Métis: A Historical Scientific Prospective

Métis: A Historical Scientific Prospective

Métis from a Historical Scientific Prospective

Throughout the 18th century and well into the 19th, an intense battle raged in the academic community.  It was the time of expansion and enlightenment, along with the development of many areas of science that still exist today.  Some areas of science disappeared as they were disproven, others evolved overtime with the progression of science and study. But few areas of science had as much long-term impact on the fate of peoples, and even countries and politics, as did Anthropology.

Anthropology as it was then was simply the “study of man”, but without much of the proof-based knowledge acquired in the last two centuries, it was mainly conjecture and theory.  Within the umbrella of these human studies, different ideas about races and the origin of the human species developed. For example, polygenesis was a school of thought with implications that many people today would find disturbing.   This was a theory about the origins of mankind that postulated that each race was essentially a different species, descended from different ancestors and developed separately.  Many in the 19th century distilled these races down to three “species”; Mongoloid (Asians), Aryan (Caucasian), and Ethiopian (negroes).  One particular branch of polygenesis believed that these races could not “interbreed” without detrimental consequences such as infertility and weakness in the resulting offspring.  Voltaire was a renowned believer in polygenesis, with several essays devoted to the topic, and he influenced many of the beliefs in this particular branch of study.  Unfortunately, this made it easier for racial “purists” (often referred to as Eugenicists) to implement racial programs both in Europe, the colonies, and in North America.  The fledgling United States embraced polygenist philosophies into their culture, and even used them to justify continuing slavery and genocide.

However, when Charles Darwin published “On The Origin of the Species” in 1859, the tide of polygenist belief began to turn, with many anthropologists using advances in science and field study to discount the theory.  This new theory saw humanity as a melting pot that originated from a single ancestor, changing and developing based on environmental factors and evolutionary considerations.  This fantastic interest in the developing field of ethnology and anthropology ensured that the Métis people were documented and studied with special interest.  Many of these studies were written and discussed around the world at the time.

Métis as Case Studies

In the European theatre, the movement of people was easy, common, and had been happening steadily for millennia. This meant it wasn’t the best case study to prove or disprove any racial theories.  “Newly” discovered countries and ethnic groups were much better, having only really been exposed to an influx of Caucasian Europeans for a few hundred years; a short enough timespan to be readily observable.

A certain group of scientists believed that even if mankind all had the same origins, “Aryan” or Caucasian traits would always be dominant, and would eventually wipe out traces of other races in their intermingling.  Since North America had seen profuse intermingling of Native peoples and Europeans for several hundred years, and both groups still had representation in the contemporary world, the half-breeds or Métis people became focal points for study and discussion.  They were intensely scrutinized and documented by many prominent anthropologists, ethnologists and other scientists at the time, and were often used as examples of the successful intermingling of races, counter to polygenist and eugenicist beliefs.

In an article published in January 1887’s Popular Science Monthly titled “The Intermingling of Races”, John Reade discusses the controversy.  John Reade was an Irish-born Canadian journalist whose career of 50 years put him in contact with many of the most respected minds of his time.  His article is a fascinating essay supporting the idea of races successfully intermingling using contemporary examples.

One of his first defence statements refers to a comment from Dr. Daniel Wilson.  Dr. Wilson was an incredibly well-respected author, artist, ethnologist and university teacher.  He was President of the University of Toronto, and wrote many acclaimed books and articles well-respected by his peers.  He had a particular enthusiasm for studying North American Natives, as well as their half-breed offspring.  We will go into more depth about his beliefs and information later, but, this particular quote from Popular Science article is interesting:

“Dr. Daniel Wilson believes, on the other hand, that, to a great extent, what has been taken for the extinction of the Indians has simply been their absorption and that “they are disappearing as a race, in part at least, by the same process by which the German, the Swede, the Irishman or Frenchman, on emigrating to America, becomes in a generation or two, amalgamated with the general stock.”  Nor is it on the frontier settlements alone that he has observed the evidences of such interfusion. “I have recognized,” he says, “the semi-Indian features in the gay assemblies at a Governor’s reception, in the halls of Legislature, among the Undergraduates of Canadian universities, and mingling in the selectest social circles”. Dr. Wilson says, moreover, that “in Lower Canada half-breeds, men and women of partial Indian blood, are constantly met within all ranks of life”, and cites with approval the opinion that “in the neighbourhood of Quebec, in the Ottawa Valley, and to a great extent about Montreal, there is hardly among the original settlers a family in the lower ranks, and not many in the higher, who have not some traces of Indian blood.”

