“The product of being mixed really has nothing to do with Métis identity,” The Métis are often misunderstood, explained Metis scholar Brenda Macdougall.
As the Chair in Métis Research and a professor at the University of Ottawa, Macdougall often finds herself explaining who the Métis are.
There’s a misperception that Métis “is a word that simply means ‘mixed’ and can be applied to anything or anybody of mixed origins,” Macdougall said. “That’s not really the way that the term evolved within a cultural and socio-political context historically.”
The Métis are mostly based in the lands between the Great Lakes and the Rocky Mountains, down to Montana and North Dakota and as far north as the Northwest Territories, explained Macdougall, who is Métis.
The confusion about who the Métis are often arises because some people equate being Métis with “mixed-blood.” “The product of being mixed really has nothing to do with Métis identity,” said Macdougall.
Historically, the Métis have been understood as a distinct people, explained Macdougall. Interactions between the Métis and the federal government, or the Hudson’s Bay Company, show that there was a clear understanding of who the Métis were, said Macdougall.
“The State itself goes to war against the Métis twice. Once in 1869-1870, and another in 1885. I don’t think you can be confused about a people when you’re willing to fight them,” she said. Later government interactions with the Métis, show that the Crown acted as if the Métis no longer existed.
“Canada’s decision, after the 1885 Battle of Batoche, was to simply act as though the Métis did not exist any longer, and that somehow they didn’t have a presence,” she said.
Attempts to erase Indigenous people has a long history in Canada.The Canadian government has sought to reduce the number of Indigenous people over time, explained Macdougall. For instance, the Indian Act aimed to eradicate First Nations culture.
“While First Nations and Inuit have had, historically, a relationship with the federal government, the Métis have not.”
Without that recognized relationship, many Métis people became disenfranchised.
But as Macdougall and other researchers continue to highlight more about the Métis, an increasing number of people are self-identifying as Métis. Some of these people may have legitimate claims to a newfound Métis ancestry, explained Macdougall. But others are opportunists who are seeking distant First Nation connections as a means to access traditional hunting and fishing rights, she said.
For Macdougall it is important for the Métis to be understood as a distinct people.
“Métis people are Métis because that’s who they’re linked to, generations of people with that shared background.” “We managed to keep our connections to each other by keeping the knowledge of our families very much alive and very much a part of who we are.”