Metis / Mixed. Some tell me that there’s a difference.

A while ago, I began to follow this really dynamic Indigenous blogger who has a legal degree and works with Inuit here in Montreal. I was really impressed – (and still am!) at how well spoken she was, and admire her Advocacy. She had an online book discussion. Métis, by Chris Andersen, UBC Press (ISBN: 9780774827218) was the book reviewed. I was very interested.

Chris Andersen argues that Canada got it wrong. He weaves together personal anecdotes, critical race theory, and discussions of history and law to demonstrates that our understanding of “Métis” – that our very preoccupation with mixedness – is not natural but stems from more than 150 years of sustained labour on the part of the state, scholars, and indigenous organizations. From its roots deep in the colonial past, the idea of “Métis as mixed” pervaded the Canadian consciousness through powerful sites of knowledge production such as the census and courts until it settled in the realm of common sense. In the process, “Métis” has become an ever-widening racial category rather than the identity of an indigenous people with a shared sense of history and culture centred on the fur trade.

Andersen asks all Canadians to consider the consequences of adopting a definition of “Métis” that makes it nearly impossible for the Métis Nation to make political claims as a people. (Source: http://www.ubcpress.com/search/title_book.asp?BookID=299174387)

I jumped right in. I wanted to learn more about challenges facing Métis and the description was exactly where I thought I should start and I looked forward to connecting with Métis from everywhere.

As I read through this very scholarly book, I began to realize that its author, a Faculty of Native Studies Professor at the University of Alberta, was actually presenting his seemingly well researched opinion that Métis are members of a Nation exclusive to the Northwest parts of Canada (more specifically Manitoba and Saskatchewan) and that all other persons that came to be through the relationships between fur traders and Indigenous persons were not Métis, but mixed-blood persons. Maybe Indigenous, maybe not.

BlahBlahBlah…WUT???

That was a first for me.  I always knew that I was Métis – I’ve never questioned that. What was he talking about? I left the discussion group. I felt very disenfranchised and really, really confused.

I started inquiring to try to find out if this was a common theory amongst a circle of Sociologists that teach in Faculties of Indigenous Studies across the country.

I have had discussions on Twitter or Facebook with a few of them, including Dr. Andersen. Their narrative reminds me very much of the narratives of Quebec Sovereignists that assert – erroneously – that all Francophones are in Quebec. Yeah, people here in La Belle Province are always so shocked to learn that there are strong Francophone communities in places far, far away in Canadaland! 

I hate this narrative. I find the narrative very Colonialist. These scholars are actively promoting an argument of exclusivity necessary to make political claims as a people, excluding others that have self-identified as Métis (or Michif or Bois-Brûlé or Half-Breed). I’m not cool with that.

My great-grandmother identified as Métis. She was born in 1882, and died in 1981. I got to know her, speak to her, listen to her. I have to write a post just about her life. It was very interesting.

Anyways… SHE IDENTIFIED AS MÉTIS. Not the Government. Her. Her family. Me. If you haven’t already, please take a moment to read my last post. I used Spotify to show the a recap of a discussion on the “rights to claim Métis identity” I had with Adam Gaudry, who’s an Assistant-Prof in Native Studies at USask. It’s a doozy, I promise you. Read how a young man who didn’t know he was Métis when he was growing up (see the Acknowledgement section of his 2009 thesis) tell me “if you have Indigenous ancestry, it’s with Indigenous peoples in Quebec, not with us.”

This guy is standing on a podium, spewing this rhetoric to Indigenous Studies University Students. 

Denying my ethnicity. NOT COOL.

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18 thoughts on “Metis / Mixed. Some tell me that there’s a difference.

  1. This your opinion. And I will say I have no quarrel with you, people can say whatever they like in this country on any blog. But you should know there are over 300, 000 of us in the west who carry Metis membership who have historical roots in the west. We know our ancestors and our Red river and Batoche history through our relations brings us together. Whatever your grandmother was I’m sure was fine for your family in Quebec. Call yourself whatever you like but your history is not ours in the west whatever you may believe. But if I get this right you’re of Inuit descent? The last time I checked and I don’t know the particulars a Inuit person is always Inuit. There is no half Inuit I think. Follow your heart I would say.
    Stop picking on the prof and making it personal, he has a right to say what he likes because he is a Metis with education credentials and although I don’t necessarily agree with what he has to say he has a right to say it in Canada. Just because you don’t agree him it doesn’t make him a bad guy. BTW, I would be interested in reading a post about your grandma (kokum), family history is always a fascinating subject!

    1. Hi Walter. Thank you for reaching out! You’re my first commenter!
      On my other posts, you will note how my tiny part of my history melds into a larger, more important part of Manitoba’s history, through kinship. To many, the Rebellion is something they read about in History books, but to my family, the hanging of my kokum’s cousin’s son was a defining moment in their lives and affected my family’s history.
      I have no qualms with Academia; that being said, when did debates become so one-sided in Universities? If the institutions of higher Learning cannot be safe-places to actually learn, where else? Do we need special education credentials to be allowed to share family narratives without being called appropriative or lying? Will we let the history of a minority group of Metis die to further a larger minority group’s narrative?