How could these traces of “Indian blood” be so prominent and yet so unacknowledged or ignored?  Reade gives us an idea of how this process likely occurred via the words of Abbe Tanguay, a Roman Catholic Priest, author and historian.  Abbe Tanguay wrote a famous dictionary of the genealogy of Canadian families, and was considered something of an expert with regards to the subject.  He’s quoted as remarking: “For many years, the proportion of women to the male immigrants was extremely small.  The Carignan regiment alone added fifteen hundred to the population.  Did those young soldiers marry native women, and are we to reckon the latter among our ancestors?  Some of the colonists certainly did marry native girls, but those girls had been educated and civilized in the intuitions of Hotel-Dieu and The Ursulines.  We can cite several of the most respectable families in Canada who number among their progenitors the sons of the forest, and who should be proud to do so.”

So in many of the historical records and accepted culture of the time, Native girls who were “educated” were no longer considered “Native” in many ways, and were not even documented as such.  They themselves, having been taught that they were French citizens, thought about themselves that way and they were absorbed into the population under this identification and no other –  as Dr. Wilson alludes to in his statements.  Reade talks about the seemingly widespread knowledge of Métis people during the 18th century:

“It was under the stress of such a famine [of women] that the half-breed population of the Canadian North-west, which has of late been so much before the world, grew to its present proportions.  Its history carries us back to near the beginning of the eighteenth century.  Arthur Dobbs, whose account of the countries adjacent to Hudson Bay was published in 1744, obtained his information almost wholly from a half-breed trader called La France – a proof that the Métis was not unknown a century and a half ago.” [authors note, this statement was made in 1887]

Reade goes into more detail about the population and longevity of these Métis groups:

“There was a considerable population, known by their chosen designation of Bois Brules (for which they sometimes substituted the more ambitious style of “the new nation”), when Lord Selkirk began his scheme of colonization in 1811.  That even then they were not all French is shown by some of their surnames being Scotch or English.  But it is from the years immediately following the establishment of the Red River Colony that the bulk of the English-speaking half-breeds date their first appearance.  In the year 1814 they numbered two hundred.  In 1870 the Manitoba half-breeds and Métis (those of British and French origin may be distinguished) were estimated at ten thousand.  Besides them, there was a population of uncertain number scattered through the Territories, and a tribe of half-breed hunters which one early explorer deemed to be six thousand strong.  In 1874, Dr. G. M. Dawson, while engaged in the British North American Boundary Commission, came upon the camp of the latter body, consisting of two hundred buffalo-skin tents and two thousand horses.  Dr. Wilson considers the rise in this way of an independent tribe of half-breeds as “one of the most remarkable phenomena connected with the grand ethnological experiment which has been in progress on the North American Continent for the last three centuries.””

Reade makes the point that the Métis, or half-breed people, were not only well established before 1814, but were basically everywhere, in different groups, scattered throughout the country and at every level of the social hierarchy.  Some of these groups were not tied to specific ancestral homes, but followed the tides of trade and game and lived as nomads.  Others essentially gave up their native roots altogether, either by choice or by ignorance, assimilating into the colonial population.  The statement is firm, however, that the prevalence of intermingling of Native blood in the general population was likely much more prevalent than anyone wanted to believe at the time.

Reade postulates: “Is there not some reason to believe that the seemingly episodic phenomenon which we have been contemplating is exceptional in degree rather than in kind; and that, much oftener than had been vulgarly supposed, in advance westward of the American pioneer, he has made the dusky belle of the wigwam the partner in both his toils and the mother of his children?  For several reasons, some of them obvious enough, records of such unions are not easily obtainable.  In census returns, one origin only is given.  A person may choose to be set down as European or Indian extraction, but he cannot have paternity and maternity both specified; and, as to any remoter pedigree, the inquirer is left entirely in the dark.”

