On the rise of the Metis Nation
It was noted that while some inter-mixing between Europeans and Indian populations occurred across eastern Canada, most of this mixing resulted in the majority of offspring either blending back into the lineages of their European fathers and becoming part of that society, or (more often) staying and living in the communities of their Indian mothers. This was not the case on the prairies, where the half-breed element found its most important and historic place.
There had long existed on the Red River a settlement that included many hardy Orkney men and Sutherlandshire Highlanders, serving variously the Hudson's Bay and North-West Companies. On the amalgamation of the companies, the settlement thrived, and before very long numbered up wards of two thousand whites, chiefly occupied in farming, or in the service of the Company, with additional regional growth occurring on the Assiniboine River, chiefly by French-Canadians. The majority of these settlers were young men who soon wed or cohabited with the Indian women of the region; and the result was the growth of a half-breed population that soon greatly out numbering the whites.
These half-breeds were wholly distinct from the civilized settlers. Unlike in the east, where the mixed blood offspring either reverted to white or stayed with the Indian side, these new people stayed apart. They belonged to the settlement, possessed land, and cultivated farms, though their agricultural labors were very much subordinated to the desire to hunt. They were divided into two bands, and numbered in all between six and seven thousand. The two divisions had their separate tribal organizations and distinct hunting-grounds. They were a hardy race, capable of enduring the greatest privations and had adopted the Roman Catholic faith. The Mass was often celebrated on the prairie, and was viewed as a guarantee of success in the hunting field. On their expeditions, it has to be borne in mind, they were not tempted either by mere love of the chase or by the prospect of a supply of game; winter-hunting supplied them with valued pelts of the fur-bearing animals. But during the summer and autumn buffalo hunts depended on the supply of the pemmican which furnished one of the main resources of the whole Hudson's Bay population. The summer hunt kept them abroad on the prairie from about the 15th of June to the end of August, and smaller bands resumed the hunt in the autumn.
Some of the half-breeds, in the early days of settlement and in some sections of the prairie empire over which they roamed, regarded the Sioux and Blackfeet as their natural enemies, and carried on warfare with them much after the fashion of the Indian tribes from which they descended. They were masters with firearms and horses; but they gave proof of their "Christian" civilization by taking no scalps. In the field, whether preparing for hunting or war, the superiority of the half-breeds was strikingly apparent. They displayed a discipline, courage and self-control of which the other tribes of the prairies could not match. Therefore, in tribal conflicts, they had no fear of the other groups ranging across the land.
Adapted from: Canada: an Encyclopedia of the Country. by J. Castell Hopkins. (1923) Liscott, Toronto.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities