The Métis are a distinct cultural group in Saskatchewan and Western Canada

Those who belong to the Historic Métis Nation are defined as the descendants of the Aboriginal people with a mixture of (mostly French) European ancestry from Manitoba’s Red River Valley.

Each of the prairie provinces and British Columbia have Métis association offices. Association offices throughout Western Canada follow distinct guidelines based on histories and familial connections when discussing their definitions of Métis.

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Other parts of Canada feel differently.

In New Brunswick, some in the French community began to self-identify as Métis in the 1990s. The trend in New Brunswick was recorded in a 1996 census, when 950 citizens referred to themselves Métis, even though weren’t related to the nation originating in the Red River Valley.

Twenty years later in the 2016 census, 10,200 people in New Brunswick’s French community were self-identifying as Métis.  

In central and southern Labrador, the people of NunatuKavummiut sometimes call themselves Métis, or Inuit-Métis, because of their mixed heritage.

The NunatuKavummiut have an intriguing history, but the term Métis has a deeper meaning than having a diverse legacy.

In Canadian law, there’s a specific definition about what is Métis and what isn’t.

Louis Riel, the Métis leader who lead two rebellions against British and Tory-derived colonialism, is an inseparable figure of Métis history.

Canadian historian Frank W. Anderson described Riel’s ancestry as mirroring the majority of this nation with roots in France, Quebec, southern Manitoba and Northern Europe.

“Riel was born at St. Boniface on October 22, 1844, inheriting from his father a mixture of French, Irish and Indian blood, with French pre-dominating,” (From The Riel Rebellion, p. 5).      

The federal government and the governing associations in Western Canada define the Métis Nation in black and white terms as the Aboriginal peoples descending from the Historic Métis Nation in the Red River Valley.

Anderson wrote: “The story of Louis Riel is that of the Métis nation. It began in 1734 when the sons of Pierre de La Verendrye passed down the chain of lakes and rivers in Lake Winnipeg and became the first white man to see the great North-West.” (p. 1).

French traders trailed after de La Verendrye. Some of these men intermingled with the women of the First Nations living near the Red River.

Legally defined as one of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada in Section 35 of the 1982 Constitution Act, the Historic Métis Nation also have a homeland. Their homeland refers to specified areas located in western and central North America.

Members of the Métis nation moved further into Western Canada in the latter 1800s, including the coulees of South Central Saskatchewan, where the communities of Willow Bunch and St. Victor were established.

Historian Gail Paul Armstrong wrote about a migration in 1870 from Manitoba to South Central Saskatchewan in the book, Wood Mountain Uplands.

“The Métis settled in a coulee located eight miles west of the present site of Willow Bunch and three miles east of present village of St. Victor,” (p. 21).  

The boundaries of the official nation have extended into northern states, the N.W.T., Ontario and British Columbia without embracing New Brunswick and Labrador.

The definition of what the Métis territory includes is controversial.       

Lenard Monkman wrote a story for CBC in December 2018 about a map displaying the homelands of the Métis, which incorporated all of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, along with parts of northwestern Ontario, northeastern B.C., a chunk of the Northwest Territories and bits of Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota.

Monkman said the boundaries as defined on this map created disputes on social media during the winter of 2018.

However, the map wasn’t intended to describe a territorial grab as some believed, but rather an acknowledgment of the Métis communities spread throughout western North America.

Will Goodon, minister of housing for the Manitoba Métis Federation and a delegate to the general assembly of the Métis National Council, said the map assisted Métis governments in deciding who their members were and expressed where the sections of this widespread nation were living using geographic specifics.