- ABORIGINALS: METIS
Canada’s Metis were formally recognized as an aboriginal people in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. No strings were attached, or definitions attempted. Louis Riel (1844–85), himself one-eighth Chipewyan, who died fighting for the recognition of his people, would have approved. Why, he asked in his last memoir, be concerned about the proportions of Amerindian/white mixture? “No matter how little we have of one or the other, does not filial acknowledgment and love create one law so that we can say ‘We are Metis?’” Few Canadian Metis realize how rare it is for mixed-bloods to have legal recognition as a separate group, even though undefined; the Cape Coloureds of South Africa are among the few who have successfully asserted legal and political rights.
The term “metis” is derived from the Latin verb miscere, which means “to mix, mingle”; in Latin America, the Spanish derivative is mestizo. In Canada, the word “Metis” originally referred to persons of French and Amerindian ancestry; those whose white admixture was English were often called “countryborn,” a term that originated in India, as did “half-caste” (neither of which is in general use in Canada today). In India, “half-caste” referred to class, whereas in the Canadian context the reference was to racial origins; in either case, its implication of social inferiority was clear. “Half-breed” seems to have been first used in the Thirteen Colonies, spreading early in the nineteenth century to Canada, where it remained in general use until after World War II. A term that came to be used in the fur trade but is seldom heard now is bois-brulé. It is said by some to be a French version of the Ojibwa appellation wisahkotewan niniwak, “men partly burned”; an English version was “burnt (or scorched) wood people.” Still another, chicot, has a similar connotation but is hazier as to its origins; it may have sprung from a family name. Today, “Metis,” in both its English and French versions, has been generally accepted in Canada for all Amerindian/white admixtures.
There is no general agreement on criteria for an exact definition. For example, some western Canadians hold that the Metis are only those who can trace their ancestry to the Red River settlement, as recognized in the Manitoba Act of 1980 and in the Dominion Land Acts of 1879 and 1883. However, Treaty 3, the “Northwest Angle Treaty,” signed in 1873, specifically included Metis and even designated land for them; the area the treaty covers is located largely in Ontario, with only a small portion spilling over into Manitoba. In Alberta, the Metis Population Betterment Act was amended in 1940 to require that the Amerindian admixture be not less than one-quarter for a person to claim to be Metis. This was rescinded because of opposition from Alberta’s Metis Settlements General Council on the ground that it violated the fundamental right of the Metis to define themselves. The council accepts as Metis any person with any degree of aboriginal ancestry “who identifies with Metis history and culture.” An earlier version had been “anyone with any degree of Indian ancestry who lives the life ordinarily associated with the Metis.” Neither has been generally agreed upon; the Metis National Council, for example, is considering the following definition: “A person who has an ancestor who received a land grant or scrip under the Manitoba Act, 1870, or the Dominion Land Acts of 1879 and 1883, or who is recognized as Metis by other government agencies, or in church or community records.” In popular usage, criteria can include physical traits, surname, occupation, and place of residence; some would add religion (Roman Catholicism). Others see community acceptance as a prime requirement, which can pose problems for Metis in urban settings, where communities tend not to be clearly defined.
A variety of factors have compounded the problem of Metis identification, the people whom the Cree refer to as wemistikosheekan, “not really a whiteman,” or perhaps as apet’ililew, “half Indian.” Amerindians who missed signing treaties (usually because they were away hunting) and who thus did not officially acquire Indian status are often referred to as Metis; indeed, one proposed definition would include persons with any degree of Amerindian blood who are not registered on a reserve. Amerindians who became enfranchised by such processes as earning a university degree or, in the case of women, marrying “out” automatically lost their status and frequently became known as Metis. In some areas, Metis and non-status Amerindians have added to the confusion by joining forces for recognition of their rights; in others, they keep separate. The 1985 amendment to the Indian Act, Bill C-31, allowing Amerindian women married to non-Amerindians to keep their status and pass it on to their children, added another twist, since it gave Amerindian status to persons who had been previously classified as Metis. Ovide Mercredi, former grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations, is one of these. In other words, as matters stand, not even racial mixing is universally recognized in Canada as essential to being Metis, at least in legal terms. The importance of these identification problems quickly becomes evident when it is remembered that constitutional recognition means that aboriginal rights relating to land and special political status are now involved.
A national Metis registry, to be jointly funded and operated by Ottawa, the provinces, and the Metis themselves, is under consideration; in the meantime, without agreed-upon and consistent criteria, there is no consensus about the numbers of people who can be legally classified as Metis in Canada. The Aboriginal Peoples Survey conducted in collaboration with the 1991 census listed 75,150 persons who reported Metis ancestry, and 137,500 who reported descent from more than one aboriginal category (Indian, Metis, Inuit), as well as non-aboriginal ancestry, out of a total aboriginal population of 1,002,670. The Metis National Council disputes these figures on the ground that the enumeration was incomplete. For one thing, there is no central data-collection system for Metis or non-status Amerindian births and deaths. Comparisons between one census and another are difficult, if they can be done at all, because of changes, in concepts, questions, and procedures. On the question of population growth, two censuses that can be compared are those of 1941, when enumeration of the Metis was halted, and 1981, when it was resumed, because “both made an explicit attempt to individually enumerate persons of mixed Native ancestry.” They indicate a Metis population growth of 177 percent from 35,400 to 98,300. This was a period of growth for aboriginal peoples generally, a trend that has continued. For the Metis, there is also the likelihood that increased public awareness and changes in public attitude have made identification more socially acceptable. In the absence of a national registry, there can only be conjecture on the point.
In the meantime, the Metis National Council and its five provincial affiliates in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia consider that 350,000 would be a more realistic figure. As they break it down, Manitoba accounts for 103,000, Saskatchewan and Alberta for 110,000 each, British Columbia for 70,000, and Ontario for 40,000. These figures were obtained on the basis of membership in the provincial affiliates, along with extrapolations from other sources, particularly historical ones. Incidentally, the official projected growth rate for the Metis during the next 25 years is 43 percent. This is the lowest among aboriginal groups; the Inuit and non-status Amerindians are both projected at 59 percent, and status Amerindians at 52 percent. What is increasingly clear is that history has become more important than biology in defining the Metis, Canada’s hidden people. Or, as writer Murray Dobbin observes, “it was not so much blood that was mixed ... but two dramatically different worlds.”