It’s easy to understand, given the perfect storm of circumstances, that within the general population there are more people with Indigenous ancestry than they may realize.  This isn’t a uniquely Canadian fact, either.  The border between the United States and Canada at the time was not the same sort of salient barrier it is now.  Especially for Native groups, who would often move freely back and forth throughout “Indian Country”and across borders, their identity was not tied to the colonial constructs and borders of the time.

Miss Theodora R. Jenness was an author who spent time travelling through the Indian Territory doing research for her books. John Reade quoted her in his article as an authority with firsthand experience.  She wrote her own enlightening article in the Atlantic, April 1879 Issue about Indian Territory.   She talks about the very common intermingling of Europeans and Natives succinctly:

“If a man goes there unmarried, he is apt to find a helpmeet in an Indian maiden, there being many among the Cherokees and Choctaws who, for beauty and intelligence, compare favourably with any ladies in the States.”

This was such a common occurrence that it often caused skirmishes within the territory, and rules were changed to make it more difficult for white men to overstay their welcome.  In Miss Jenness’ conversations with a local Indian woman, she asks about the white man’s intrusion into their territory.  The woman answers her in an interesting way by saying, “We didn’t want him here, but he would come and would remain; so we thought the best thing we could do was make him a peaceable citizen by marrying him.”   In these types of alliances, Jenness goes on to explain, men could become a member of the nation to which his wife belonged, and could vote and own property (except land). He also paid no taxes either to the U.S. or Indian governments.  This definitely encouraged an influx of newcomers, as evidenced by statistics showing there were 8,767 citizens by marriage of the different Indian nations, who were also U.S. citizens.  Mixed-blood children WERE allowed to own land, and in the census of the time, the mixed bloods were said to own over 3,000 acres within the Indian Territory.  It’s not hard to imagine those numbers increasing dramatically over even just a few generations.

Unfortunately, as quickly as this mingling was happening, Native people were already losing their links to their Native language and culture.  Miss Jenness recounts a tale of a young Indian woman with blue eyes who attended a sermon given in the local Native tongue.  This was an educated young woman, who taught languages, philosophy, and mathematics.  She informed Miss Jenness that she herself had only understood two words in the sermon.  She said “And the other girls were no better off than I”.  Despite this, the young woman went on to declare that she was far more proud of the Indian blood in her veins than the white.

At this same celebration, Miss Jenness was introduced to another young woman named Eloise.  Eloise was Cherokee, but was also the grand-niece of a Commodore, the niece of a Senator, and had been educated in Philadelphia.  She was an active part of Washington high society and shone to Miss Jenness as the ultimate result of a “harmonious blending of the two races.”  She expresses her hope that this type of blending is the solution to the “Indian question.”    She continues on with many more examples of the intermingling of the white population with the Indians, all throughout the territory.  Considering the prevailing attitude towards assimilation at the time, and the efforts of the white culture to insist on their own superiority, it’s no surprise that after a generation or two, many part-Native children ceased to identify themselves as Native and had essentially been absorbed into the general colonial population.

Two-Way Transfer

Although the majority of assimilation was done by those with Native blood, there was also an element of whites being absorbed into local Native populations. The adoption of slaves was a common practice in many tribes of history, and these people would often give up their “white” identity in favour of a completely Native one, thereby embracing their new culture and family.

This process of absorption as discussed by Dr. Wilson in the Popular Science article was a subject of intense interest and study for him, as well as being a subject of great debate within the ethnology community.    In his 1892 book “The Lost Atlantis”, Dr. Wilson goes into great detail about his observations and theories of the origins and proliferation of half-breed peoples all across North America and his writing on the subject was well regarded.  The New York Critic Magazine of January 7, 1893 says, regarding Dr. Wilson and his book:

“The most striking characteristic of the essays which make up this volume is what may be styled their judicial quality.  They are the productions of a clear-sighted and conscientious instructor, who had been accustomed for many years to lay before classes of intelligent students the latest results of historical and scientific research, with no other object than that of making the nearest possible approach to the absolute truth.  He had no pet theories to maintain, no controversial temper or ambition of intellectual display to lead him aside from the direct track.  He is careful to give all the facts on both sides of the question; and if the result is occasionally to leave his readers in some uncertainty, it is because the case is one in which certainty has not thus far been found attainable.  This is the case more particularly with the treatises which relate to the origin of the primitive American population, to the extent of the discoveries of the Northmen, and to questions of heredity and the effects of brain weight and size.  All these are matters which are still in litigation, so to speak, in the courts of science. The author lays all the evidence carefully before his readers, and, while frankly indicating the bent of his own opinions, refrains from pronouncing a decided judgement.”

