Excerpted from the Metis Nation of the North West

A Brief History of the Metis People

 

The Jesuits claimed:
"Not a cape was turned, not a river entered, but a Jesuit led the Way"

The People said:
The Jesuits (black robes) are damnable liers (liars).
Even the most amateur of historian knows the actual explorers of New France (Canada) were without question the Coureurs de Bois and Metis.

The First People had little desire to explore America:
They however led the way for the Coureurs de bois and Metis
They were fully aware of the four seas to the north/south, east/west,
they believed their own location was the best
.

Metis: Those peoples who were called Bois Brűle, Half-breed, Country-born, Mixed blood, Michif, Chicot, Mountain Men or even Savages (meaning those who have taken up savage ways) are included in my quest to understand my ancestors. Most folks limit the Metis to Canada and some parts of Northern United States to describe people of mixed North American Indian and Indo-European descent. The term 'metis' is a French term that refers to a person of half-breed, mongrel, cross-bred, mestizo or metif blood. I used the term 'Metis' as a generic term to refer to a distinct culture for all those people who are born into it or are adopted into this tradition. Biological metis-sage by itself does not determine a person's social, ethnic or political identity. Canadian 'common law' based on Indian tradition suggests those adopted into a culture have equal rights and responsibilities of those within that culture. 

It is important to remember that no culture is static in nature and evolves over time, hopefully for the better. I must apologize for the lack of attention given to the coastal mixed-blood peoples in the Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic and Gulf of Mexico regions of North America. These peoples are excluded only because none of my known mixed-blood ancestors originated from these regions.

The focus of my research however is the North West Algonquian Metis culture as being distinct from the South West Mississippi or Missouri Metis or the other Mixed Blood Peoples of America. The Red River of the North West from a Canadian perspective has been traditionally acclaimed as the cultural apex of the Metis culture. The Metis culture however finds it's apex not in the Red River but in the story of the Grand Kitchi Gami (Lake Superior) also known as the 'Old North West'.

Ojibwa MoccasinThe people of the Grand Kitchi Gami are the Ojibwa that could be identified by their moccasins. It is interesting that the first People of Canada identified their neighbors by cultural traits like their clothing, methods of cooking etc. Europeans use religion, skin color, warlike nature, etc. They use these old world attributes and then attempt to assume the First Nation People used the same criteria.

Modern historians, political and religious folks still view the People with a European perspective. They still attempt to impose their prevailing system of beliefs and values when viewing other cultures.

My original objective was not to research the Metis culture nor the Indian culture but to trace my Canadian ancestors. While conducting research into source documents, traders diaries etc. I was forced to record dates, locations, cultures, clans, people and events to assist in my quest. Before long it became too big and had to be placed on my computer. Over the years it grew and grew. I now have over 15MB of data on line. It is now my turn to share my collection to those who might be interested.

What is Metis: Basically it is a cultural tradition based on a premise of First Nation ancestry or adoption into that tradition. The word Metis, is derived by the French, from the Ojibwa word Wissakodewinmi that figuratively means half burnt woodsman, not quite a full fledged woodsman. The Cree called the Metis Otipemsewak that means their own boss, as distinct from French or English people. The Cree viewed the English as being slaves to their Company. In fact many were in fact indentured slaves as were the French. The Metis culture evolved from the Coureurs des Bois, Voyager and the Indian cultures. The Voyagers were of two types, the French Voyager pork eaters (mangeur de lard) and the more Metis type Winter Voyager winterer (hivernant) who normally took country wives.

The Jesuit Father Vivier in 1750 first introduced the derogatory term half breed. He believed the very existence of being Metis was against the Laws of God. The English first called the Metis 'those Peddlers' (about 1750) and later called them 'those Canadians'. The French were called 'those French Canadians'. The English would later also adopt the French term Half Breed. The term mixed blood was introduced by the American English during the 1800's treaty process.

The Jesuit also called the Metis, Couriers des Bois meaning illegal runners of the forests but more commonly used the terms savage, heathen or half-breed. The A.F. Ewing Commission of 1935 decided to be Metis, "a person had to either look like an Indian or be able to establish Indian ancestry. They also had to live the life of an ordinary Indian and non-treaty Indians would be included" as Metis. Malcolm Norris a member of the Commission maintained that, "if a person has a drop of Indian blood in his veins and has not assimilated in the social fabric of our civilization he is a Metis." This assimilation assumption is a European belief that is based on paternalistic logic.

(VI)-Louis Garneau, a Metis, born 1789 in the North West, son Frenchman (most likely (V)-Jean Baptiste Garneau (born 1762) and Sowayguay Ojibwa is the motivation for this North West historical perspective. These, my ancestors, worked Lake Superior, La Pointe, Red Lake, Pembina, Red River and Manitoba. Records and family tradition indicate they acquired ‘Country Wives’, possibly Dakota Sioux and positively Ojibwa (Chippewa). It would appear that two generations of Garneau's worked for the North West Company and one or more for the Montreal Companies. 

 One or more may also have worked for the French Trading Company. It is likely the Garneau's are Voyagers, Nor'wester and Coureurs des Bois. The family married into the Cadotte family who arrived in the West in 1671 and made it their permanent home about 1755. This family introduced Huron (Wendat) and Iroquois into the family. We also know that the Thomas clan, who joined the Garneau clan in marriage, arrived Hudson Bay, North West Territories 1789 and became some of the first recorded Prairie Metis with a Cree ancestry. I say recorded because the taking of native wives or the recording of Metis children was forbidden by the Hudson Bay Company until the 1790's. This section attempts to view history from this Mixed Blood Nature of the North West Territories. It therefore speaks of the Metis Nation of the North West.