Although today the Metis are particularly identified with the three prairie provinces, the mixing of the aboriginal peoples and Europeans has occurred from coast to coast. In the early days of New France, official policy encouraged this: Samuel de Champlain told the Huron that “our young men will marry your daughters, and we shall be one people.” This was general French colonial policy at the time, a reflection of the fact that France’s political dominance in Europe depended in part upon a large population at home, with a consequent reluctance to encourage emigration, even for purposes of empire. The alternative was to send out small groups of people, almost all men, who would intermarry with local inhabitants to produce new French populations overseas.
In Canada, difficulties with an unfamiliar and demanding climate as well as the requirements of the fur trade also encouraged intermarriage, placing as they did a premium on the survival skills and kinship networks of an Amerindian and, later, a Metis wife. According to a description by an eighteenth-century observer, Sieur de Diéreville, such unions were arranged with the father of the bride-to-be for a negotiated amount of trade goods. “The Girl, who is familiar with the Country, undertakes, on her part, to sell his Merchandise for a specified length of time; the bargain is faithfully carried out on both sides.” That these arrangements worked to the collective advantage was generally acknowledged.
A closely related aspect was the dependence of early fur-trade posts for a large part of their food supplies upon Amerindian hunters, who were known as “homeguards” because they set up their base camps around the posts. Inevitably, there was intermixing with post personnel. The English had similar experiences when they established themselves on Hudson Bay in 1670, despite an official policy that was the opposite of that of the French: London’s best efforts to prevent intermarriage were unavailing in the face of the exigencies of the trade, not to mention those of survival in the “Little Ice Age” (c. 1450–1850).
The policy of creating one nation discouraged the emergence of a separate Metis identity during the French regime. In the atmosphere that initially prevailed in Acadia and New France, cultural conformity was more important than racial origins; thus, mixed-blood children identified with one side or the other of their heritage. The fur trade, where the Amerindian connection was important, encouraged identification with the Amerindian side. When this led to the “French becoming Savage simply by living with the Savages,” officials had second thoughts, and by the eighteenth century they were discouraging intermarriage, or at least trying to control it. A counterbalancing factor was involvement in colonial wars. French/Amerindian military alliances favoured identification with the French, who had both power and prestige. One of the best known products of this was Bernard-Anselme d’Abbadie de Saint-Castin (1689–1720), whose mother came from a line of Abenaki chiefs and whose father belonged to the minor French nobility; Bernard-Anselme became a French officer and commander in Acadia. Another factor favouring French identification was the comparatively close presence of colonial officialdom, as well as that of the common enemy, the English. As a result, the Metis communities that developed in Acadia generally considered themselves to be French, even as they recognized their blood ties with Amerindians. The choice was between being Amerindian-French or French-Amerindian; the concept of a nation in between, that was neither one nor the other, was latent but not yet developed.
A different situation emerged on the western frontier. In the Ohio valley (the “Old Northwest”), far from the centre of colonial administration, the fur trade was the dominant economic activity and the English were more successful than they had been in the Maritimes in competing for Amerindian alliances. This combination of factors favoured the qualifications of the Metis as trappers and traders, as interpreters and go-betweens in the continuing English-French confrontations, and as effective forest fighters in the colonial wars.
Amerindian influence in the way of life that developed in the Ohio valley was strong; marriages, for instance, were usually contracted à la façon du pays, “according to the custom of the country,” which was, of course, Amerindian. In spite of missionary worries, such adaptations did not influence the French Metis to give up their Catholicism, which was retained to a remarkable extent even in the absence of clergy. Subsistence depended upon what was available locally, which meant hunting, gathering, and fishing, sometimes supplemented with small-scale farming. Wild rice and various roots were harvested where available, as was maple and birch sap for processing into syrup and (in the case of maple sap) into sugar. What social distinctions there were tended to be dictated by fur-trade connections; the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) had a more formal hierarchical structure than the later-appearing North West Company (NWC). Many individuals were “freemen,” in trade as well as employment, providing various services (as hunters, guides, voyageurs, and interpreters, among others).
Their sense of cultural identity found an expression in dress, which combined Amerindian and European elements; the Red River coat, made out of Hudson’s Bay Company blankets, and the arrow (Assomption) sash, derived from Iroquois burden-strap designs, are well-known examples. The arrow sash has since become a badge of Metis national identification. Pipe smoking, an Amerindian inheritance, was universally popular, with tobacco often being mixed with chopped dogwood bark – kinik-kinik. The Metis of the Ohio valley were well on their way towards thinking of themselves as a “New Nation,” but they were forestalled by the creation of the United States of America in 1783 and the consequent rush of European settlement, which overwhelmed their communities.
It was the “Far Northwest” (particularly today’s Manitoba but also Saskatchewan and Alberta) that provided the setting which allowed for the crystallization of Metis national sentiment: isolation, the continuing importance of the fur trade, and the growing importance of the buffalo hunt. Far removed from centres of authority, Metis communities developed their own self-regulated, semi-nomadic way of life, mobile when necessary for hunting, trading, and trapping, semi-sedentary where supplementary subsistence farming was practical. An outstanding example was Red River at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers (the site of today’s Winnipeg), a strategic location since it linked York Factory on Hudson Bay with St Paul, Minnesota, on the Mississippi River. It was situated within the huge but imprecisely delineated HBC land grant known as Rupert’s Land, considered by many today to be the Metis homeland. As the Metis define the grant, it included the two Dakotas as well as Minnesota and Montana.
The Scottish settlers who arrived in Red River in 1812 under the auspices of Thomas Douglas, Earl of Selkirk, in collaboration with the HBC, were not only too few to challenge the dominance of the Metis, they were also dependent upon them for subsistence during the settlement’s first difficult years; instead of overwhelming the Metis, the settlers acted as a catalyst that sharpened Metis awareness of their own distinctive culture and way of life. The economic basis for this phenomenon, the fur trade, by this time was dominated by two rivals: the British monopoly that was the HBC, with its quasi-governmental powers over Rupert’s Land, and the freewheeling combination of partnerships that made up the NWC. The French-language Metis were for the most part connected with the NWC, which had emerged during the 1780s largely under Highland Scottish leadership. The “Nor’Westers,” as NWC traders were known, encouraged the Metis as free traders and supported their claims to land by virtue of their Amerindian heritage. Although Metis of French descent were in the majority in the region, by this time others were represented in the national mix; some of those who would become the most active nationalists would be of English, Scottish, or other extractions. This complex of racial, cultural, commercial, and political diversities created a situation that was without counterpart elsewhere on the Canadian frontier.
