Michif at Turtle Mountain, North Dakota (John Crawford)
Of the places discussed in this study, it is on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota where Michif seems best preserved and with the greatest likelihood of survival. There are several indicators of this and some hints at a possible explanation. The Metis element has been important during the entire history of the reservation. Although it has always been a Chippewa reservation, and there are still speakers of that language on the reservation and nearby, the evidence is strong not only that Michif is spoken by more people than is Ojibwa, but also that it has replaced Ojibwa in many cases. According to data collected in a survey in 1972 (unpublished), several respondents affirmed that they, or their parents or grandparents, had made a switch from speaking Ojibwa (or French) to speaking Michif. No instances of the opposite movements were reported.
Another evidence of the relative strength of Michif is that there has been a fairly-continuous effort to initiate and support programs for the preservation of the language over the past ten years. Programs for cultural values have operated in the primary, secondary and post-secondary levels, and focus on the tribal identity as Chippewa, but the language teaching, whenever it has been formally involved in such programs, has always to my knowledge been Michif. At present the evidence of programmatic interest in the language is best seen in the language being taught by a native speaker in the Turtle Mountain Community College, and also the college's continuing sponsorship of the preparation of a bilingual dictionary in Michif. Of some importance also is the teaching of the language at the University of North Dakota, one hundred and eighty miles from the reservation, the most relevant feature of this being that most of the students taking the course are members of the tribe. Most such students are supportive of efforts to preserve the language and enthusiastic about the prospect of seeing the dictionary in print.
It is not meant to imply that such opinions are held without exception on the reservation. There are those who, because of the mixed origin and nature of Michif usually considering it to be much less structured and more multifaceted than is actually the ease - do not think it worth serious consideration. There are also many who think that no language but English deserves attention in the present situation, and no lack of those who consider it more appropriate to invest time in the preservation of Ojibwa than of Michif. The fact remains, however, that the interest that has brought about the programs in Michif has occurred and has not been matched by corresponding (and appropriate) programs in the local variety of Ojibwa.
Nor should it be deduced from the above that the level of use of the language is high. The fact that members of the tribe take elementary language lessons at the University indicates that college age people do not by and large know the language of their grandparents. The general picture on the reservation is that people over about fifty years of age generally know the language, practically all over sixty-five or seventy learned it as a first language. But the level of use falls off quite rapidly with age, and young persons with familiarity are likely to be those who have spent more time with their grandparents. In a sense, the comparison in this study is between different patterns and rates of Michif being replaced by other languages, mostly by English. Still, in this comparison Belcourt shows more interest in the survival of Michif than the other places.
Factors which make the Turtle Mountain situation different from those in Manitoba seem to be molly connected with differences in the way native populations are treated in the two areas and can be summarized by saying that the Metis are treated more like Indians in the United States than in Canada. The preservation of Michif thus becomes an area of focus for the tribe and part of the overall drive for cultural and political survival.
from SPEAKING MICHIF IN FOUR METIS COMMUNITIES JOHN C. CRAWFORD Department of Linguistics University of North Dakota, Fargo, North Dakota, U.S.A.
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 lifestyle based on traditional ecological knowledge
The Métis and Ojibwe people followed a seasonal subsistence cycle that worked with the traditional ecological knowledge of the landscape, animals, plants, and weather. Each season, different resources were hunted, fished, gathered, and trapped to ensure the survival of the Anishinaabe people from year to year and generation to generation. Below is a breakdown of typical activities each season.
Is using a racialized term to claim Metis status racist?
The decision to declare a Métis identity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. If you are part of the Métis Nation you have every right to claim that identity and to gain citizenship with the Métis Nation. But what about when that decision is based solely on the idea that “Métis=mixed”?
When the Métis National Council argues for the drawing of boundaries around Métis identity they do not do so to be exclusive. Rather, it is done to reflect a commitment to the Métis people recognizing their nationhood and national identity. However, many people who consider themselves Métis, but who do not meet the criteria of the MNC often object—usually in one of two ways. Their first objection is almost always rooted in the racialization of the word Métis. They will argue, “If someone wants to self-identify as Métis, who are you to suggest they can’t? Why do you think you own the term Métis?” They are passionate about this, but they cannot see beyond mere blood into the intricate world of culture, history, and family bonds, nor do they understand the foundations of sovereignty under which each nation is afforded the right to determine who is and who isn’t a member of their community. Simply being similar isn’t enough. That would be like a Cree deciding they wanted to call themselves Mi'kmaq simply because both groups are Indian and having Indian blood is enough to make that claim.
The second argument is that it is unfair for those with indigenous ancestors to be excluded—especially given the fact that their plight of being unrecognized isn’t their fault, but rather is the fault of colonial racist policies and discrimination by dominant society. They say, “Who are you do deny us? We suffered and we too are indigenous“. They make their appeal based on the denial of their identity by the government and their demand for fundamental justice. However, what obligation does the MNC or any Métis Nation citizen owe them? Sure their ancestors might have been dispossessed Indigenous individuals—possibly even communities. However, just being a mixed-blood who was dispossessed or denied doesn’t make you a Métis. Just because you are unrecognized, have an indigenous ancestor, and claim indigenous identity does not give you the right to claim to be Métis. Métis identity is not something you claim simply because it seems like the only possible option?
Whatever we imagine a fair response to the unrecognized mixed-blood indigenous people of the east to be, any response must always be preceded with the fact that “Métis” refers to a distinct nation and not a catch-all for anyone with mixed-ancestry. It is a nation with membership codes that deserve to be respected. The MNC is not a place to put every disenfranchised mixed-blood person hurt by past and present Indian policy. Certainly we should sympathize with those who are the victims of colonial injustice and dispossession, but it is not our responsibility and we cannot be expected to include them at expense of eviscerating our identity and sovereignty.
