In Canada, the term Indigenous peoples (or Aboriginal peoples) refers to First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. These are the original inhabitants of the land that is now Canada. In 2011, more than 1.4 million people in Canada identified as Indigenous. Though severely threatened — and in certain cases extinguished — by colonial forces, Indigenous culture, language and social systems have shaped the development of Canada, and continue to grow and thrive despite extreme adversity.1
Sara Riel, (also known as Sister Marguerite Marie), sister of Louis Riel, Métis Grey Nun and missionary, cultural liaison, teacher, founder of female Catholic lay organization (born 11 October 1848 in St. Boniface, Red River Colony [now Manitoba]; died 27 December 1883 in Île-à-la-Crosse, SK). Sara Riel strove to empower Métis people and women through English-language and Catholic studies. Her education and multilingual abilities made her a valuable mediator between conflicting cultures in the early Red River Colony. Today, a charitable organization established by the Grey Nuns of Manitoba bears her name.
Harry Wilfred Daniels, politician, writer, actor (born 16 September 1940 in Regina Beach, SK; died 6 September 2004 in Regina Beach). Daniels was a celebrated Métis politician and activist who fought for the rights of Métis people. His greatest contribution to Indigenous rights in Canada was the Supreme Court case Daniels v. Canada, which guaranteed that Métis and Non-Status Indians are considered “Indian” under the Constitution Act, 1867.
Herbert Clifford (Herb) Belcourt, CM, entrepreneur, philanthropist (born 6 July 1931 in Lac Ste. Anne, AB; died 5 July 2017 in Sherwood Park, AB). Belcourt was a celebrated Métis philanthropist and businessman recognized for starting several successful businesses in Edmonton and Sherwood Park, including Belcourt Construction, which became one of the largest power line companies in Alberta. Belcourt was also a philanthropist who gave back to the Métis community of Alberta through affordable housing and education bursaries.
The 1869–70 uprising in the Red River Colony (also known as the Red River Resistance) was sparked by the transfer of the vast territory of Rupert's Land to the new nation of Canada. The colony of farmers and hunters, many of them Métis, occupied a corner of Rupert's Land and feared for their culture and land rights under Canadian control.2
First Nations and Métis peoples played a significant role in Canada in the War of 1812. The conflict forced various Indigenous peoples to overcome longstanding differences and unite against a common enemy. It also strained alliances, such as those in the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy in which some branches were allied with American forces. Most First Nations strategically allied themselves with Great Britain during the war, seeing the British as the lesser of two colonial evils and the group most interested in maintaining traditional territories and trade.
Michif is a language spoken by Métis peoples mostly in parts of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, North Dakota and Montana. Michif is mainly a combination of Cree and French, but the language also borrows from English and other Indigenous languages, including Ojibwa. Michif is considered an endangered language, with probably fewer than 1,000 speakers in North America.
Malcolm Frederick Norris, Métis leader (b at St Albert, Alta 25 May 1900; d at Calgary 5 Dec 1967). Widely recognized as one of this century's most important and charismatic Métis leaders, Norris was born into one of Edmonton's founding families but rejected privilege to fight racial discrimination.
Gregory Scofield, poet, playwright, teacher, social worker (b at Maple Ridge, BC 20 July 1966). A Métis of Cree, Scottish, English, French, and Jewish descent, Gregory Scofield was raised by his mother, an aunt, and in several foster homes in northern Manitoba, northern Saskatchewan, and the Yukon.
In the interest of promoting a better understanding of the complex issue of Métis identity and how it is defined, The Canadian Encyclopedia has commissioned two opinion pieces exploring different perspectives on the topic. This article explores Métis identity from the perspective of Métis with ancestral ties to the Red River Settlement.