Interaction of Europeans and Amerindians on the northwest coast followed a different pattern from that in the other parts of the country. For one thing, the climate was such that special survival skills did not have to be learned; for another, the coastal fur trade lasted for less than a century, soon giving way to agriculture, fishing, and lumbering, among other forms of economic activity such as gold mining. Nor did colonial rivalries have as direct an impact as in the east or the Ohio valley, so that military alliances with First Nations were not a political necessity; in fact, the very suggestion of such a move by ex-fur trader Governor Sir James Douglas aroused considerable unease on the part of the settlers. All this meant that, on the northwest coast, Amerindians and Europeans never developed the symbiotic relationships characteristic of other regions. There never was any question of support, official, economic, or otherwise, for the mixing of races. The Metis fact was not important, even though Douglas’s wife, Lady Amelia, was a Metis from the North-West Territories.
France’s colonial policy of “one nation” may not have succeeded, but what it did do was to set in motion a train of developments that culminated in the emergence in the Far Northwest of a “New Nation” which was destined to collide with the new country of Canada. The New Nation was built around a way of life that lasted until the fading of the fur trade and the disappearance of the buffalo herds, both of which occurred towards the end of the nineteenth century. It developed its own language (Michif, in several variations), music and dance, a flag, a bardic tradition, and a rich folklore. Michif, described in 1879 as “a French dialect ... unlike any of the patois of France,” is today regarded by some linguists as a fully developed mixed language, a rare phenomenon. In its western range it correctly incorporates French nouns and noun phrases with a Plains Cree verbal system and syntax; in its more easterly range, it incorporates Ojibwa as well. English also creeps in, but in a French form. First noted by linguists in the Turtle Mountain region of Manitoba and North Dakota, it has since been reported in northern Alberta and as far east as Quebec. Commonly known as “Metis Cree,” or less frequently as “French Cree,” it is still spoken in scattered communities. Because it has been slow in gaining recognition as a developed language, rather than being “a bunch of jumble” varying from speaker to speaker, there is no consensus as to the exact nature of Michif. The Michif Dictionary (1983), gives only English to Michif equivalents, and even that is incomplete.
The Metis developed their own pattern for the buffalo hunt, based on that of Amerindian hunters while reflecting the military ethos of their French ancestors. Involving as it did the whole community, the hunt encouraged the esprit de corps that provided a foundation for Metis nationalism. Its best known symbol was the Red River cart, which in its classic form made its appearance around 1818–21, adapted from a European model via New France. With its large “dished” wheels (almost two metres high), rims wrapped in shaganappi (buffalo rawhide), it was well suited to prairie transportation. When in motion, the screeching of its ungreased axles could be heard from far away. The cart’s body could be removed from the frame and placed on runners for use as a sleigh in winter.
In 1820, 540 carts went from Red River to the hunt on the western plains; by 1840 the number had reached 1,210. The average load of meat per cart was 360 kilograms, with 400 kilograms being a full load. In making pemmican, the meat was dried, pounded, and mixed with melted tallow; one buffalo could yield a 36-kilogram sack. Its manufacture has been called the west’s first industry. By the 1840s the Metis had edged out their rivals, the Blackfoot, Cree, and Ojibwa, as the main providers of pemmican for the northern fur trade. At first, there were two principal hunts a year, summer and fall; later, from the second decade of the century, a winter hunt developed, a consequence of the American industrial market for buffalo robes. This came after railroads made practicable the transportation of the bulky, heavy hides.
Each hunt was preceded by a rendezvous for the selection of officers and the planning of hunt procedures. Discipline was strict, with offenders being tried before the council, very much in the manner of a court martial. The summer hunt could last for three months; later, the winter hunt was even more demanding. All hunts were marshalled behind a flag; it is not known if it was of the same design as the one adopted by the Metis when they set up their first provisional government towards the end of 1869.
Confrontation between the fur trade’s blend of Amerindian and European ways and the European mores of incoming agricultural settlers exacerbated rivalry between the Nor’Westers and the HBC. The establishment of the United States–Canadian boundary in the Great Lakes area by Jay’s Treaty in 1794 did not simplify the issues. The War of 1812 and the hard winters of 1812–13 and 1813–14 led to restrictions on the export of pemmican and on running buffalo, a practice seen as driving the herds out of the reach of the settlers. To the Metis, these were direct attacks on their way of life. Out of the ensuing events, which have been labelled the Pemmican War, emerged Cuthbert Grant, of Scots and Cree descent, who in 1816 was acclaimed “Captain General of all the Halfbreeds of the Country.” The settlers were now seen as invaders taking lands that belonged to the Metis, who had been there first and who were bonded to the land through their aboriginal heritage. Asserting what he saw as Metis rights, Grant unfurled the Metis flag and led a group of buffalo hunters into confrontations that culminated in 1816 in the Battle of Seven Oaks. The Metis claimed a victory; the settlers saw only a massacre.
The concept of a “New Nation” that reached full form in that battle had not only come to stay, it would be reinforced by another victory against a much larger body of Sioux in 1851, in the Battle of Grand Coteau. These victories enriched an already rapidly growing national mythology, particularly in the songs of the Metis bard Pierre Falcon, son-in-law of Grant. Still remembered are his ballads “La Chanson de la Grenouillière” (in English “The Battle of Seven Oaks”) and “Le Lord Selkirk au Fort William, ou La danse des Bois-Brulés,” both of which were occasioned by Seven Oaks. Although Falcon’s songs at one time were sung by voyageurs on fur-trade routes everywhere, only a few have survived, as most of them were not written down. Anges Laut’s “The buffalo hunt” is believed to be a free translation of one of his lyrics.
That Cuthbert Grant played a central role in the emergence of the New Nation is beyond doubt; he has been called the “Father of the Metis Nation,” a title he would share with Louis Riel. When the NWC and the HBC amalgamated in 1821 under the HBC banner, the new administration at first ignored Grant. That proved to be impolitic, and so in 1828 the company sought to harness his prestige in its favour by naming him warden of the plains, with the duty of preventing “illicit trade in Furs within the District.” In other words, he was now protecting the company’s interests rather than being concerned with those of the Metis or even with general justice. Other responsibilities followed, culminating with his appointment as a councillor for the District of Assiniboia, as Lord Selkirk’s land grant was called. Meanwhile, the freeing of free trader Pierre-Guillaume Sayer in 1849, although he had been found guilty of illicit trading, effectively ended the HBC’s monopoly, and consequently Grant’s usefulness to the company.