The unfortunate reality of colonialism is that for centuries, non-Indigenous have chosen how indigenous people were defined. They still do this. However, those people who use the term “Métis” rather than “person of mixed ancestry” to incorrectly identify themselves are not decolonizing. They are choosing to use the colonialist definition for the term Métis to mean mixed-blood, rather than the indigenous definition which connotes the distinct and sovereign Métis Nation. Sure, Métis is a much more dignified term than simply saying that you are mixed-blood indigenous, however it is not an ethical choice to call yourself that—especially if you join one of the many new “organizations” claiming to be legitimate Métis communities. By doing so you are choosing a racialized, rather than Indigenous identity that actively harms the Métis Nation and other indigenous communities. It also helps reproduce and re-entrench racism, because if just anyone can claim to be Métis based on Métis=mixed then claiming Métis means nothing, because it falls back into the European settler idea of classifying people, rather than recognizing indigenous sovereignty.
The indigenous thing for you to do is to drop the use of the word Métis and to find and recapture your true indigenous identity. You must continue to challenge colonialism and fight for your own individual rights as indigenous people. However, you should do this on your own terms and not by infringing on the Métis Nation. Then you might find allies where you now have adversaries.
A relationship based on blood and mutual benefit
By the end of the 18th century a few Ojibwa bands were residing west of Lake Winnipeg where they were exploiting the rich game on the fringes of the prairies. This branch later became known as the Plains Ojibwa since some of them moved farther south, became bison hunters, and were influenced by other aspects of the culture of the Indians of the northern Plains. In the lower Red River Valley, the Ojibwa had become well established by the early 19th century. Here they were called Saulteaux, referring to their former association with Sault Ste Marie, or Bungi, meaning “a little of something,” because of their reputed habit of asking the settlers for a little of this or that when trading. They joined the white traders in some of the bison hunting efforts that were carried on from this locality. It was here in the Red River Valley that considerable race mixture took place, leading to the emergence of the Métis.
By the 1820s, the rising Métis population began organizing large-scale bison hunts that set out from Red River each summer and autumn. The huge scale of the Métis hunts meant that the Métis dominated the colony and trade market for provisions. This domination caused some tension at times, particularly as the Métis were usually paid more for their hides and meat than were the Ojibwa. Despite this, what the Ojibwa lost in trade to Métis competition, they gained in access to the big herds when they started to work with their relative Métis on joint hunts.
In addition to gaining new access to more buffalo, the Ojibwa benefitted from the large size of the main camp of the Métis hunt in another way, for it made them less vulnerable to Sioux attacks and therefore enabled them to venture farther into Sioux territory after both buffalo and Sioux scalps. More than one hunt was disrupted, or ended in payments to cover the dead, by Ojibwa camp followers picking a fight with a party of Sioux encountered by chance.
With the post-merger reorganization of the Hudson's Bay Company, approximately two-thirds of the fur-trade labor force, most of whom were Métis, became redundant and was dismissed to wander freely on the prairies and to mingle with their Ojibwe and Cree relatives. In 1821, there were at least 500 Métis in a settlement at Pembina as well as those established in the Red River colony. The Pembina group moved to Red River in 1823, and by 1831 there were 1,300 Métis in and around the colony. These people retained strong ties to their Native kin, and like them they relied on a mixed subsistence base of hunting, fishing, growing small garden plots, and harvesting berries and maple sugar.
As the bison hunts grew larger, the herds moved further away to avoid the annual hunts. This meant that the Ojibwa and Red River Métis were forced to venture deeper into Sioux territory to find bison, which resulted in the Sioux being pushed further south and west and gaining more territory for the Ojibwa.
In 1831 there were some 1,300 Métis in and around Red River, as well as the settlement at St. Joseph near Pembina, and approximately 820 carts accompanied the hunt. By 1843 there were 2,600 Métis, and 1,210 carts accompanied the 1840 hunt; by 1856, the Métis population had risen to 3,250 and the hunts had continued to grow. Ojibwa from the Red River, southern Interlake, Assiniboine River, Turtle Mountain, and Pembina areas almost always participated in these hunts, both to gain the benefit of large-scale communal hunting and to allow them to approach the herds in enemy territory.
Hallowell, A. Irving (Alfred Irving), and Jennifer S. H. Brown. 1991. “Ojibwa Of Berens River, Manitoba: Ethnography Into History.” Case Studies In Cultural Anthropology. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.
Peers, Laura L. (Laura Lynn). 1994. “Ojibwa Of Western Canada, 1780 To 1870.” Manitoba Studies In Native History. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.
In what is perhaps the most forward-thinking move by an MNC provincial, at the 2014 Annual General Assembly, the Manitoba Métis Federation Citizens declared and passed a resolution stating it is no longer necessary to be a Manitoba resident to be an MMF Citizen.
The Resolution #2 (of November 16, 2014) declared that: "The Manitoba Métis are highly mobile, and dispersed across and beyond the Métis Nation Homeland. We are a community based on identity, history, family, economic, and other relationships. Our families and lands go well past the historic and present-day borders of Manitoba. Our people do not want their families split up by arbitrary and artificial borders - to be defined by boundaries not Métis-made nor of Métis-choosing."
An important part of nationbuilding is defining the homeland.
Answer: There is no detailed map of the historic homeland with clear, definite borders. The historic homeland consists of west-central North America from Ontario through to British Columbia, across the Prairie Provinces, includes the Northern United States and also stretches into the Northwest Territories. These are the lands that sustained the Métis and gave birth to a nation with a unique cultural identity and distinct history. The Métis Nation is distinct from other mixed -blood communities who have only recently identified themselves as Métis, such as those in Labrador and other parts of Eastern Canada.