      1. My pleasure in being the first to comment! In response, if you went to an academic presentation or two to ask a question or wrote a good email to the authors they may respond so you can put the questions to them directly. Have you? Ask them why they believe what they do and what are their sources for this belief. Respectfully I might add and I think you can do that. I wouldn’t use the word one-sided to describe discussion of this issue in academia. Like a diamond it has many facets and angles to the issue and even raising it in the broader Metis community brings out the best and worst of some people on facebook. I think you might agree with me that a blog post can be interpreted as one-sided. If you present your family history and writing about your family I don’t think you need any credentials. As a matter of fact you have best credentials! Know what I mean? Write what you know to be true because you’ve heard something or learned something from your kokum and you know that’s how she would say it. Share pictures of cultural items and whatever the story is but before you do ask your family if it’s okay. If your family is like mine they came to know themselves as Metis grudgingly but learned to accept it over time. Some even like it now. I think it helps them to understand a little more about themselves.

        -Walter

      2. Thank you Walter. I did ask the author of the book I was reading, privately. He asked me a lot of questions, for which I am very grateful as it made me think!
        It is unfortunate that any conversation devolves to being called liar or appropriative. I want to be clear: I write here for myself and for MY children’s grandchildren, while trying to understand for myself how my family’s story fits into the larger Métis narrative.

  2. Walter: the freedom to say what one wishes to say stop when someone start negating other’s metis right to self-define themselves in line with their own traditions and evidence of metis culture. Kind of the harm principle 101, ya?

    Actively working to eradicate other Metis traditions, declaring them non-Métis against the voices of their descendants, to call their oral tradition lies and fabrications, to suggest that Eastern Metis are dangerous to other indigenous peoples and more, is way beyond the mark of freedom of speech in my opinion.

    As we were told not long ago: you have a Western metis culture? Great. Then “own” that, while following your own heart. No need to worry about the NWT Metis, Great lake Metis, Acadian Metis, or anyone else for that matter, to promote the well being of your culture and their members. I hope we can all agree on this.

  3. As a child growing up in a community of mixed Cree and Metis people, whom were very opinionated on what a Metis was. The only people they accepted as Metis were those who were of French or Scottish Ancestory mixed with one of the Algonquin Nations, which included; Cree, Ojibwe…etc., and their Metis ancestory dated back to the earlier stages of the furtrade in Canada. all the others whom identified as Metis were considered mixed blood and for some a more derogratory term was generally used to identify them.
    I should mention that these people had a fit when the Chipewyan mixed bloods, the Ukrainian, English, and others started claiming Metis heritage, and refused to accept them as Metis, even when the Government placed them in the same racial category.
    My paternal side is Red River Metis, while my maternal side is Saskatchewan Metis with Cree.

    1. The Algonquian language group includes a number of languages, including Atikamekw, Blackfoot, Cree, Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Innu, Naskapi, Ojibwa and Oji-Cree. So that would be, per such definition, a huge pool of possibilities…

    1. Bonjour Walter,
      I’ve taken some time to think about how to respond to your comment. I’m not going to post anything publicly other than the link to Storify, where I documented some of the tweets I received,which can be found here: https://storify.com/Qallunette/metisidentity
      and here: https://storify.com/Qallunette/discussion-on-rights-to-re-claim-metis-identity-pa.
      I know that there are other tweets or online discussions about the validity of my oral history, but I have received this information third-party. Anyone interested can do their own online search.

  4. Reading your post. It is clear their is an ‘internal colonization ‘ aspect that needs addressing.
    I have been a student of Chris Anderson . Bright fellow however wrong in Indigenous history without addressing the whole spectrum. Even if he is in disagreement with it. Does not make it invalid.
    He doesn’t address the ‘coure de bois’, country born, the emergence of ‘the lhivernants’ the winterers.
    He clashed with Gerhard ens. However I have to agree with Gerhard that ‘Metis’ was not a legal term UNTIL The Manitoba Act.
    Without that act. Which McDonald himself regretted. There would be no ‘metis’ they would be les Canadiens, country born, half-breed, freeman etc.
    Glad your grandmother identified as metis she was right and legally to do so. The lands in Manitoba were also messed by the crown. The younger metis rights were not addressed properly in the script offering. That is a fight in its own.
    Good luck in your healing journey and Explorations.
    If you have the opportunity to read up Gerhard ens. Do so. If you know him as well. He will direct you to the archives bottom floor of Rutherford library.

    I’ll agree with Anderson that Canada did get it wrong.. McDonald admitted as such.

      1. No problem.
        Gerhard ens talks about ethnogenisis of the winterers as well and their family dynamics with fur trade and economy and territory. Good luck once again.

