Culture, Heritage & Language
Métis Nation British Columbia
The Ministry of Culture, Heritage and Language works to preserve and promote Métis culture and heritage and revitalize our Michif language.
Current Opportunities and Upcoming Events:
Supporting Métis Artists and Knowledge Keepers
One of our Ministry’s goals is to increase the visibility of Métis artists and cultural facilitators in BC. We are working on a number of exciting initiatives that will raise awareness and promote Métis art, artists and Knowledge Keepers across the province.
- Métis Artist Talks – Workshops to Support Métis Artists and Share Cultural Knowledge. We will be hosting Zoom workshops from now until October featuring numerous Métis artists and artisans. Visit our Eventbrite page to learn about and register for upcoming workshops: MNBC Ministry of Culture, Heritage and Language Events | Eventbrite
- Métis Artist and Knowledge Keeper Database – This database is for all Métis artists, performers, cultural facilitators and knowledge keepers in British Columbia. MNBC will use this database to connect with and inform Métis artists, performers, cultural facilitators and knowledge keepers of our Ministry’s programs and initiatives.
If you would like to be included in the database, you can sign up by clicking here:
Michif Language Initiatives
Our Ministry, along with other Ministries in MNBC, are currently working on developing Michif language resources and initiatives to support Michif language learners and speakers. Below are some of the learning resources and initiatives we are working on:
- learnmchif.com – this website was developed by MNBC to provide an introduction to common words and phrases in Michif. We are currently producing more content including videos that will be uploaded to the website – stay tuned!
- Métis Culture and Language Institute – we are in the early stages of planning for the development of a Métis Culture and Language Institute. The institute would highlight Métis culture and language, and the history and experiences of Métis people in BC.
About Métis Culture, Heritage and the Michif Language
The following information has been cited from MNBC’s Kaa-Wichiihitoyaahk: Métis Perspective on Cultural Wellness. To learn more about Métis history and culture, visit the MNBC store to purchase the book here.
Who Are The Métis?
Métis culture and nationhood is rooted in intermarriages and other social connections between European and First Nations people during the early North American fur trade period. During the 1600s to 1700s, fur traders from France, Scotland, England and other parts of Europe married First Nations women in what historians have referred to as country marriages, or marriages entered into according to Aboriginal law.
The children of these couples were mixed Aboriginal people, but they were not yet Métis. Over time, these individuals chose to marry other mixed Aboriginal individuals, with such families creating distinct Métis kinship networks, communities and cultural norms. Gradually, a distinct culture and Nation solidified over generations. Historic Métis communities emerged in the lands now known as B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and the Northwest Territories, as well as in Montana, North Dakota and Idaho.
The term Métis does not encompass all individuals with mixed Aboriginal and European heritage. Rather, it refers to a distinctive people who developed their own worldview, customs, way of life and recognizable group identity that is separate from their First Nations or European forebears.
Métis in BC
Métis people have lived in what is now referred to as B.C. for generations. Today there are many Métis people in B.C. who trace their roots back to ancestors who lived across the Métis homeland. Métis people were recorded west of the Rockies in the late 1700s as part of expeditions to explore the area. By at least the mid-1800s, and in some cases as early as the 1810s, communities of Métis people were living in Prince George, Quesnel, Fort St. John, Kamloops and Fort Langley. Métis populations also existed in this period in the southern interior, the north coast, the Kootenays and on Vancouver Island.
Historians have noted that Métis people contributed significantly to the development of B.C.’s economy and society in the late 1800s and early 1900s. As Métis historian Brodie Douglas has explained, “Perhaps one of the most striking features of Métis history in B.C. is the fact that Métis existed in positions of political and economic power during the early years of the colonial and provincial governments.” For example:
- Joseph William McKay – founded the city of Nanaimo
- Lady Amelia Douglas – the first lady of British Columbia
- Martha Douglas – the first Aboriginal woman from B.C. to be a published author
- James Douglas – a B.C. Member of the Legislative Assembly
- Isabella Ross – the first female landowner in B.C. according to colonial law
Learn more about the political evolution of the Métis Nation here:
Métis Arts and Culture
Métis women’s involvement in the fur trade brought them in close contact with European trade items, including glass beads. By combining techniques of First Nation quillwork with European embroidery and floral patterns, Métis women were the first to introduce beadwork as a new medium to decorate clothing and personal items. They began applying elaborate and colourful floral beadwork patterns to their moccasins, jackets, bags and other accessories and household items. By the 1830s, beadwork could be found on almost every item of traditional clothing, and Métis beaded items became a much sought-after trade item. The Métis became famous for their distinct floral beadwork, so much so that they were referred to as the ‘Flower Beadwork People’. Today beadwork is used by Métis beadwork artisans to decorate items such as moccasins, clothing and jewelry, and it is a point of inspiration for many contemporary Métis artists who practice in other mediums.
