An early use of the term "Metis" to describe the Red River People
While most historical accounts of the Metis Nation speak of the people as half-breeds, at least one early account used of the word “Metis” to designate the Metis people of the Red River region, and shows that the Metis Nation itself was a known and recognized entity quite early in the century.
While traveling in what is now North Dakota, French explorer Joseph Nicolette was near present-day Shin Bone Lake (Warwick, ND). At this location he reported finding the traces of a Metis encampment, which in his words appeared to have been "…vacated but a few days before as we judged from the deep cuts of their loaded wagons." Nicollet continued by summarizing the information he had concerning these people:
“They are called Metis, or half breeds, being descendants of Canadians, English, and Scotch, crossed with Chippeways, Kristinaux, Assiniboins, Sioux, etc. They represent the remains of Lord Selkirk's colony and of the Hudson Bay Company. As for many years they were only in small numbers, their incursions within the limits of the United States were attended with danger to themselves, in consequence of outrages committed upon them by the full breeds, the Sioux, the Rikaras, the Mandans, the Minitarees, etc. But they have since greatly increased; they [hunt in] number from 600 to 800 people, and have become so formidable as to compel those tribes to seek an alliance with them, and thus to maintain peace The Metis call themselves "free people," (gens libres); but by their neighbors they are designated as "Metis of the Red river," "the Red river People," "the People of the North"
Additional contemporary accounts place the Metis as highly organized and operating in concert in other locations in what is now North Dakota. In 1843, the naturalist and painter John J Audubon arrived at Fort Union with a large party. Both he and his associate, Edward Harris, kept detailed journals of events during their stay. Audubon's journal entry for July 28 contained a reference about successful Metis and Chippewa hunting in the region:
"I was told this afternoon that at Mouse River, about two hundred miles northwest of this [place], there are eight hundred carts in one gang, and four hundred in another, with an adequate number of halfbreeds and Indians, killing Buffalo and drying their meat for winter provisions, and that the animals are there in millions."
Adapted from: Indian Claims Commission Docket No. 464, 28th Cong., 2d Sess., H. Ex. Doc. No. 52, Report intended to illustrate A Map of the Hydrographical Basin of the Upper Mississippi River, made by J. N. Nicollet (1845)
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities