native ancestry.” (See Métis, Wikipedia.)

Many Canadians combine European and Amerindian ancestry to a lesser or greater extent. In the early years of the colony, French settlers married Amerindian women. After the arrival, between 1663 and 1673, of the “Filles du Roy,” men could marry French women.

However, we can’t presume that Quebecers of French ancestry stopped marrying Aboriginals, the minute the King’s Daughters arrived in New France. People of European extraction still marry Amerindians, but their children are not necessarily Métis in the narrow sense of the word. They are Métis if one uses the word Métis in its broadest acceptation. In other words, all Canadians who have some Aboriginal ancestry are métissés(e)s.

“Geneticists estimate that 50 percent of today’s population in Western Canada have some Aboriginal blood.” (See Métis People Canada, Wikipedia).

The Métis Nation

However, persons with aboriginal ancestry are not necessarily members of the Métis Nation. In this matter, the word “nation” makes all the difference. The people who took a dim view of the Earl of Selkirk’s endeavor to settle the Red River, which they inhabited and suddenly recognized as their home, were members of the Métis Nation, and so are their descendants. These may be the great or great-great grandchildren of French-speaking voyageurs, men who paddled canoes, but also men who managed the fort during the winter but not exclusively.

There were indeed Scottish, Irish and English fur traders who also married Amerindian women. Cuthbert Grant was a Métis. It could be that Canadiens were less reluctant to marry Amerindians. But Cuthbert Grant’s father, also named Cuthbert, nevertheless chose his wife, a woman he loved, and created a family. In short, there were Anglo-Métis, also known as Countryborn.

Cuthbert Grant (1793 – 15 July 1854) was an Anglo-Métis who may have been educated in Scotland. (See Cuthbert Grant, Wikipedia.) Young Cuthbert Grant led the Métis at the Battle of Seven Oaks, which has been called a massacre. The Métis outnumbered Governor Robert Semple and his settlers. Approximately 65 Métis fought some 28 settlers and their governor, Robert Semple. However, given that the Métis were realizing that the Red River was their territory; given, moreover that Amerindians were protected by the Royal Proclamation of 1763, it was imprudent of Governor Semple to leave the safety of Fort Douglas and venture out with settlers. However, did he know he was facing danger?

With respect to the Royal Proclamation of 1763, I should note that Cuthbert Grant, a genuine Métis, was never prosecuted. In fact, one wonders to what extent the Indian Act of 1876 (Canadian Encyclopedia) was valid. The enfranchisement or assimilation of Amerindians, advocated by Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald, reflects the tenets of his age, i.e. the belief that the white race was the “civilized” race. The Indian Act could therefore be viewed as an encroachment on the Royal Proclamation of 1763. So could, for that matter, Prime Minister John A. MacDonald’s role in the execution of Louis Riel, the leader of the Métis Nation. This fascinating question is for historians and constitutional scholars to debate.


To the left is a map showing the Proclamation Line. After the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and the War of 1812 (18 June 1812 – 18 February 1815), which opposed Britain and the United States, the border between Canada and the United States was drawn mostly along the 49th parallel, which means that after the Treaty of Ghent, a number of voyageurs were suddenly living in Minnesota. Many were Canadiens voyageurs who had been employees of John Jacob Astor. These voyageurs retired in Minnesota.

Louis Riel

Louis Riel (22 October 1844 – 16 November 1885) is the most famous Métis. He was born to a Métis father and the daughter of Jean-Baptiste Lagimodière and Marianne Gaboury. The latter is the first woman of European descent to settle in the Red River Colony. So Métis would be the descendants of such persons as Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, individuals for whom the arrival of settlers was an invasion of their nation, the Métis Nation, a people that was not recognized as Aboriginals, let alone a nation, until the Canada Act of 1982. The Canada Act or Patriated Constitution includes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.[3] The Métis stood in the wings for a very long time.

Louis riel

Riel, Louis and the Provisional Government Riel’s (centre), first provisional government, 1869 (courtesy Glenbow Archives/NA-1039-1). (Photo credit: The Canadian Encyclopedia)

The War of 1812 and Amerindians

Amerindians and Métis played a role in the War of 1812. American expansionism was a threat to Amerindians, so they fought alongside the British and their valor has been recognized.

Shawnee chief Tecumseh was killed on 5 October 1813 at the Battle of the Thames (Moraviantown). Both Métis Mohawk Chief John Brant  and Métis John Norton, Six Nations War Chief, also distinguished themselves in the War of 1812 (The Canadian Encyclopedia).


Artists as Chroniclers

We have seen some watercolours by Peter Rindisbacher. Swiss-born Peter Rindisbacher’s family moved to the United States. Peter settled in St. Louis, but he had lived in the Red River Colony and had made watercolours, a portrayal of the life of Amerindians and Métis. Consequently, he alone depicted Assiniboia itself.


Homes on narrow river lots along the Red River in 1822 by Peter Rindisbacher with Fort Douglas in the background (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Winter Fishing on the Ice by Peter Rindisbacher, 1821 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, Paul Kane (1810 – 1871) bequeathed a more complete tableau of Canada’s Amerindians, including Métis, than Peter Rindisbacher. I have therefore included a National Film Board documentary on Paul Kane. However, American artist Alfred Jacob Miller‘s “Trapper’s Bride” has to appear on the front cover of the book telling the story of the children born to voyageurs, fur traders and, perhaps, bourgeois. Companies hired voyageurs, but so did bourgeois. 


In short there are Métis and there are Métis. Thousands of Canadians have Amerindian ancestry, which makes them Métis if the word is given its broadest meaning. People belonging to the Métis Nation are the descendants of the people engaged in the fur trade who married Amerindian women and whose children were “Countryborn.” They live in Manitoba and Saskatchewan or they originate from these two prairie provinces. Louis Riel was executed in Regina, Saskatchewan, not Manitoba.

I have read many books on the voyageurs and started with Grace Lee Nute’s The Voyageur, first published in 1931. The Voyageur is a perfect introduction to the topic of voyageurs and their songs. Pierre Falcon was a Métis singer-songwriter who composed a song celebrating the Métis victory at Seven Oaks: La Chanson de la grenouillère [from frog, grenouille].

Norma J. Hall, Ph.D.

But we have reached the end of this post. WordPress author Norma J. Hall, Ph.D. has published authoritative posts on Assiniboia and provided lovely images. I would encourage you to read her articles. (See Sources and Resources, below.)


Sources and Resources

With kindest regards.

[1] Voyageurs were mostly Canadiens, but the Bourgeois who hired them originated from various countries. St. Louis, Missouri where Peter Rindisbacher moved, was a city founded by Frenchmen Pierre Laclède, a fur trader, and Auguste Chouteau, a Louisiana fur trader. St. Louis was in French Louisiana, before its purchase by the United States in 1803.

[2] The Canada Act of 1982

35. (1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.

(2) In this Act, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.

(3) For greater certainty, in subsection (1) “treaty rights” includes rights that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired.

(4) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the aboriginal and treaty rights referred to in subsection (1) are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.

Paul Kane Goes West: a NFB/onF Documentary  

Short documentary by the National Film Board of Canada. It is a 1972 production by Gerard Budner (1972: 14 min 28 s.). (Simply click on the link below to see the film.)


Paul Kane Project, Royal Ontario Museum


© Micheline Walker
4 June 2015