Dr. Wilson didn’t have a stake in the game beyond genuine scientific interest, and so could afford to be straightforward and extremely factual about his work.  As we delve deeper into  some of the more significant aspects of Dr. Wilson’s work, it’s important keep in mind the implications for Métis and Indigenous descendants of today.

The Lost Atlantis and the Found Métis

The Lost Atlantis is a book of ethnographic studies.  The field of ethnography during the late 19th century was often approached with an eye to cataloguing physiological differences between

Sir Daniel Wilson

different races and peoples – often done by measuring skulls, weighing internal organs (after death), and studying “live” specimens to observe significant behavioural and cultural differences.  These differences were thought by some to be attributable directly to racial differences but not all agreed.  How the human race developed such diversity, how some peoples were absorbed or disappeared or developed; these subjects are the main theme ofthe book.

Dr. Wilson states what should be commonly understood with regards to the discovery of new places and the immigration of newcomers:

“In every case of extensive immigration, with the excess of males and chiefly of hardy young adventurers, the same result is inevitable.  On the American continent it has already produced a numerous race of half-breeds, descendants of white and Indian parentage….In the older provinces of Canada, the remnants of the aboriginal Indian tribes have been gathered on suitable reserves; and on many of these, so far they are from hastening to extinction, that during the last quarter of a century the returns of the Indian Department show a steady numerical increase.”

The results were the same in the United States, where in one report regarding “Indian Civilization and Education” dated Washington, November 24, 1877, it written that, “Indians, instead of being doomed to extinction within a limited period, are, as a rule, not decreasing in numbers; and are, in all probability, destined to form a permanent factor, an enduring element of our population. This reinforced the fact that the Native population was growing, and was “destined to form a permanent factor; an enduring element of our population.”

Dr. Wilson goes into some depth regarding the prevalence of whites and Natives intermingling freely, while acknowledging that the offspring of these intermixed marriages were a growing part of the population.  He states, “It is not a mere intermingling of white and Indian settlers, but the increase of the community by the growth of a half-breed population; and when this takes place under favourable circumstances…the results are altogether favourable for the endurance of the mixed race.”   He discusses the origins of these alliances as initially developing chiefly with the original fur trappers of the region, but indicated that there were other influxes that further spurred the growth of these communities.

It was actually a commonly held viewpoint amongst ethnologists intimately familiar with the Métis example that the resulting half-breed offspring of these unions were actually superior to the original European and Native parents.  Dr. Wilson’s opinion was that “the half-breeds are a large and robust race, with greater powers of endurance than the pure-blood Indian.”  His opinion on this is further validated by his contemporaries such as Alcide d’Orbigny.  D’Orbigny is quoted as saying the following about half-breeds:  “Among the nations in America the product is always superior to the two types that are mixed.”  This opinion was even held among the Natives at the time, and especially among the half-breeds themselves.  D’orbigny relates assurances given to him by a Cristineaux chief who said “children borne by their women to Europeans were bolder warriors and better hunters than themselves.”  Dr. Wilson provides many more numerous examples of Native half-breeds being described by ethnologists and naturalists as being superior in many ways.  Essentially, his theories are part of the natural progression of large-scale immigration.  Most conquerors, adventurers, trappers and travellers simply didn’t bring women on these journeys, and could only propagate themselves with the help of Native populations.

Colonization, illness and wars between Native groups did take their toll on Native populations.  In many cases, entire tribes died out, leaving behind smaller, Christianized “half-breed” settlements.  With many Métis groups feeling like they were superior to their Native ancestors, groups of half-breeds also wandered what little was left of the wilderness and engaged in bloody battles with their full-Native neighbours.  Many of these groups were highly mobile, moving further than their originating groups and engaging in more traditional ways of living and trapping, while still profiting from their entrepreneurial capabilities and the many rich opportunities still available from mercantilism.