At the peak of his career, in 1844, Grant had successfully negotiated a peace settlement with the Sioux, traditional enemies of the Cree and Saulteaux and consequently of the Metis. The peace lasted for seven years, until the battle of Grand Coteau. As leader of the Metis, Grant was eclipsed first by Louis Riel, Sr., and then even more dramatically by Riel’s namesake son. Thus, in the end Grant lost out, both officially and with his own people. His career illustrates the complexity and ambivalence of the Metis position between two worlds, which continues today.
As for the fur trade, the Metis had become the principal source of manpower. In the mid-1840s, they accounted for two-thirds of the HBC’s rank and file and one-third of its officers. By the end of the century, Metis made up 72 percent of the company’s workforce. This expansion, however, was mainly in the lower ranks; there were limits as to how high they were allowed to rise, limits that became steadily more restrictive as the century progressed. If the HBC monopoly was less and less capable of interfering with the activities of the Metis as free traders, especially after the freeing of Sayer, this was offset by diminishing prospects within the company’s hierarchy. Similarly, with the NWC, the Metis made up most of the rank and file, with limited prospects of advancement. Ironically, the fame of the plains buffalo hunters as mounted sharpshooters had reached the point where they were being used as a model for the training of military cavalry in some parts of Europe.
In other aspects as well, pressures on the Metis way of life were increasing. This was particularly evident in the buffalo hunt, which was expanding with the rising industrial demand for buffalo hides, encouraging overhunting as short-term prosperity overshadowed long-term considerations. The aboriginal belief that the free gifts of nature were to be shared by all was being challenged, not only because of over-exploitation, but also by an increasing number of immigrants, whose agricultural and industrial way of life was based on restricted access. Amerindian customs, once the key to survival, were becoming less acceptable socially. The Metis claim to special status by right of their aboriginal blood was dismissed on the ground that they had no more rights than those enjoyed by British subjects.
Nor were they having any luck politically. Their demand that Assiniboia be made a colony free of HBC control was also rejected, in spite of determined lobbying by Alexander Kennedy Isbister, a Metis lawyer and teacher living in London. As the British Parliament saw it, colonial status should not be granted until there was a sufficient number of white settlers in the region to ensure that they would have control. This was a period of population growth for Red River; the 1871 census counted 9,800 Metis, of whom 5,720 were French speaking, and about 4,000 whites; Amerindians had not been counted. In spite of this numerical dominance, Metis unease about their position in relation to Britain had been growing ever since the troubles that had followed in the wake of the Selkirk settlement.
In the meantime, changing social mores were creating tensions in their own right as European standards, replacing those of the indigenous northwest, led to a series of scandals in which the Metis were targets for prejudice. These in turn exacerbated the political problems, leading to open defiance of the HBC’s tattered authority. Voices were raised advocating “a temporary government formed by the people themselves for the time being until the British Government shall see fit to take the place in its own hands.”
The period 1862–68 was marked by drought, grasshoppers, prairie fires, and crop failures. The buffalo hunt was receding in the distance, and the fisheries were at low ebb; even rabbits were at a point of cyclic scarcity. Already, before Confederation had been proclaimed on 1 July 1867, arrangements were under way for the transfer of Rupert’s Land to Canada. Paragraph 146 of the British North America Act laid the basis for that eventuality.
An important issue was land survey, a requirement for the agricultural use of land. The square survey that was adopted by Canada threatened the Metis settlement pattern of river-frontage strip farms that had been brought from New France: long thin ribbons of land stretching back into woodlots, assuring each holder access to the river, the principal transportation route. When the Canadian government sent surveyors to Red River without consultation or even forewarning, the result was a confrontation in which Louis Riel informed them that they had no right to be doing such work without the permission of the people. Riel’s position was that the HBC’s trade monopoly did not include rights over the land and the people, and that before any transfer could be negotiated it would be necessary to deal with Amerindian and Metis rights. Recently returned from studying law in Montreal, Riel now took over the reins of Metis leadership.
As neither London nor the Metis would budge from their respective positions, the situation became a crisis when Rupert’s Land was scheduled to be transferred from the HBC to Canada, 1 December 1869. In the political vacuum that resulted, Riel issued his “Declaration of the People of Rupert’s Land and the Northwest” on 8 December. It stated that “a people, when it has no Government, is free to adopt one form of Government in preference to another, to give or refuse allegiance to that which is proposed.” This position was in accord with international law, as Ottawa was only too well aware. Two days later, the Metis flag was hoisted, and on 27 December Louis Riel was elected president of Red River’s first provisional government. To that point, it had been a bloodless coup.
The consequence of the Metis’ stand was the creation of the province of Manitoba in 1870, largely acceding to Metis demands. Among other provisions, the Manitoba Act set aside 1.4 million acres (500,000 hectares) for children of Metis heads of families. The distribution of the grants was so poorly handled, however, that by the time it was concluded only an estimated 15 to 20 percent of Metis beneficiaries had possession of their entitlements. In Metis eyes, this was a massive miscarriage of a promise to their people; it contributed to an ongoing exodus to the west and north as Metis sought locations where they could be themselves – Otipemisiwak (free people). It is estimated that as many as two-thirds of the 10,000 Manitoba Metis were involved. This pattern of behaviour owed much to Amerindian custom, in which dissenting groups were free to separate and form their own autonomous bands. There was also a movement towards the south, particularly to Montana, Minnesota, and North Dakota, where descendants of the Metis are known as “Canadian Cree” or, in North Dakota, as “Michif Indians.” Economic considerations were also important factors in these dispersals, as they would be also in 1885. For one illustration, the demands of the buffalo-robe trade, which peaked from about 1850 to the mid-1870s, were such that families which participated could not continue even part-time farming in the settlements but had to be close to the herds, where they established log-cabin camps. They were known as hivernants, “winterers.” Besides that, rising prices during the 1880s made it profitable for Metis farmers to sell their lands and re-establish in less settled areas. In other words, the people were scattering for various reasons, both before and well after the confrontations. As for Riel, although he was elected twice to Parliament, in 1873 and again the following year, hostility against him, particularly in Ontario, was such that he was not able to take his seat. In 1875 he was offered amnesty for his role in the resistance of 1869– 70, but only after a five-year banishment; by that time, he was already living in the United States.
