Despite their Unique heritage, the Metis were a tribal People
The half-breeds who originated in the Red River region — who are the core who later became the Metis Nation — have been mentioned in fur trade journals, missionary notes, and other primary sources since the beginning of the 19th century as being a “people apart” from either the Indians or the settlers. It was reported that the Red River Metis population consisted of the descendants of about thirteen different tribes, including such tribes as Dakota Sioux, Chipewyan, Blackfeet, Montagnais, and others, but the great majority were of Cree or Ojibwe heritage.
It is known that by about 1815 the Metis had their own chiefs and were politically organized in most of their governmental and economic affairs. One Hudson Bay Company report from 1834 noted that the fur market was over-supplied, and as a result the company was setting prices correspondingly low. This reduction in price was not taken well by the Metis. As a result, the collective Metis joined together and forced the traders (by threat), to buy their pemmican or face a general insurrection.
Their success as a collective “tribe” was witnessed each year as their buffalo hunting trips regularly left with parties of over 1000 hunters armed with guns and carts to haul their millions of pounds of meat and hides back to the fur posts. Throughout the countless descriptions of the early and middle 1800s, the general theme was that the Metis were a unique and separate people that stood apart from both the settlers and the Indians who surrounded them.
The distinction from the Indian tribes in the region did not mean that there were not amicable relations. As relatives by blood and culture, the Metis would regularly camp with and hunt with their related Indian brothers and marry among them. The Metis influence over the Indians was noted in their capacity to serve as mediators during various treaty negotiations — even being included in several treaties themselves. Metis were noted to be part of Treaty 3 in Canada, and were included in the 1863 Old Crossing Treaty between the United States and the Red Lake and Pembina Bands of Ojibwe.
As well, many Metis formed themselves into “bands” (or communities) based on familial ties and geographic location (i.e. hunting and procurement areas). These bands varied considerably, depending on the locality in which they arose, the Indian tribes they descended from and were allied to, the ethnicity and nationality of their fur trader forefathers, and the various roles they played within the fur trade economy. What they had in common was that they were Metis. It was in these interstitial spaces that unique Metis identities were forged. Bands such as the Cypress Hills Hunting Band, Pembina Metis, Milk River and Judith Basin groups, and others coalesced and became noted for their unity and strength.
There can be no mistake that the Metis were indeed an indigenous “tribe” that stood apart from the other indigenous people who surrounded them.