The Métis are one of Canada's three principal Aboriginal groups, and are recognized under section 35 in the 1982 Constitution. Fiercely independent, the Métis were instrumental in the development of western Canada.
Historically, the word Métis refers to the children of European explorers, settlers, and fur traders and their First Nation wives in the "Métis Homeland" (present-day Manitoba). Over the years, many terms have been used to describe the Métis : (michif, bois brûlé, chicot, halfbreed, country-born, mixed blood).
From the earliest contact with Europeans, métissage (racial mixing) was a common practice. It's reported that the explorer Samuel de Champlain told his First Nation allies in Nova Scotia, "Our young men will marry your daughters and we shall be one people."
Indeed, in Acadia, many French men took First Nation wives; in New France, the practice was discouraged as European women became more available, both through general settlement and officially sanctioned programs such as the "Filles du Roi," who were sent to New France explicitly as potential wives for the men stationed there.
However, this merely led to the growth of Métis communities around and beyond the Great Lakes, beginning in the 1690s. Many men preferred the openness and freedom of the outpost areas to the regulation of church and state in more established colonies. They fathered Métis families, with or without the benefit of clergy, and these families formed the basis for a number of communities by the mid-1700s. Many American and Canadian towns and cities, such as Detroit and Michilimackinac in Michigan; Sault Ste Marie in Ontario; Chicago and Peoria in Illinois; Milwaukee, Green Bay and Prairie du Chien in Wisconsin began as unofficial biracial communities.
Following the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, which granted Hudson Bay to the British, the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) became a dominant social force in Canada's western regions--and the HBC relied heavily on the relationships it forged with the northern Cree people, who served as provisioners, guides, and traders. Many HBC men were Orkneymen, with names like Asham/Isham, Corrigal, and Isbister; these names are still common among Métis people in Canada's western provinces.
While it was strictly against HBC policy at that time to intermarry with First Nation women, all this did was drive the practice "underground"--employees would go to great lengths to keep their liaisons hidden from the Company. Eventually, the HBC began to recognize the growing colonies of young, healthy Métis people who surrounded their outposts; and by 1810, they realized that training these "useful hands" to work with them made good economic sense. http://www.northwestjournal.ca/XIII2.htm
The Northwest Company (NWC) , the HBC's Montreal-based competitors, fostered relationships with the Cree and Ojibway nations in the Red River area of present-day Manitoba. Following Jay's Treaty in 1794, which fixed the Canada/U.S. boundary around the Great Lakes, many of the southern mixed-race communities were displaced, and their Métis inhabitants migrated northward, to the area that would later be known as the Métis homeland.
By the 1820s, the mixed-race population in the Red River area was substantial enough to constitute a separate ethno-cultural group; ancestral ties bound them to Scotland, the Orkneys, England, and Rupert's Land, as well as to the Cree first peoples of that region. Their status was viewed by the Europeans with some ambivalence: they were called "faulty stock" or a "spurious breed," but also described as "the natural link between civilization and barbarism."
The history of the Métis provisional government, led by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, is covered in another Geni project (see "Related Projects"); however, the defeat of the Red River Rebellion led to a second dispersal of the Métis, this time into Alberta, along with a weakening of their political cohesiveness.
Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada's first prime minister, described the Métis as having no special standing: "If they are Indians, they go with the tribe; if they are half-breeds they are whites." Canada did give some Métis people land allowances (or money equivalents), usually in the form of paper scrip, intended to be exchanged for small plots of farmland. However, these transferable certificates made the Métis vulnerable to unscrupulous speculators, who pressured them to sell their scrip cheaply on the spot. This effectively robbed the scrip recipients of the last remnants of their treaty rights.
By the late 1800s, poverty, demoralization and racist attitudes toward "halfbreeds" meant that many people of native descent tried hard to deny or suppress that part of their heritage. Even so, in 1909 the Union nationale métisse St-Joseph de Manitoba began to compile documents and memories, retrieving their own history of the events of 1869-70 and 1885. This resulted in A. H. de Tremaudan's History of the Métis Nation in Western Canada (1936).
Since the mid-1960s, Métis political activity has steadily grown in Canada. Métis groups confronted then-Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Jean Chrétien's infamous 1969 "White Paper"; they demanded a role in the 1982 repatriation of Canada's Constitution. The Native Council of Canada was active between 1970 and 1983. Currently, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples "represents off-reserve Indian, Inuit, and Métis people, and acts as an advocate for the rights of all Aboriginal peoples," representing their interests at the national and international level. In Manitoba the Métis have initiated legal action to pursue claims to lands promised to them under the Manitoba Act. The 2006 census revealed that there are currently 409,065 Métis in Canada.