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The People of the Red River: The Metis Nation

Whereas, nowadays, there is much discussion and debate over what/who constituted the historical Metis Nation and who is/isn't a Metis person, we can find clear evidence that, historically, the Metis people were not a racial category, nor a disparate conglomeration of mixed-blood people of various backgrounds and geographies, but rather were a distinct, established ethnic group that was regarded as the Metis Nation and people by whites and surrounding Indian tribes as well.

In an 1843 report to the United States Senate regarding some of the people encountered during the mapping of the Mississippi and Missouri River basins, J.N. Nicolette gave a very profound accounting of the distinct nation known as the Metis, or the Red River people.

“…I particularly wished to become acquainted with this people, among whom, it is said, are to be found the best hunters, the most expert horsemen, and the bravest warriors of the prairies. The information I have of them is this: They are called Metis, or half-breeds, being descendants of Canadians, English, and Scotch, crossed with Chippeways [Ojibwe], Kristinaux [Cree], Assiniboin, 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 [what is now] the limits of the United States were attended with danger to themselves, in consequence of outrages committed upon them by the Sioux, the Rikaras [Arikara], the Mandans, the Minitarees [Hidatsa], etc. But they have since greatly increased 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,” and the “People of the North.”

It is their usage to come twice a year…where the buffalo abounds: each family has its cart or wagon drawn by oxen; each hunter has his horse, which is remarkably fleet. They are accompanied by missionaries, who regulate both their temporal and spiritual concerns. Their first campaign is made at the setting in of summer [May]; their second in the fall of the year [September]; and they remain about two months. Sometimes they divide themselves into two bands; directing themselves in this respect according to the distribution which they have previously ascertained of the buffalo herds over these immense plains. One-half of the hunters alternately watch over the camp, and the other half are in active pursuit of the game; and the slaughter of the buffalo is kept up according to settled usage, until each wagon is loaded with the spoils of ten of these animals.”


Nicollet, J. N., Ducatel, J. T., Alexander, J. H., & Torrey, J. (1843). A report intended to illustrate a map of the hydrographical basin of the Upper Mississippi River... Blair and Rives.

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