Many communities developed their own languages, jargon and patois, depending on the origins of their Native ancestors and the languages spoken by their European mates.  This diversity of languages was also a subject of intense interest for Dr. Wilson, and in his mind could be used to track the movements and origins of some half-breed communities.  Dr. Horatio Hale, a prominent ethnologist who specialized in studying languages to help classify peoples and trace their migrations, observed: “There are Canadians and half-breeds married to Chinook women, who can only converse with their wives in this speech; and it is the fact, strange as it may seem, that many young children are growing up to whom this fictitious language is really the mother-tongue, and who speak it with more readiness and perfection than any other.”   It cannot be said that at the time, there was only one Métis or half-breed language.    This may fly in the face of conventional accepted opinion, however, but it does not even make sense from an anthropological standpoint.  Having a single language would only be possible in a rather small geographic area, without much travel, adoption, or intermarrying.  This, as we well know, is not the case of most half-breed populations of North America. Trade-languages were developed for common communication but many regions had their own unique patois.

Dr. Wilson also discusses the implications of the commonly practiced adoption of white children or slaves into Native tribes.  He says, “The system of adopting members of other tribes, including even those of their vanquished foes, to recruit their own numbers, was practiced by many North American Nations, as they were styled before the admission of the Tuscaroras to their confederacy.  In 1649, for example, the survivors of two of the Huron towns which they had ravaged, besought the favour of the victors, and were adopted into the Seneca nation.  Nor did extreme differences of race interfere with affiliation, as in the case of children kidnapped from White colonists in their vicinity.”

Dr. Wilson relates a story told to him by a Mohawk woman about a little white girl of twelve years old named Ste-nah.  She had been captured on a marauding expedition, and was adopted into the tribe.  She travelled with her adopted family, married a Mohawk man, and bore Native children.  When Ste-nah had reached old age, a man came to the reservation looking for his daughter.  He identified Ste-nah through a scar she received as a child.  The woman goes on to relay that Ste-nah had “got an Indian heart.” She had lost the ability to speak her native English, and completely repelled the attempts of this man to reconnect with her.  She was fully and completely devoted to her Indian life and identity.  The adoption of this one white woman had a massive impact on the tribal makeup.  Dr. Daniels corresponded with one of her grandsons, who was himself chief of his tribe.  This Chief provided him with genealogical tables showing all of Ste-nah’s descendants.  At the time the information was received, she had 57 living descendants and 23 dead.  As Wilson notes, “It is thus apparent, that by the adoption of a single White captive into the tribe, there are, in the fourth generation, fifty-seven survivors out of eighty members of the tribe.”  That’s a significant amount, and none of these people were treated as less or different by members of the tribe because of their White lineage.

French and English colonists had most certainly entered happily into alliances with the Natives and their relationship with them was of much more equal footing.  They often depended on the Natives for furs, food, or shelter.  However, with the arrival of more colonists, more “civilization” and the dividing of land for agricultural purposes, these relationships often became more strained, and were not the amicable and mutually beneficial relationships they were previously. However, there was certainly a time when such relationships were not only natural, but ENCOURAGED on the part of colonizing countries.  It was so highly encouraged, in fact, that the reproductive qualities of Indian women were a subject of much study by the Royal Intendant of the French court at the time, Talon.  Talon reports that the native women “impair their fertility by nursing children longer than is needful; but….this obstacle to the speedy building up of the colony can be overcome by regulations of police.”  It must be assumed by this scrutiny that these types of alliances were not only acknowledged, but highly encouraged by the Crown.

It is through these types of ongoing and prolific alliances that the “half-breed” population continued to grow, thrive, and contribute significantly to the tapestry of the developing North American population.  Dr. Wilson discusses the benefits of the sense of equality that was provided by the French approach to Native relations:

“Hence in the province of Quebec, half-breeds, and men and women of partial Indian blood, are frequently to be met with in all ranks of life; and slighter traces, discernable in the hair, the eye, the cheek-bone, and peculiar mouth, as well as certain traits of Indian character, suggest to the close observer remote indications of the same admixture of blood.”  Thinking back on the example of Ste-nah, a single white girl who shaped the development of an entire tribe, it’s safe to assume that this proliferation of Native influence on the general population was far more pronounced than has ever been fully acknowledged.