The spirit of the New Nation survived even as the Metis adapted to the new economy that overtook them after the loss of the rich resources of the buffalo herds. Although assimilation into the dominant society proceeded apace, substantial numbers continued to retreat to the northern forests, where hunting and trapping still offered free common access. On the plains and in the parklands, the people turned to ranching and horse breeding as well as farming; freighting, logging, interpreting, and guiding also provided livelihoods. Some individuals, such as the perennial buffalo-hunt captain Gabriel Dumont, did well in the short term, participating in the “Wild West” shows that were so popular at the turn of the century on both sides of the Atlantic. In the longer term, Dumont and others followed their “freeman” tradition and established independent businesses. Dumont operated a ferry and had a small store, complete with billiard table. Another who prospered following a similar path was François-Xavier Letendre dit Batoche; his success is indicated by the fact that his sobriquet became the name of the settlement on the South Saskatchewan River, forty-four kilometres southwest of Prince Albert.
For most, however, the transition from frontier life meant a drop in living standards.To begin with, adaptation was not made easier by the disregard of incoming settlers for the rights of Metis or Amerindians, particularly in connection with land. A Metis proposal that reserves be set aside for them as was being done for Amerindians who signed treaties drew a cool official response: they were told to apply for land on the same basis as whites. Neither did the Metis elicit constructive suggestions when, in 1872, they asked the government for advice on “what steps they should adopt to secure to themselves the right to prohibit people of other nationalities from settling in the lands occupied by them, without the consent of the Community.” Not surprisingly, land surveying continued to be problematic, since many Metis had not gone through the formalities of acquiring legal title to their properties.
The Metis were losing out on all counts: their claim to aboriginal right was not recognized, and even their claims to prior settlers’ rights were being challenged. For instance, at Rat River, in the present-day Northwest Territories, eighty-four of ninety-three Metis claims were rejected out of hand because of insufficient cultivation. Five claimants who had houses considered to be adequate and who had cultivated at least two hectares received sixteen hectares; four who had cultivated four and one half hectares received thirty-two hectares. The Metis request that they be exempted from homestead requirements since they had defended the land against the Sioux drew no response. If the Metis often did not help themselves by being negligent about filing claims (they did not see the need for this, because in their eyes their aboriginal blood gave them the right to live wherever they chose), it could be pointed out that official survey maps were slow in appearing and, until they did, the Metis could not make legal claims. They certainly were not negligent about filing petitions for what they believed to be their rights; by 1885, they had sent fifteen.
In the meantime, in the mid-1870s the government moved to implement the Manitoba Act land grant by the issuance of scrip, an entitling certificate for land. Scrip (from the Latin scriptum, “written”) was at first made out for varying amounts of cash for the purchase of land at a dollar an acre up to a maximum of 160 acres (64 hectares). This was soon increased to 240 acres (97 hectares). Instead of discouraging speculation, for which the program had been ostensibly designed, scrip, being transferable by means of a power of attorney, quickly became an instrument for encouraging it. Most Metis preferred to take cash for their scrip rather than land, and usually at a heavy discount.
On the other side of the coin, the capacity of the Metis to be effective in cross-cultural situations was demonstrated yet again during the negotiations for the early numbered treaties, in which they actively participated. The Metis James McKay, successful trader and politician, played a crucial role in the first six treaties. That this was appreciated by the Amerindians was evident during Treaty 3 negotiations when they told officials, “We wish that they [Metis] should be counted with us, and have their share of what is promised.” The Ojibwa stressed the same point to Alexander Morris, lieutenant governor of the North-West Territories from 1873 to 1876: “We wish you to understand that you owe much to the half-breeds.” Instead of recognizing their services, Ottawa amended the Indian Act in 1880 to exclude Metis both from the provisions of the act and from the treaties. In practice, however, Metis continued to influence negotiations, as well as to have the option of being included in the treaties if they qualified as Amerindians and so wished. Lord Dufferin, governor general of Canada from 1872 to 1878, remarked that the Metis were “the ambassadors between East and West.” He attributed the rarity of frontier wars in Canada to the Metis, whom he saw as playing an essential role in maintaining the generally peaceful frontier. This made all the more ironic Canada’s reluctance to recognize their aboriginal claims.
The stage was being set for the rebellion of 1885, in spite of the prosperity of the preceding two decades, which did not dim the Metis’ perception that their lands were being stolen, “and now they are laughing at us.” A vague amendment to the Dominion Lands Act that appeared to recognize Metis rights had no consequences. In fact, the opposite seemed to be happening: in 1882 Dumont was one of those who signed a petition protesting being forced to pay for land they had occupied before the survey, if it happened to fall into odd-numbered sections not being made available for homesteading.
During these years, the nearly completed Canadian Pacific Railway allowed more and more settlers to arrive in the west. Whereas in 1869–70 the Metis had held the balance of power in Red River, they were now outnumbered by whites. There seemed to be no way to get Ottawa’s ear; even such a leader as Dumont was not able to get results. When Ottawa in 1882 named an investigator into the Metis complaints, he could not speak French and it was 1884 before he appeared on the scene. His report, sent to Ottawa at the end of that year, did not elicit action until early 1885. By that time, the Metis had already asked Riel for help. Riel, then a teacher in a Jesuit mission school in Montana, accepted the challenge.
Not only were the buffalo herds in full retreat, but two years of poor crops (1883, frost; 1884, wet harvest) had resulted in an extremely hard winter in 1884–85. In the midst of hunger and discontent, Riel struck a pacific note: over and over he repeated his peaceful intentions. He asked that Ottawa send adequate food rations to the west, and he even came to the defence of the white settlers, claiming that they were being charged too much for land. Ottawa was equally consistent in its apparent obliviousness to the western situation. It disarmed the North-West Territories militia, despite warnings that things were not as peaceful as they seemed. In 1884 Riel prepared to meet with Hector-Louis Langevin, minister of public works, in Prince Albert; Langevin cancelled the visit without warning. The Metis got nowhere when they asked that Riel replace Pascal Breland on the Territorial Council, on the ground that Breland was not effectively representing their interests. When Ottawa actually responded to Riel’s 1884 petition requesting, among other items, that the Metis be treated with the full dignity of British subjects, jubilation was the order of the day. However, when the Metis examined the message more closely, they realized that all it promised was to set up a commission to enumerate those who were resident in the northwest in 1870, as well as their claims; it did not make provision for settling grievances. The disillusioned Metis agreed among themselves that, if necessary, they would take up arms “to save our country.” On 19 March 1885 (the feastday of Saint Joseph, patron saint of the Metis), Riel proclaimed a provisional government, which he backed with a ten-point Bill of Rights, and the people armed themselves.