To bring some order to our understanding of the evolving Territories culture, you can visualize three classical periods.

These trading periods are:

The exclusion of the English is because they had little real impact on the formation of early Canadian culture until after the 1790's when they adopted the Canadian Metis method of conducting business. Their unique contribution only began in 1812 in the Red River and with their acquisition of the North West Company in 1821.

Another more European perception of the trading periods is:

Metis Culture

Metis, Mixed Blood or Half Breed peoples are the only indigenous people of the Americas. The three major founding cultures of Canada are the Indian, Inuit and Dene who themselves are of Mixed Blood Origin. It is noteworthy that the European cultures are reluctant to admit that they also are all of Mixed Blood Origin or Half Breeds. The Native Americans inherently knew this great truth and therefore freely accepted all people as their brothers. Most European people do not hold this great truth and thereby created a transitional culture called the Metis. Metis therefore is a transitory state of mind, a figment of our imagination, a cultural anomaly. That it still remains an anomaly surely speaks to unresolved Canadian cultural issues.

By the year 2000, some estimate that 50 percent of the population of Western Canada will have Native blood and will therefore be Metis by any genetic measure. As a result of four hundred years of persecution only about one million Canadians will freely admit to Native origins by the end of the twentieth century. If we don't understand the Historic Metis condition we are consigning our children to repeat the errors of the past. We don't have a large Aboriginal Native population with strong brotherhood and integration set of beliefs and values to accommodate the transformation of the Canadian, Asian and European Half Breeds into a 21st century Canadian Metis culture.

Metis a Stereotype The new world defines its cultures primarily by their clothing, so it comes as no surprise that the Metis adopted a unique attire. A short shirt, red woolen cap, deer skin leggings, the azion (breech cloth) and a pair of deer skin moccasins. The thighs are left bare like the Indians. Lets not forget the blue capote, inevitable pipe, gaudy sash, gay beaded bag or pouch that hangs from the sash, the fiddle and you have a pro-type Metis. This attire evolved over time but it is noteworthy that present day Metis usually search back into their roots to recover components of a cultural attire and then their real culture of principles, beliefs and values.

The Metis culture was originally called irrepressible, made up of unassuming gens libre (freemen) who were humble and filled with peals of laughter, songs of merriment, campfire stories of tall tales of foaming rapids, birch rimmed lakes, shallow winding streams and 'Oh Yes' lets not forget the Grand Buffalo Hunts. I was fortunate to have experience the tail end of this dying culture that is now going through a 'Grand Renaissance'.

Pre-Metis

The Aboriginal American culture had already accommodated, Buddhist Chinese, East Indian, Judaism, Celtic, Viking, Norwegian and Basque before the arrival of the Spanish, Dutch, French, and English. The Spanish diseases, as it is called, had already killed tens of millions of the Aboriginal peoples before the French and English ventured into this region of the world. Most historians for the last few hundred years claim that America gave Europe the French disease, syphilis that took a terrible toll in Europe. The theory goes that syphilis must have been brought to Europe by Columbus as there was little trace of the disease before 1492. Recent evidence points to Hull, England where an excavated priory unearthed evidence of the disease in many of the 14th century monks prior to the Columbus trip. Other evidence also suggests this disease is evident in Italy (Greater Greece) about 700 B.C. It is now suggested that Columbus spread this terrible disease to the Americas.

Metis as a cultural issue did not surface in Canada until the 17th century. The Roman Catholic Jesuit Order is the first to introduce this cultural cast system into Canada based on the color of one's skin, their religion and/or value system. Their classification is White French, Black Slaves, Savage Indian, Protestant English, and those Coureurs des Bois or Metis who are at the low end of the scale. It is noteworthy that the Jesuit classified the Protestant English as lesser than black or Indians. They also had another value scale of Catholic, Pagan and Protestant being the worst evil. This implied that if you are a Protestant and English then you are grouped into the same class as the Coureurs des Bois regardless of your skin color.

More Pre-Metis

The voyagers average height was 5 feet 6 inches with a few being greater than 5 feet 8 inches. He could paddle 15-18 hours per day and still joke beside the campfire. He could carry 200 to 450 pounds merchandise. The voyagers always sang while they paddled, songs of their canoe, country, life, loves, church, old ballads, humorous jingles, poems, but always to the stroke of the paddle, sometimes as frequently as one per second. Canoe racing was one of the chief delights of these voyagers. These attributes were passed to their decedents the Metis.

Metis Colonies

An American perspective suggests the more significant Metis Colonies include Sault Ste Marie, La Pointe, Detroit, Mackinac, Chicago, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Prairie Du Chien, St Paul, St Louis, Winnipeg and many more lesser historical locations. The Metis colonies are described as charming with Acadian simplicity. They have time for friendliness, politeness and a note of picturesqueness to their attire. They have a simple faith, and a childlike objectivity. They accepted the Indian at his own valuation, which was not low, whereas the American Frontiersman could scarcely find words for his contempt of what he considered a thieving, shiftless, dirty race.

If you want to find out more please go to the

Metis Nation of the North West

www.telusplanet.net/public/dgarneau/metis.htm

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