Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982 recognizes Métis as one of the three Aboriginal Peoples. There is no further definition of Métis within the constitution, however the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) defines Métis as any person who identifies himself or herself as Métis and is accepted as such by the nation of Métis people with which that person wishes to be associated, on the basis of criteria and procedures determined by that nation. This is considered an “inclusive” definition of Métis, incorporating both the definition held by the Métis National Council (see below) and other definitions held by other Métis organizations and/or individuals, sometimes referred to as “other” Métis (as the RCAP does).
The word Métis is French (from the original Latin) for “mixed.” An early variation of the word Métis—Métif, Metchif or Michif—came to be commonly used by some Métis people in the prairies, primarily as a cultural identifier. Many Métis consider themselves Michif peoples and have distinct Michif customs, with a small percentage still using the Michif language. Michif is not synonymous with Métis, however, and Michif or Michif Peoples should not be used to refer to Métis Peoples as a whole. Similarly, while the Michif language is widely proclaimed to be the language of Métis, there are numerous variations (dialects) and no one dialect should be singled out as “true” or “official” or “standard” Michif. There are also many Métis and Métis communities who have no historic connection to Michif, but rather are descendants of Cree, Ojibway or other language speakers, Aboriginal and non-.
The Métis National Council (MNC) has very specific definitions for Métis, Métis Nation and Métis homeland. The MNC currently defines Métis as follows: “Métis means a person who self-identifies as Métis, is of historic Métis Nation Ancestry, is distinct from other Aboriginal Peoples and is accepted by the Métis Nation.”
From the MNC site – Prior to Canada’s crystallization as a nation in west central North America, the Métis people emerged out of the relations of Indian women and European men. While the initial offspring of these Indian and European unions were individuals who possessed mixed ancestry, the gradual establishment of distinct Métis communities, outside of Indian and European cultures and settlements, as well as the subsequent intermarriages between Métis women and Métis men, resulted in the genesis of a new Aboriginal people—the Métis.
Distinct Métis communities emerged, as an outgrowth of the fur trade, along some parts of the freighting waterways and Great Lakes of Ontario, throughout the Northwest and as far north as the McKenzie River. The Métis people and their communities were connected through the highly mobile fur trade network, seasonal rounds, extensive kinship connections and a collective identity (i.e. common culture, language, way of life, etc.).
The Métis, as a distinct Aboriginal people, fundamentally shaped Canada’s expansion westward through their on-going assertion of their collective identity and rights. From the Red River Resistance to the Battle of Batoche to other notable collective actions undertaken throughout the Métis Nation Homeland, the history and identity of the Métis people will forever be a part of Canada’s existence.
The Métis Nation – The Métis people constitute a distinct Aboriginal nation largely based in western Canada. The Métis Nation grounds its assertion of Aboriginal nationhood on well-recognized international principles. It has a shared history, a common culture (song, dance, dress, national symbols, etc.), a unique language (Michif with various regional dialects), extensive kinship connections from Ontario westward, a distinct way of life, a traditional territory, and a collective consciousness.
The Métis Nation’s Homeland – The Métis Nation’s Homeland is based on the traditional territory upon which the Métis people have historically lived and relied upon within west central North America. This territory roughly includes the three Prairie provinces (Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan), parts of Ontario, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, as well as parts of the northern United States (i.e. North Dakota and Montana).
Other organizations, such as the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, use the term Métis broadly to describe people with mixed Aboriginal (First Nations and Inuit) and European ancestry who identify themselves as Métis. There are communities in Quebec, Labrador and the Maritimes that have unique communities derived from fur trade histories similar to the Métis in the prairies and who self-identify as Métis. Other communities and individuals claim Métis identity simply due to mixed heritage. It should be noted that government definitions also influence Métis identification, including those who were affected by Bill C-31 and those who may be Non-Status Indians as defined in the Indian Act.
Accent or no accent? Some people and groups have dropped the accent in Métis. In keeping with the Métis National Council, NAHO will use the accent. Nevertheless, it is best to check the names of individual Métis organizations before you publish them.
Métis with the accent has been used to refer to the historic or original French term Métis and usually refers to the historic Métis Nation. Métis with no accent is more of a contemporary term. The most widely accepted term uses the accent.
Métis Settlements – In 1938, the Alberta government set aside 1.25 million acres of land for eight Métis settlements, however Métis never lived on reserves. Therefore the terms on-reserve and off-reserve do not apply to them, only to First Nations. Wording that is supposed to cover all Aboriginal communities—for example, a reference to people living on a reserve, off a reserve, or in urban areas—must add Métis Settlements to be inclusive.
Métis in Alberta are the only Métis in Canada with a formal government-recognized land base. However, there are several long-standing Métis communities in western Canada that are considered primarily Métis communities. While the land base is not recognized by federal legislation like reserves or the settlements in Alberta, there are still many distinct “Métis communities.” In many cases, provincial Métis organizations have organized their membership by regional and local communities and Métis communities sometimes fall under the auspices of these Métis organizations.