Riel’s Bill of Rights reveals his concern for social justice for all, not just for the Metis. Besides the points already noted, it asked that patents should be issued to all Metis and white settlers “who had fairly earned the right of possession on their farms,” and that the districts of Saskatchewan and Alberta be created provinces “so that the people may no longer be subject to the despotism of Mr. Dewdney.” (Edgar Dewdney was lieutenant governor of the North-West Territories, 1881–88). It asked for hospitals and schools, respect for “the lawful customs and usages which obtain among the Metis,” that the region’s administrative centre be moved to Winnipeg, and that the administration be for “the benefit of the actual settlers, not for the advantage of the alien speculator.”
When fighting broke out, it did not last long; it was over for the Metis when they were defeated at Batoche on 12 May after a three-day battle; on 15 May, Riel surrendered. For the Amerindians, the end was formally signalled when Big Bear presented himself to a startled sentry on 2 July. The rebellion’s toll was 53 whites killed, 118 wounded, and about 35 Amerindians and Metis killed. Of the 84 trials that resulted, 71 were for treason-felony, 12 for murder, and 1 (Riel’s) for high treason. Of 81 Indians jailed, 44 were convicted and 8 hanged for murder. Of the 46 Metis who were taken into custody, 19 were convicted, 1 hanged (Riel), and 7 conditionally discharged; the rest were either unconditionally discharged or not brought to trial. Although Riel had become an American citizen during his sojourn in the United States, he was tried and convicted under the British doctrine that a person born a British subject could not lose that status through naturalization in another country. His lawyers’ attempts to win his acquittal on grounds of insanity had been countered by Riel himself during his trial.
Although Metis and Cree had both been protagonists in the uprising, they had each fought their own battles; there was mutual sympathy but no formal alliance. Riel, in taking the broad view when he included Amerindians and whites in his Bill of Rights, was implicitly acknowledging the dual heritage of the Metis.
One consequence of the “prairie fire,” as the rebellion has been called, was the acceleration of the issuance of scrip, which now came in two forms, one for cash and one for land. Between 1885 and 1921, there were twelve commissions set up for scrip distribution. Eligibility varied as regulations changed over time; after 1899, it was tied to the date when a treaty was signed in a given region. Only Metis born after that date qualified. The vast majority chose money scrip; for instance, during the negotiations for Treaty 8 in 1899, there were 1,195 money scrips issued and only 48 land scrips. This reflected the fact that much of the land offered to the Metis was marginal for farming, besides being remote from land offices. Official attempts to control speculators, who encouraged the Metis to sell their scrip for a fraction of its value, met with resistance from the Metis themselves. In its final report on the scrip project in 1929, the year before control of crown lands reverted to the provinces, Ottawa said that 24,000 claims had been recognized in the North-West Territories, involving 2.6 million acres (1,1052,183 hectares) in land scrip, and 2.8 acres (1,133,120 hectares) in money scrip. Later it would be claimed that over 90 percent of this scrip ended up in the control of banks and speculators.
Whereas Amerindians who signed treaty had reserved land that could not be alienated, many Metis ended up as a landless minority – “road allowance people,” living on the fringes of both white and Amerindian communities – wandering from job to job, their traditional way of life being steadily restricted as agriculture and resource development became dominant. Even the Metis role as interpreters and mediators between Amerindians and whites became irrelevant as treaties settled issues. At the initiative of the Oblate priest Albert Lacombe, who had a trace of Amerindian blood but did not identify himself as Metis, Saint-Paul-des-Métis was established in 1896 in north-central Alberta as an experiment in helping the people to become full-time sedentary farmers. It was the first time since Treaty 3 that a tract of land was set aside for the exclusive use of the Metis. Each participating family was to receive 80 acres (32 hectares, one-half of the standard homestead allotment), as well as livestock and agricultural equipment to get started. Though the federal government of Wilfrid Laurier approved the project, it contributed only $2,000. Underfunded as it was, the project had difficulty providing the promised help to the fifty families who participated; most of them, discouraged, drifted away, most often to unsurveyed crown lands in the north where they could continue their accustomed hunting, trapping, and fishing. Their farm leases at Saint-Paul were terminated in 1908, and the following year the reserve was thrown open for French-Canadian settlement. In the meantime, the creation of Alberta and Saskatchewan as provinces in 1905 further complicated matters for the Metis, since they were now divided under different administrations, making it difficult for them to speak with one voice.
By the early twentieth century, most Metis were barely eking out a living even in good times; the difficult years of the Great Depression during the 1930s provoked disaster. In 1932 Joseph Dion, an enfranchised adopted nephew of Big Bear, formed L’Association des Métis de l’Alberta et des Territoires du Nord Ouest to help the people get established on their own lands. He was joined by activists Malcolm Norris and James Brady, both one-eighth Amerindian; together they reorganized the association into the Metis Association of Alberta in 1940 and launched an expanded land-settlement program in the northern part of the province. It had some success but could not keep pace with the widespread misery. Metis Maria Campbell vividly described her people’s lot in her best-selling memoir, Halfbreed (1973). The province was finally moved to help, appointing a royal commission in 1934 under the chairmanship of Alberta Supreme Court Judge Albert Freeman Ewing. The commission’s proposal that farm colonies be established in suitable locations, free from white interference, was implemented by the Metis Population Betterment Act of 1938. At the time, this was the most advanced legislation in Canada relating to Metis. Of twelve locations initially selected in north-central Alberta, ten were opened for settlement. Not all communities agreed to participate; Grande Cache, for one, held aloof. Today, eight participating settlements remain, comprising a total of 539,446 hectares and a combined population of nearly 6,000.
Administration is coordinated with the province through the Metis Settlements General Council (before 1990, known as the Alberta Federation of Metis Settlement Associations). The discovery of oil and gas triggered a series of confrontations between the province and the settlements over questions about land rights and royalties; in 1990 the Metis land base was entrenched in the Alberta constitution. With the establishment of an appeal tribunal and co-management agreement, the Metis settlements have won substantial control over their own affairs, and negotiations continue for further devolution.
