Métis in the United States

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Paul Kane's oil painting Half-Breeds Running Buffalo, depicting a Métis buffalo hunt on the prairies of Dakota in June 1846.
Paul Kane's oil painting Half-Breeds Running Buffalo, depicting a Métis buffalo hunt on the prairies of Dakota in June 1846.
Regions with significant populations
Related ethnic groups

The Métis in the United States are a Métis people in the United States, who trace their descent to Native Americans and white settlers. Those identifying as Métis in the U.S. are fewer in number than the Métis in Canada.

The Métis have developed as an ethnic group from the descendants of indigenous women who married French (and later Scottish) fur trappers and traders during the 18th and 19th centuries at the height of the fur trade. At the time, the border did not exist between Canada and the British colonies as much of the area was undeveloped. Traders and trappers easily moved back and forth through the area.

The Métis in Canada have a specific, unique culture. Most are found among the Michif-speaking peoples of the Red River region in modern Manitoba. In the United States, Métis live in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin,[citation needed] Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana.[1]

In the broadest sense, the term métis was applied to people of mixed indigenous and French ancestry in French colonies; it means mixture. In this article it is also used to discuss mixed-race people who descend from the united culture created by the intermarriage of various French and British fur traders from the Atlantic Coast through the Great Lakes area and to the Rocky Mountains, and women of various Algonquian, Cree and other Native American groups during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. But this use excludes mixed-race people born of unions in other settings or more recently than about 1870.

Métis (/mˈt/; Canadian French: [meˈtsɪs]; Michif: [mɪˈtʃɪf]) is the French term for "mixed-blood". The word is a cognate of the Spanish word mestizo and the Portuguese word mestiço.


With exploration, settlement, and exploitation of resources by French and British fur trading interests across North America, European men often had relationships and sometimes marriages with Native American women. Often both sides felt such marriages were beneficial in strengthening the fur trade. Indigenous women often served as interpreters and could introduce their men to their people. Because many Native Americans and First Nations often had matrilineal kinship systems, the mixed-race children were considered born to the mother's clan and usually raised in her culture. Fewer were educated in European schools. Métis men in the northern tier typically worked in the fur trade and later hunting and as guides. Over time in certain areas, particularly the Red River of the North, the Métis formed a distinct ethnic group with its own culture.

Mixed-race peoples sometimes emerged as leaders, for instance in the Five Civilized Tribes of the American Southeast, many leaders of the early 19th century tribes were men of mixed race, who could bridge cultures. While they often had European or American schooling, they identified primarily as Cherokee or Creek, for instance, and usually spoke both their own languages and English. The older chiefs thought such young men could provide a unique path to the future.


Between 1795 and 1815 a network of Métis settlements and trading posts was established throughout what is now the US states of Michigan and Wisconsin, and to a lesser extent in Illinois and Indiana. As late as 1829, the Métis were dominant in the economy of present-day Wisconsin and Northern Michigan.[2]

A Metis family poses with their Red River carts in a field in western North Dakota.
Date of Original: 1883
Credit Line: State Historical Society of North Dakota (A4365)

During the early days of territorial Michigan, Métis and French played a dominant role in elections. It was largely with Métis support that Gabriel Richard was elected as delegate to Congress. After Michigan was admitted as a state and under pressure of increased European-American settlers from eastern states, many Métis migrated westward into the Canadian Prairies, including the Red River Colony and the Southbranch Settlement. Others identified with Chippewa groups, while many others were subsumed in an ethnic "French" identity, such as the Muskrat French. By the late 1830s only in the area of Sault Ste. Marie was there widespread recognition of the Métis as a significant part of the community.[3]

Another major Métis settlement was La Baye, located at the present site of Green Bay, Wisconsin. In 1816 most of its residents were Métis.[4]

In Montana a large group of Métis from Pembina region hunted there in the 1860s, eventually forming an agricultural settlement in the Judith Basin by 1880. This settlement eventually disintegrated, with most Métis leaving, or identifying more strongly either as "white" or "Indian".[5]

Current population

Mixed-race people continue to live throughout North America but only some identify ethnically and culturally as Métis. A strong Prairie Métis identity exists in the "homeland" once known as Rupert's Land, which extends south from Canada into North Dakota, especially the land west of the Red River of the North. The historic Prairie Métis homeland also includes parts of Minnesota, and Wisconsin. A number of self-identified Métis live in North Dakota, mostly in Pembina County.[6] Many members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians (a federally recognized Tribe) are of mixed race and identify as Métis rather than strictly Ojibwe.[citation needed]

Many Métis families are recorded in the U.S. Census for the historic Métis settlement areas along the Detroit and St. Clair rivers, Mackinac Island, and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, as well as Green Bay in Wisconsin. Their ancestral families were often formed in the early 19th-century fur trading era.

The Métis have generally not organized as an ethnic or political group in the United States as they have in Canada, where they had armed confrontations in an effort to secure a homeland. They have not sought federal recognition as an official tribe in the United States, or as having status as Native Americans.

The first "Conference on the Métis in North America" was held in Chicago in 1981,[7] after increasing research about this people. This also was a period of increased appreciation for different ethnic groups and reappraisal of the histories of settlement of North America. Papers at the conference focused on "becoming Métis" and the role of history in formation of this ethnic group, defined in Canada as having Aboriginal status. The people and their history continue to be extensively studied, especially by scholars in Canada and the United States.

See also


  1. ^ Peterson, Jacqueline; Brown, Jennifer S. H. (2001). The New Peoples: Being and Becoming Métis in North America. Winnipeg, Manitoba: University of Manitoba Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-87351-408-8. 
  2. ^ Peterson and Brown, The New Peoples, p. 44-45
  3. ^ Wallace Gesner, "Habitants, Half-Breeds and Homeless Children: Transformations in Metis and Yankee-Yorker Relations in Early Michigan," in Michigan Historical Review Vol. 24, issue 1 (Jan. 1998) p. 23-47
  4. ^ Kerry A. Trask, "Settlement in a Half-Savage Land: Life and Loss in the Métis Community of La Baye," Michigan Historical Review Vol. 15, no. 1 (Spring 1989) p. 1
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ "Pembina State Museum - History - State Historical Society of North Dakota". history.nd.gov. Retrieved 2016-01-07. 
  7. ^ Peter C. Douaud, "Reviewed Work: 'The New Peoples: Being and Becoming Métis in North America' by Jacqueline Peterson, Jennifer S. H. Brown", American Indian Quarterly Vol. 11, No. 2 (Spring, 1987), pp. 159-161, University of Nebraska Press, Article DOI: 10.2307/1183704 (subscription required), accessed 12 May 2015

Further reading

  • Barkwell, Lawrence J., Leah Dorion, and Audreen Hourie. Metis legacy Michif culture, heritage, and folkways. Metis legacy series, v. 2. Saskatoon, SK: Gabriel Dumont Institute, 2006.
  • Barkwell, Lawrence J., Leah Dorion and Darren Prefontaine. Metis Legacy: A Historiography and Annotated Bibliography. Winnipeg, MB: Pemmican Publications and Saskatoon: Gabriel Dumont Institute, 2001.
  • Foster, Harroun Marther. We Know Who We Are: Métis Identity in a Montana Community. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006.
  • Peterson, Jacqueline and Jennifer S. H. Brown, ed. The New Peoples: Being and Becoming Metis in North America. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2001.
  • St-Onge, Nicole, Carolyn Podruchny, and Brenda Macdougall (eds.), Contours of a People: Metis Family, Mobility, and History. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012.

External links

  • Métis Eastern Tribal Indian Society
  • Communities of the Voyageur Metis
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