The Development of Métis Peoplehood

Karte, Manitoba, Red River Settlement 1870

The history of 19th century Métis nation-building is a history of conflict, violence and war. Red River Métis resisted the Euro-Canadian settlement of their “land” in the Red-River region and even demanded the establishment of a Métis colony under British rule in order to secure their political rights and their land claims, however without success. The memories and stories of three major “rebellions”/”resistances” against the Canadian Government, the “Battle of Seven Oaks” (1821), the “Red River Rebellion” (1869) and the “North-West Resistance” (1885), have become core constituents of a place related narrative of nation-building in which “land”, spaces and places figure prominently.

With the foundation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867 and the establishment of Manitoba as a province within the Canadian confederacy in 1871 the Métis lost their land. Land treaties were signed with the First Nations living in the region and white Canadian settlers surveyed the land, established towns, fenced farms and built railroads in the Canadian prairies. They thus not only appropriated but also re-territorialized the land and its spatial character and meaning. Most of the Métis left their historic homeland and settled further North and West.

In the early 1970s, after almost 100 years of non-recognition, the Métis reemerged as a political force in Canada. Supported by historical research in the newly established field of Western history and by a small educated Métis elite, the Métis reasserted their land rights and started to write their own history as part of a process to re-establish peoplehood by claiming the spatial re-ordering of large parts of the Canadian West. Today several Canadian universities offer Métis Studies programs and we see a flourishing Métis historiography influenced by post-colonial studies and theories. Métis historians like Chris Andersen, Nicole St-Onge or Brenda Macdougall have been instrumental in pushing a public debate about land, history, nation-/peoplehood and the role of placemaking as a space-related practice of belonging and a specific aboriginal way of community-building thereby overcoming essentializing notions of “Métis identity”.

In March 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada published its decision on the case “Manitoba Métis Federation versus Canada”. With this verdict, a 32 year-long battle for the recognition of Métis rights and land claims that was initiated by John Morrisseau, President of the Manitoba Métis Association, in 1981 came to a conclusion. The Canadian government recognized the rights of the Métis to negotiate about their claims resulting from the treaty Louis Riel established with the Crown in the context of the Manitoba Act in 1870.


Klooss, Wolfgang (2016): "From Seven Oaks to Batoche: Métis Resistance in History and Narrative", in: TransCanadiana: Polish Journal of Canadian Studies 8, Special Issue: Canadian Sites of Resistance: Solidarity – Struggle – Change, 25-51.

Laugs, Christoph (2016): “An Ongoing Ethnogenesis? Examining the Evolution of the Métis”, in: Left History 19:2, 93‐104.

Laugs, Christoph (2020): Materielle Kultur und Erinnerung. Sash, Mokassins und Beadwork als Mittel der
Konstruktion und Artikulation von Metisness, Trier (Dissertationsmanuskript)

Lehmkuhl, Ursula (2016): Duke Redbird: We Are Metis (1980) - Oder: "Participation Mystique" und Resilienz, in: Jürgen Martchukat/Olaf Stieglitz (ed.), race & sex: Eine Geschichte der neuzeitlichen Welt, Berlin: Neofelis, 110-117.

Lehmkuhl, Ursula (2016): "Paradoxes of Resistance and Resilience: The Pitfalls of Métis Renaissance since the 1970s", in: Transcanadiana: Polish Journal of Canadian Studies 8, Special Issue: Canadian Sites of Resistance: Solidarity – Struggle – Change, 52-72.

Lehmkuhl, Ursula (2021): "Processes of De- and Re-Territorialization and Practices of Placemaking and Belonging: The Red River Métis", in: Levke Harders, Falko Schnicke (eds.), Practising Borders: Belonging to Empires, Nations, and Regions in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Schaub, Lisa (2020): Métis Communities in the Red River Settlement: Territory, Identity, and Racialization, 1821-1926, Trier (Dissertationsmanuskript)

In Preparation:

Special Issue "Settler Colonial Studies": Métis and Settler Colonialism in Canada: Past and Present Histories, Experiences and Identities, ed. by Ursula Lehmkuhl and Lisa Schaub