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History

Toward a Métis homeland

As Canada embarks on a process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, the Métis are still without territory to call their own

  • Nov 10, 2017
  • 277 words
  • 2 minutes
A Métis family with Red River carts in North Dakota, 1883 (Photo: STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF NORTH DAKOTA, A4365) Expand Image
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Historian Arthur J. Ray wrote* that many of Canada’s Indigenous people “define themselves in terms of the homelands that sustained their ancestors. These are places where their spiritual roots lie.” 

As recent scholarship has shown, the Metis** were “a people on the move.” This does not imply that they were “nomadic” in the sense of randomly moving about without rhyme or reason. On the contrary, they moved with a purpose and their movements were influenced by the waterways, the landscape, the seasons, their means of livelihood, available resources and their alliances and kinship connections with neighbouring Indigenous peoples. If the Metis emerged from marriages à la façon du pays, what shaped them as a people was not so much the genetic make-up of their ancestors as marriage to le pays itself: kinship relations not only within, but with the very territory from which they sprung – or what might be termed a kinscape.

When Louis Riel sang the praises of the exploits of le peuple Métis canadien-français, he spoke of the “brilliant successes” of his people. What is fascinating about Riel’s account is that the areas and peoples he mentions — the Indians of Minnesota, the Dakota tribes, the mountains and prairies of the Northwest, Regina, Montana, Manitoba — all fall within what is today termed the Metis homeland. What is striking about this area is that it more or less corresponds to waterways of the Lake Winnipeg drainage basin – although the Metis kinscape also extended up into the Mackenzie River basin.

Louis Riel, shown here with councillors of his provisional government in Red River, Man., 1870. (Photo: LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA, PA-012854) Expand Image
Louis Riel, shown here with councillors of his provisional government in Red River, Man., 1870. (Photo: Library and Archives Canada, PA-012854)
Map of the Metis homeland
An example of a scrip coupon. (Photo: Saskatchewan Archives Board General, E11/public domain)
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A Métis York boat brigade at Cumberland House, Sask., 1912. (Photo: LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA, PA-017395)
An example of a scrip coupon. (Photo: Saskatchewan Archives Board General, E11/public domain)
Expand Image
(Photo: SASKATCHEWAN ARCHIVES BOARD GENERAL, E11/PUBLIC DOMAIN)
An example of a scrip coupon. (Photo: Saskatchewan Archives Board General, E11/public domain)
Expand Image
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