In much more geographically limited areas, such as Nova Scotia, Dr. Wilson’s observations of the influence of White blood are more pronounced.  In these areas, Native people were largely on reservations but instead of declining numbers,, the numbers of natives grew.  Wilson addresses this phenomenon as part of the process of absorption.  He writes, “[…] the pure race is being largely replaced by younger generations of mixed blood, the results cannot be looked upon as encouraging the hope of perpetuating the native Indian race under such exceptional conditions; nor can it be overlooked that the increase is partly begot by the addition of a foreign element.”  Dr. Wilson goes on to state that this process is an inevitable result of the process of absorption that comes when different races live in proximity.  This dilution of the “pure” Native by mixing in white blood is not something openly discussed for fear of censure, but it is a factual happening, and an altogether expected and natural one.  In many ways, this changes the discussion about things such as blood quorum, or even DNA testing with regards to identification of who is Native.  Who is First Nations?  Who is Métis? What does indigeneity really mean in this world of melting pots?

Dr. Wilson discusses the contemporary reality of this issue even in his generation.  A long-time resident of Toronto, he was uniquely able to observe the many First Nations groups in the area, and their evolution over time.  He talks about the change, even in the span of one generation:

“In the boyhood of the older generation of Toronto, hundreds of Indians, including those of the old Mississauga tribe, were to be seen about the streets.  Now, at rare intervals, two or three squaws, in round hats, blue blankets, and Indian leggings attract attention less by their features than of their dress; for in complexion they are nearly as white as those of pure European descent.”

Mik’maq Indians were some of the earliest to encounter large numbers of European explorers and colonists. They taught them to survive and lived side-by-side with them.  It’s inevitable for their “purity” to be compromised by the continued exposure and interaction with the Europeans.  In “Atlantis”, Dr. Wilson talks of a Rev. S. T. Rand, a missionary who was working with the Natives of Nova Scotia.  Wilson relays that Rand, “on being asked to obtain a photograph of a pure-blood representative of the tribe, had some difficulty in finding a single example, and stated that not one is to be found among the younger generation.”

This absorption process is essentially inevitable from an anthropological point of view whenever populations are in proximity.  Wherever settlers or adventurers travelled and lived near Natives, intermarriage and/or intermingling DID take place.  Many of the offspring of these associations lost their identities with the passing of generations, either coming to identify as only White or only Native, depending on their upbringing.  Some built small communities and made homes for themselves, developing their own unique and beautiful cultural mechanisms as hybrids of their mixed ancestry.  Again, Dr. Wilson beautifully describes the process by which this takes place: “The hunter finds a bride among the native women; and when at length the wild tribe recedes before the growing clearing and the diminished supplies of game, it not only leaves behind a half-breed population as the nucleus of the civilized community, but it also carries away with it a like element, increasingly affected by the ethnic character of the whole tribe.”

Wilson saw the continued growth and success of half-breed populations as a positive result from a centuries-long experiment onthe enduring qualities of intermingled races, and a justification of his theories on ethnicity.  He also acknowledged that the implications of acknowledging this would have been just as political then as they are today.  He says, “These questions are not without their significance even in reference to the policy in dealing with the Indian settlements in old centres of population; for the traces of this intermingling of the races of the Old and New World are neither limited to frontier settlements nor to Indian reserves.”  This was a hot-potato issue that would not go away, no matter how much it was ignored.  Dr. Wilson reinforces the inevitability of this development by stating, “[…]long and careful study of the subject has satisfied me that a larger amount of absorption of the Indian into the Anglo-American race has occurred than is generally recognized.”