Learn more about Métis beadwork here:
The Métis sash is considered by many Métis to be a visible symbol of Métis identity. It was originally known as une ceinture fléchée (or en saeñcheur fleshii in Michif), meaning “arrow belt” because of the zig-zag pattern. They were created from European wool, using a First Nations finger weaving technique that is still often used today.
The sash was not just a decorative item. It was used for many practical purposes, such as the following:
- Holding the coat closed or the pants up
- Muffler or scarf
- Sling, bandage or tourniquet
- Bridle/saddle blanket
- Trail marker or sewing kit (by removing the threads at the end of the sash)
- Back support when holding heavy objects
- A rope (useful to portage canoes)
- Identifying one’s kill in a buffalo hunt
- As a calendar system (threads were used to mark days on the trapline)
The sash is typically worn wrapped around the waist for men or over the shoulder for women. Today the sash is often worn as ceremonial dress to honour people for achievements and recognize membership in a Métis community.
Learn more about the Métis sash here:
Distinctive Métis clothing arose in the Red River area in the 1800s and combined the dress of fur traders with First Nations styles. The most distinct feature of the clothing was the abundance of decoration—including beadwork, quillwork, buttons, shells, ribbons, feathers, embroidery and painting—even for utilitarian clothing.
The typical style for men was a long jacket tied with a sash around the waist. There were several types of jackets worn at different times of the year. The capote, a long jacket with a hood, was worn from fall to spring. Different colours were worn for different regions—the Métis tended to wear blue capotes, which was the North West Company colour. The Red River coat and buckskin jacket were also typical.
Women tended to wear practical clothing, including dresses and shawls. Traditionally men and women wore moccasins made of animal hide. The moccasins kept feet warm and dry in all kinds of weather conditions and were acknowledged by fur traders to be the best footwear for travelling through the backcountry.
Although contemporary materials are often used today, moccasins, velvet or hide vests, buckskin jackets, shawls, and ribbon shirts and skirts (all of which are frequently decorated with beadwork and ribbons sewn into them) are common attire at Métis cultural gatherings.
Music and Dance
Music and dance are integral parts of Métis culture. Traditionally, music permeated daily life in Métis communities, and today there is unlikely to be a Métis cultural gathering without music. Métis music is influenced by folk fiddling from Ireland, Great Britain and France, and by the structures of First Nations’ music.
Métis are best known for their fiddle music. Fiddles were expensive to purchase during the fur trade era and were therefore handmade from local wood such as maple and birch. Métis music accompanies traditional dances such as Métis jigging, a lively dance with fancy footwork influenced by Scottish highland dancing, as well as by First Nations and Celtic dancing.
Learn more about Métis dance and music here:
The Métis Flag
The Métis flag is the oldest flag indigenous to Canada and predates the maple leaf by over 150 years. The flag depicts a white infinity symbol in the middle of a blue or red flag. The red Métis flag has been documented as appearing as early as 1814 and the blue Métis flag in 1816. The Métis flag is a symbol of Métis identity, and flying the flag demonstrates Métis pride.
There are many explanations as to the meaning and origin of the infinity symbol. Common understandings attributed to the representation of the infinity symbol on the Métis flag include the joining of two cultures and that the Métis Nation is strong and will carry on forever.
The Red River Cart
The Red River cart was a crucial means of transporting goods during the fur trade and buffalo hunts. Carts were made entirely from wood and leather, which meant that they could be repaired whenever needed using locally available trees. They could also be disassembled to make shelters, temporary rafts for crossing water, a sleigh in the wintertime and other tools. Horses or oxen could haul several carts that were tied together.
Red River carts are an important part of Métis culture as well as of the history of early Manitoba. Proudly presented on various Métis flags and logos, the Red River cart represents the craftsmanship and entrepreneurial spirit of the Métis people. Red River carts can still be seen on display at a variety of museums, parks and cultural centres across the country.
Learn more about the Red River Cart here:
Michif is upheld as the national Métis language. It is a unique language that developed in the Red River valley in the early 1800s. Michif is a mixed language that contains Plains Cree verbs and French nouns and noun structure, as well as some vocabulary and structures from Saulteaux and English.
There are three types of Michif:
- Métis French (also called Michif-French)
- Métis Cree (also called Northern Michif or Île-à-la-Crosse Michif)
- Southern Michif (also called Turtle Mountain Michif, Chippewa-Cree, or Heritage Michif)
Métis people have a long tradition of multilingualism, which stems from their connections to multiple cultures and their resourcefulness and adaptability. Diverse expressions of Métis culture and different kinship networks have resulted in communities and individuals speaking a variety of other languages, such as Cree, Saulteaux, French and English.
Learn more at www.learnmichif.com
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