  5. Well, the Robinson Treaties (1850) are certainly of legal binding, and these treaties mention and include “Half-breeds” explicitly among the signatories (the equivalent of Métis in all common English translation of the time): so this would be 1850, so 20 years prior to 1870 (Manitoba Act)….

    Arguably, then, the legality of the term “Halfbreed” (or its French rendition “Métis,” as stated in numerous Legislative reports in Lower Canada as well from 1850 onward) would go to the year 1850, and, well, per Treaties, in Ontario first!

    To this, I would also add that Métis was definitely consecrated as a a legal term in section 3 of the 1876 Indian Act, who cast out the Métis/Halfbreeds as no longer Indians/Savages. Not only the Metis of Manitoba were targeted here (which kind of make their existence legal by being subject of a legislation), but in fact all the Metis “heads of family” are no longer protected or considered as Savages (or Indians)–irrespective of their location within the Dominion.

    It would also be interesting to see the legal entanglement of the Halfbreeds/Métis in the US, in terms of dates….

    Great post! Great discussion!

  6. I haven’t been following this blog and I think this may be my last entry. I don’t really like to write with people who don’t provide their real names. I think it’s just wrong.

    I don’t know the history of the Aboriginal people of the east and I don’t feel it’s relevant to the western Metis Rights situation at this time in history. I am sympathetic to those who seek some kind of personal identity in a Metis group but I have issues with those who would feel they should be taken in as part of the “legal membership” of the national organization of the Metis Nation. I know what Louis Riel said about the Metis people in the east but for me I don’t think it’s relevant to our time today. My family fought with him during that time so I can say this. What I know through the historical record is I can trace my ancestors to Quebec (and earlier) where the first Goulet hired on as a Courier De Bois in the early 1800’s and he traveled over water and lived at a fur trade trade post in the Athabasca region on the Peace River. He settled in the West after his retirement from the HBC and his children (my great grandfather) were involved in the rebellions of 1870, 1885. It’s a long story gathered over several decades by myself and others. This is my verifiable history.

    If the people in the east have a documented connection to the fur trade in the east and their family played a part (however minor) during the rebellions in the 1800’s I would find it much easier to accept them in my heart. But to date I read a lot of writing here and there on facebook (and blogs) and I’ve seen videos of modern academics talking about an Aboriginal community in Quebec and further eastward but I haven’t seen good evidence of the Metis people. If there is a Metis community in the east and it is older than the Metis community in the west why is there not more evidence in history to present? I leave it to the people of the east to tell their own story.

    Walter Andreeff

  7. Bonjour Walter,

    I’m sorry to hear that your unhappy with the name of my blog. I would have been more than happy to answer a constructive question such as “hey, why is your blog named Qallunette?”

    Nonetheless, before we part ways while I continue to decolonize MY identity, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to provide you with just a small sampling of empirical research regarding my family’s connection to the fur trade:

    – “The Legend of Louis Durand”, University of Wisconsin,Our French Ancestry in Huron County, 1631-1976, by T.W. Denomme 1976 available at:https://www.uwgb.edu/wisfrench/family/history/ldurand.htm
    – List of Fur Trading posts and Forts in North America:https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fur_trading_post_and_forts_in_North_America
    – Canadian Census, available on another post on my blog:https://qallunette.com/2015/07/22/if-i-cant-call-myself-metis-who-can-2/ (earliest identification of Métis in Census, 1941 – first year where specific identity of Indigenous Peoples were polled)

    As for my identity, I really am not sure why anyone would be interested in my name – I’m just a nobody (but hopefully, a somebody to my future grandchildren’s grandchildren, right?) – but having shared my family tree on other blog posts here should give any reader sufficient information as to who I am.

    Marsi for stopping by.

  8. Thank you,

    I sincerely hope you find what you’re looking for and I will add the journey itself can be the most fun and enriching aspect to one’s life. And you’re not a nobody, perish that thought forever!

    Meegwich! Goodbye

    You know where I live on facebook and I will write you there if you choose to continue. 🙂

    Walter

  9. Really appreciate your work Qallunette. For what it’s worth, ‘ethnogenesis’ was invented in the 1960s to explain Frederick Barth’s anthropological construct ‘ethnicity’ — during a period of what can be characterized (imho) as high colonialism in the academic realm.

    Norma

    1. Thank you – I am humbled that you have reached out. I have read many of your blog posts while trying to understand what caused the “rift” between Western and Easter Métis since the 1980s.
      I am slowly making my way to understand the “language of Academia” to conclude that it is a claim of an Active, Exclusive, Métis Ethnogenesis. My latest readings: Nancy Parrott Hickerson (1996), The Jumanos: Hunters and Traders of the South Plains (University of Texas Press) , Taylor, Alan (2001). American Colonies: The Settling of North America. (Penguin Books, New York) and Wenskus (1961) Comparative study of German ethnogeneses is Stammesbildung und Verfassung (Cologne and Graz).
      I am beginning to think that trying to apply non-Indigenous Academic theory to the Indigenous diaspora is akin to trying to hammer a round peg in a square hole… 😒

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