One of the most contentious issues in Canada's history is that of the Metis. Some people feel this unique group of people does not deserve any sort of recognition, whereas others believe their unique history and culture is something to be recognized and cherished. The history of the Metis people is filled with struggle; not only struggles against other powers, but also a struggle for self-identification. Despite strong opposition, the Metis people of Canada have matured as a political force and have taken great strides towards being recognized as a unique people.
The word Metis is a French word that means: "mixed race". Today it is often used for anyone who has European Indian heritage, but when the colonies of Canada were being formed Metis had a specific meaning. The roots for this hybrid race came from French Indian ancestry. It did not matter how much of each you had in you, as long as there was some of each. At the time, the Metis seemed to be superior in comparison to the individual Indian or Frenchman, because they appeared to possess certain marks of superiority over both parent types or strains . This meant they had all of the good characteristics from each group and left the bad ones behind.
The history of the Metis started with the European colonization of North America. With the arrival of the West European powers, fraternization and trade began between the European settlers and the many First Nations peoples throughout Canada. The French were the first foreign power to realize the potential benefits of allying with the First Nations peoples. Consequently, the French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, proposed a union of the French and First Nations . Champlain's, and therefore France's, goal was to create a mixed-blood race to populate the continent and form a new, thriving colony for France . The offspring of these unions did not live the life Champlain envisioned; instead they often lived exclusively with one group or another. It was not until the years when fur trading became a lucrative, thriving business that children of mixed descent began to realize their own unique place in the world.
When these times arose, these children were the envy of most because they were not only bilingual and bicultural , but they also knew the lifestyles of both the white man and the Indian. These Metis children were also important because with the help of Indian savvy and white technology became a dominant force in the opening of the Canadian West . The most sought after reason for the envy was because of the jobs they were offered. If they were able to read and write, they were in huge demand at one of the trading companies. Some would follow in their fathers footsteps and become trappers and traders, a few Metis would even become chiefs of Indian tribes , because of their knowledge of the white man.
The circumstances that existed at this time encouraged the Metis people to begin to formulate their own identity. In the early parts of the 17th century, France created the Voyageur system . Voyageurs were labourers who would transport trade goods between First Nations peoples and the French trading posts . They functioned under very strict French and Church law. Eventually, several European and Metis individuals and groups began to trade without the French state's approval. These traders were called couriers de bois and were vilified by both France and the Church . Since the couriers de bois acted as free agents, France, and later England, could not profit from transactions made by the couriers. To counteract the loss in potential revenue, strict measures were created to prevent the couriers de bois from doing any business. These strict measures were called the "conge" system, this was a licensing system where by not more than seventy-five traders would go to the west each year . Many traders were arrested, and often, were saved only because of strong ties with their First Nations allies....
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