As mentioned previously, the way mixed-blood peoples identified themselves (and would pass this identification to subsequent generations) had everything to do with where they were raised.  This only makes sense, and is not unique to Métis but is a very human characteristic.  Wilson says, “Of the mixed offspring, a portion cling to the fortunes of the mother’s race, and are involved in its fate; but more adhere to those of the white father, share with him the vicissitudes of border life, and cast their lot in with the first nucleus of a settled community.”  It was reported that every single Hudson’s Bay fort had a half-breed population, these people going on to contribute in a large part to the towns and cities that sprung forth from those early installations.  They did not hold themselves separate based on their lineage, and as Dr. Wilson agrees, “…with a new generation the traces of Indian blood are well nigh forgotten.”

It would be easy to continue regarding the proof of the vastly underreported mingling of Native blood with the whites – creating the “half-breeds”.  Much of what we have discussed here has been literally from an anthropological standpoint, without bringing in culture or belief systems. There’s a reason we have gone to the length we have to lay a clear and compelling case about the prevalence and longevity of mixed-blood or Métis people.  Long before even Selkirk’s colonization schemes – since long before even the suggestion of European colonization, it’s clear that the prevalence of the intermingling of Red and White blood has historically been prolific and not specific to any one geographic area.  Where Natives and Whites met, intermingling occurred.   For a surety, some groups were more established, or settled into farming communities and went on to develop specific cultural and social customs and languages.  First Nations groups also had many variations in customs and languages, much depending on geographic regions. Nobody would say that a First Nations person was not First Nations because they were from a DIFFERENT First Nations group than the one they personally acknowledged.

Unfortunately, today, within the Métis community, some people feel that because others of Indigenous history do not come from THEIR specific group or geographic area and do not conform to their specific cultural norms, it means they are not Métis.  Taken in the context of our First Nations example, it exemplifies how ridiculous the divide is between one Métis group and another.  As we’ve just read, First Nations groups would often accept and adopt Whites without thought to their skin colour, and would defend to the death their right to be part of their tribe and family once they were accepted.

Meanings For Today


The great Louis Riel certainly did not make the distinction about where Métis were from or what flavour of Native and European was flowing in their veins.  His vision and his fight was for ALL Métis, from coast to coast, and he encouraged them to take pride in their heritage, red AND white.  He said:

“Very polite and amiable people may say sometimes to a Métis, “You don’t look at all like a Métis.  You surely can’t have much Indian blood.  Why, you could pass anywhere for pure White.  It is true that our Indian origin is humble, but it is indeed just that we honour our mothers as well as our fathers.  Why should we be so preoccupied with what degree of mingling we have of European and Indian blood?  No matter how little we have of one or the other, do not both gratitude and filial love require us to make a point of saying, “We are Métis.’”

In the current climate of political tension within Indigenous groups and with the government, tension between peoples themselves, and what seems like a never-ending steeplechase towards fairness, recognition, and support,  it seems that there’s a sense of collective amnesia about where we all come from.  People in the Indigenous community have been fighting the same battles, for the same basic reasons for a very long time.  And yet, we are all one, all related, and often closer than we may think or know!

Being Indigenous isn’t about what you can get because you happen to have Red blood.  It’s about something much deeper…and that meaning is something that is unique to each Métis person.  Imagine how Riel would feel if he could see the situation of his people today?  What would he say about how far (or not) we’ve come?  Would he agree with those who say they know what it is to be Métis, and that others do not?  It’s a passionate and heated conversation happening all over the Métis community today, and it’s one of fundamental importance.  The vision of Louis Riel and all those who were by his side was for the unification and acknowledgement of all Métis people from coast to coast – Nowhere does he speak only of a vision for one place or one group of people.  The science and history behind the matter clearly shows that not only are we all related, but much more closely than was previously imagined or acknowledged.  The rest  is up to us.




The Intermingling of Races by John Reade
Popular Science Monthly Volume 30, January 1887

The Critic: An Illustrated Monthy Review of Literature and the Arts – Volumes 20-21 January-June 1892

The Indian Territory – Theodora Jenness. The Atlantic, April 1879 Issue

The Lost Atlantis and Other Ethnographic Studies by Dr. Daniel Wilson
Published 1892, Macmillan and Co.
Public Domain Book Available Here: http://www.fadedpage.com/showbook.php?pid=20160327

Hold High Your Heads (History of the Metis Nation in Western Canada) by A.H de Tremaudan, translated by Elizabeth Maguet
Published 1982, Pemmican Publications


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