The Great Slave Lake area – especially the area around Fort Resolution – was a major center of Metis occupation since the inception of the fur trade in the Northwest Territories. Initially this community was mostly of Cree-French heritage, but the group was, over time, an amalgamation that added Chipewyan, Scotch, English and other heritages. It is possible to make the claim that many of the Metis of Fort Resolution, and the rest of the Mackenzie District south of Fort Simpson, can be classified as having roots as “Red River” Metis (Slobodin 1966:12–14). This is because many people who would be classified as Metis have their origins with people who came north in the service of the early traders from the Red and Saskatchewan River valleys (but especially the Red River Valley).
It is certain that many of the Red River Metis who came to the Great Slave Lake area were “freemen” who had previously worked for the Hudson Bay Company, but for various reasons did not remain in the service and came here for new opportunities. However, it is known that some of these Metis returned to Red River country – many being forced to remove by compulsion of the Hudson's Bay Company (Rich 1961:474). Many of the Metis joined the Indian people and adopted their culture, and some assumed a rather complete Indian cultural identity and their children were culturally rather fully “Indian and not Metis after a few generations, with no traces of any Michif language present, but rather seeing Chipewyan as their first language and French and English secondary. The Metis and Indian populations thus became intertwined by complex ties of kinship, language, and culture.
Because of this rampant assimilation of the early Metis into Chipewyan culture, it could be argued that modern-day use of the word Metis to describe them is something of a misnomer. During negotiations for Treaty, the Indian community first recommended as their chief the eminent leader, Pierre Beaulieu. The fact that the Indian people of Fort Resolution chose Beaulieu doesn’t mean that they necessarily believed he could speak well on their behalf because he was a mixed-blood (aka Metis), but rather shows that they did not draw distinction between themselves and the Metis people who had been absorbed into their community as Indians. The confusion, and the renewed use of the term Metis to designate people who were not fully Chipewyan, was not because they were a separate identifiable “Metis” community, but rather because the Treaty Commissioner tried to lessen the impact of the treaty on the government by striking half-breeds from the treaty list, with no one recognized as being “mixed” being permitted to take Treaty in 1900. The Catholic priest was the government's main source in removing people from the rolls and naming them as not “Indian”.
In some sense, the argument could be made that those people in the Northwest Territories now calling themselves Metis are doing so not because they are culturally Metis, or that they necessarily are Metis. While some of them do descend from early Metis who came from the Red River region and who were Metis, over the period of a hundred-plus years, the community was absorbed into Chipewyan society and had assimilated completely as Indian. It was only after many of them were removed from the Treaty paylists in 1900 that the idea of calling this community “Metis” came forward as a designator for them. Perhaps a more appropriate term would be non-status Indian, rather than Metis, as they are culturally Indian and certainly indigenous. Nonetheless, this “picking of nits” and semantic argument does not diminish their existence as a distinct community, but it does call into question using the term Metis to define them as they evolved along a completely different cultural and historical trajectory to the actual historic, or modern-day Metis Nation.
Rich, E.E. 1961 Hudson's Bay Company, 1670–1870. 3 Vols. (Vol. III, 1821–1870). New York: Macmillan.
Slobodin, R. 1964 “The Subarctic Metis as Products and Agents of Culture Contact,” Arctic Anthropology, 2:50–55.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities