The Métis are the descendants of children born to European fur traders and their Native wives. They emerged as a specific cultural group already in the 17th century during the very early period of French colonialism in North America. They reflect the fact that the history of the settlement of the Canadian West includes the history of métissage. Métis live in-between the Western and Aboriginal worlds. They practiced transculturality as a way of life by incorporating aspects of French- and Anglo-Canadian and Native cultures. Their economic system was based on the buffalo hunt and farming. This mixed economy demanded a semi-nomadic life which resulted in a very distinct relationship to “land”. During the 19th century Euro-Canadian settlers perceived and represented Métis as white. Only since the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution in 1982, the Métis received recognition as a specific indigenous group. Today together with Canadian First Nations and Inuit, they belong to the constitutionally acknowledged group of Canadian Aboriginal peoples.
The political development of a distinct Métis nation during the 19th century – the ethnogenesis of the Métis – is connected to a specific geographic place in Canada: the Red River region in present day Manitoba. Historically the Red River Settlement is part of the Selkirk settlement, a colonization project set up in 1811 by Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk on 300,000 square kilometers of land at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers (what is now downtown Winnipeg). This land was granted to him by the Hudson's Bay Company. The Selkirk Concession covered a territory that in portions consisted of present-day southern Manitoba, northern Minnesota, and eastern North Dakota, in addition to small parts of eastern Saskatchewan, northwestern Ontario, and northeastern South Dakota. Until the 1840s it was inhabited by First Nations, Métis and French-Canadian and Scottish fur traders. The Red River region was thus a multi-ethnic space.
From 1840 to 1870, the social, cultural, and ecological living conditions of the Métis in the Red River region changed fundamentally. Canada’s development from a British colony to a Dominion within the British Empire/Commonwealth was accompanied by an accelerated Euro-Canadian settlement of the Canadian Prairies. The Red River Métis adapted quickly to the more and more Europeanized environment and at the same time developed a distinct way of life that was different from both First Nations traditions and Euro-Canadian practices. The Red River was thus transformed into a transcultural space conceived of as “Métis land”.
Current Research Projects (in preparation)
Mestiz*innen und Métissage (Dr. Lisa Schaub)
Past Research Projects
Métis Land and Identity (Dr. Lisa Schaub)
Métis Material Culture and Memory (Dr. Christoph Laugs)