Grand Cache entered into its own negotiations with the province when a coal mine began operation in the area. This resulted in 1,680 hectares, including a residential section, being set aside for the Metis. It proved to be insufficient for them to continue hunting and trapping, since the designated land did not have the necessary natural resources. Consequently, wage labour has become the mainstay for most of the resident Metis at Grand Cache.
The Metis of these settlements represent two principal traditions: those who trace their origins to Red River, and consequently to French, Algonquian (Cree, Ojibwa), Iroquoian, or Athapaskan ancestry and who are mostly Roman Catholic; and those from farther north, who are largely descended from Scots, Scandinavians, Athapaskans, Cree, and Inuit and who are predominantly Anglican. Farming, ranching, and intermittent wage labour are principal subsistence activities, supplemented with hunting, trapping, and fishing (where available). A study of the social structure of one of the settlements, Kikino (Beaver Metis Colony), has revealed that 75 percent of its population belongs to five extended families, each settled in its own neighbourhood. Unrelated families live in the more remote sections of the colony and are both physically and socially isolated. Today, although there is more intermarriage between the families than in the past, social activities and organizations still tend to remain within particular extended families. This is also evident in religion, for each extended family usually identifies with a particular church. Prevailing languages are English and Cree, with the latter for the most part being the second language. Baseball is the social activity that cuts across family lines and involves the community as a whole. In this social structure, and in politics as well, males are dominant. Factionalism reflects the primacy of family loyalty over that to the community. As with other fur-trading communities that were directly affected by the establishment of the settlements, living conditions improved somewhat in Kikino under the new regime.
Nearby is the larger mixed community of Lac La Biche, which also benefited from the Alberta settlement program even though it did not formally participate. Its location on fur-trade routes resulted in posts being built there in the late 1790s. The French-speaking element, mostly from Red River, coalesced around the Oblate mission that was established in 1853. It forms a community that is still tightly knit, even though the influence of the church is lessening and the trend is towards marrying out and establishing nuclear families. Living is largely off the land; logging and road work provide intermittent wage labour. Many of the adults are trilingual, speaking English and Cree as well as French. Lac La Biche has the advantage of a commercial fishery cooperative in which both whites and Metis participate; tourism is also being encouraged. It is not known with any certainty how representative Kikino and Lac La Biche are of northern Metis communities today.
In 1940 Saskatchewan launched a program to train Metis to be farmers which eventually led to the establishment of eleven government farm colonies. One of these, of about 1,200 hectares, was transferred in 1968 to Lebret Farm Land Foundations, owned and operated by Metis and non-status Amerindians. Negotiations to encourage farm colonies in other Metis communities, as well as to give the Metis greater control of certain provincial programs (like housing and welfare) and a share of resource revenues, ended in disagreement in 1987. In the meantime, Saskatchewan, with Manitoba and Quebec, has programs for the rehabilitation of fur production in overexploited areas which, while not specifically for the benefit of the Metis, are obviously important for the maintenance of hunting and trapping. Registered traplines were introduced in 1940 in Manitoba; six years later they were adopted in Saskatchewan. At first these caused some difficulty since they interfered with traditional land use; however, they have proven useful for the control of trapping and so have been beneficial in those regions where agriculture is not practicable and industrial development not currently foreseen. In Saskatchewan, some programs combine fur production with farming.
The Canadian constitution of 1982 has not gone farther than the simple recognition of existing aboriginal and treaty rights. The defeat of the Charlottetown constitutional accord in the 1992 referendum took down with it a side deal, the Metis Nation Accord, by which Ottawa had agreed to be the primary agent in negotiating self-government with the Metis. For almost two centuries the Metis had been fighting to wrest this concession from Ottawa; the final irony was that many of them were among those who voted against the Charlottetown agreement, which they felt was being pushed through too fast. As matters stand now, Ottawa has reverted to its original position that the Metis, as ordinary citizens, are a provincial responsibility.
The Metis National Council’s analysis of the Aboriginal Peoples Survey of 1991 presents a picture of the Metis as marginalized, a situation that the council blames on the denial of Metis access to federal services and benefits which are available to other aboriginal peoples. The council reports that about 17 percent of Metis over the age of 15 have less than grade 9 education, compared with 13.9 percent of the total population. In at least one respect Metis were found to be worse off than Amerindians: only 3.7 percent of Metis had completed university education, compared with 5.1 percent of Amerindians and 11.4 percent of the general population. Metis women do somewhat better than men in this regard: 4.1 percent have university education, compared to 3.4 percent of the men. The only post-secondary institution controlled by the Metis, the Gabriel Dumont Institute, was established in Saskatoon by the Metis Society of Saskatchewan in 1980. The Manitoba Federation plans to establish a Louis Riel Institute.
Employment presents no brighter a picture: the unemployment rate for Metis more than 15 years old is 19 percent, almost double the national average of 10.3 percent. Of those who are employed, 60 percent earn $10,000 a year or less. On the positive side, Ontario has the highest Metis participation rate in its labour force, 73 percent, well above the national rate of 68 percent. Besides that, employed Metis of Ontario share with the Northwest Territories the highest proportion of those earning $40,000 a year or over: in Ontario, 10 percent, and in the Northwest Territories 17.7 percent. This probably reflects the fact that 19.1 percent of employed Metis in Ontario, and 19.7 percent in the Northwest Territories, are in professional occupations, much higher than the national average of 6.2 percent for the Metis. The general population’s national average for those earning over $40,000 is 12.7 percent.
The Metis of Manitoba and Saskatchewan have not only the highest unemployment rates but also the lowest employment income. In Manitoba the unemployment rate is 20.1 percent, and 64.2 percent of those employed earn less than $10,000 annually; in Saskatchewan, the figures are 20.9 percent for the unemployed and 67.8 percent for those earning $10,000 a year or less.
The fact that the constitutional recognition of the Metis as an aboriginal people has not been followed by the creation of federal programs commensurate with those in place for other aboriginal peoples is a continuing irritant. In the words of the Metis National Council, this inaction “is particularly discriminatory in view of the fact that the Metis already face serious disadvantages relative to other Aboriginal peoples due to their lack of a land and resource base and the application to them of federal and provincial personal income and corporate tax laws.” An immediate goal is to secure a land and resource base, a “Metis Homeland.”
Their sense of the importance of their own history, and the need to keep it a living memory, has been a central theme in Metis cultural activities since the battle of Batoche. Within a few years of the battle, an annual commemoration became a major ongoing event that today attracts thousands. As well, in 1887 a group of former friends and associates of Riel, concerned that the Metis side of the story be presented, formed the Union Nationale Métisse Saint-Joseph de Manitoba for the purpose of collecting material and researching events relating to the events of 1869–70 and 1885. A result was the publication of A.-H. de Trémaudan’s Histoire de la nation métisse dans l’Ouest canadien in 1935. Promoting awareness of Metis history has been a principal activity of cultural groups ever since. In 1972 the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) Press was founded, later to evolve into the Pemmican Press, based in Winnipeg. This press was the publisher of the Michif Dictionary, mentioned earlier. The Louis Riel Historical Society, founded in Edmonton in 1986, aims to establish a museum and archives as part of a Metis cultural resource centre. Today, it functions within the Metis Nation of Alberta.
The resurgence of Metis nationalism has been signalled by the intensification of political activity which began in the mid-1960s. Spurred by such issues as the federal government’s white paper of 1969 on Indian policy and the patriation of the Canadian constitution in 1982, the Metis have organized and reorganized in an astonishing array of groups, all dedicated to improving their lot one way or another.
Metis of the three prairie provinces joined forces in 1970 to form the Native Council of Canada. When the council assigned its two seats at the 1983 First Ministers Conference to non-status Amerindian delegates, breakaway Metis reorganized themselves into the Metis National Council. This body, as the voice for the five provincial organizations west of Quebec, does not speak for the Maritimes or for the Northwest Territories. The Native Council has reorganized itself as the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.
Metis women have also been actively organizing. The Native Women’s Association of Canada was formed in 1974, and the Women of the Metis Nation followed in 1986; in 1995 the latter merged with Alberta Metis Women, an offshoot of the Metis Nation of Alberta. Social problems, such as family violence, alcoholism, and substance abuse, are principal concerns. The growing awareness that these problems can best be solved within the communities themselves has given rise to the healing circle movement. As with the aboriginal people generally, most Metis politicians are men, whereas most of those involved in the healing circles are women.
Social and political activity has its counterpart in the arts. While there is no single art style that can be labelled Metis, still the blending of aboriginal and non-aboriginal themes was rapid and is widespread; beaded floral embroideries are a good example. Cross-fertilization has produced masterworks in architecture, sculpture, and painting as well as through a whole range of crafts, including fashion design. Woodsplint basketry and Nascapi hunters’ coats illustrate the last two categories. In architecture, the work of Douglas Cardinal, who designed the Canadian Museum of Civilization, is internationally acclaimed; in painting, works that immediately come to mind are those of Daphne Odjig, Jane Ash Poitras, Alex Janvier, and George Littlechild; in sculpture, Bill Reid is a pre-eminent figure.
Film-making, literature, theatre, dance, and music – all have benefited from the Metis imprint. Film-making in particular has been flourishing since the advent of television and has brought such figures as Gil Cardinal to national prominence. Certain forms of country music and dance, derived from Celtic traditions as well as from other types of European folk dancing, have become closely associated with the Metis; the Red River jig, dating back to the beginning of the nineteenth century, has been called “one of few truly Canadian dance forms.” The National Film Board’s The Fiddlers of James Bay (1980) celebrated the fiddling tradition the Metis inherited from the Scots and made their own. In the realm of creative writing, Thomas King and Jordan Wheeler are among a growing number attracting national attention. Memoirs, such as Campbell’s Halfbreed (1973), noted earlier, and more recently Brian Maracle’s Back on the Rez (1996), remain a favourite genre for Metis and native writers generally. The same can be said for social commentaries, such as Emma LaRocque’s Defeathering the Indian (1975) and Beatrice Culleton’s partially fictionalized In Search of April Raintree (1983).
However, it is in the political arena that the greatest Metis activity is taking place, particularly since the 1982 Constitution Act. On the question of land, not only do the Metis disagree with the federal government on the issue of scrip, they have not forgotten their claim that the 1870 Manitoba grant of 1.4 million acres to “children of Metis” was mismanaged so that only a fraction of the grant remained with those for whom it was ostensibly intended. A suit launched in 1985 on behalf of all the Metis of Manitoba for the land in question, involving much of downtown Winnipeg, has since been allowed to lapse. The current lieutenant governor of Manitoba, Yvon Dumont, named in 1993, is a Metis.
Forming as they do such a small segment of Canadian society, the Metis have still played a unique role in Canada’s history. As they see it, this reflects the fact that they were born of the meeting of two worlds, the first Canadians. Although their long official eclipse has ended, the work of rebuilding the Metis as a people has just begun, a people whom many would define more on the basis of their history than on any other factor.
The widest-ranging study is still Marcel Giraud’s Le Métis canadien (Paris, 1945), which remains useful despite some dated views. In English, it is The Métis in the Canadian West (Edmonton, 1986). A recent overview of the Red River Metis is by Gerhard J. Ens, Homeland to Hinterland: The Changing Worlds of the Red River Metis in the Nineteenth Century (Toronto, 1996). A work of broader interest than its title indicates is Diane Payment, “The Free People – Otipemisiwak” Batoche, Saskatchewan, 1870–1930 (Ottawa, 1990). Her detailed description of Metis life applies to more of the western plains than just Saskatchewan.
Two useful collections of essays on various aspects of the Metis are Jacqueline Peterson and Jennifer S.H. Brown, eds., The New Peoples: Being and Becoming Métis in North America (Winnipeg, 1985); and F. Laurie Barron and James B. Waldram, eds., 1885 and After (Regina, 1986).
Maggie Siggins, Riel: A Life of Revolution (Toronto, 1994), casts a sympathetic light on the controversial Metis leader. The most detailed study of the 1885 troubles, ranging through a wide variety of both contemporary and recent sources, is Bob Beal and Rod Macleod, Prairie Fire (Edmonton, 1984). Murray Dobbin takes a perceptive look at the Metis caught in the economic and political stresses of the 1930s and 1940s in The One-and-a-Half Men (Vancouver, 1981). On the literary front, an anthology that contains some examples of Metis writing is Agnes Grant, ed., Our Bit of Truth (Winnipeg, 1992). For current information, The Métis Nation, newsletter of the Metis National Council, Ottawa, is helpful.