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Finding a Fur Trader is NOT Enough

Feb 28, 2017

~  Marie Louise – OMFRC Member and Researcher for over a decade  

In the search for definitive proof of our Métis roots, we are often frustrated.  There is a lot of confusion about what is considered absolute proof.  Many of us know, from the stories passed down to us, that we have a Métis background- but we aren’t sure from where it stems.

In some cases, research will guide us to a link that will surprise us.  While we might have been certain that our connection with the Aboriginal community is on one particular side of the family, a researcher may find someone in an entirely different branch of the family.  This doesn’t mean it is the only person in your family tree that will link you to a Métis heritage.

One has to be careful when connecting the dots, especially when it comes to voyageurs.  It isn’t necessarily sufficient to find a fur trader or voyageur to be assured you have found your Métis connection.  Some early fur traders did not have “Country Wives”, some did not live with the native community and some did not adopt First Nations customs.  It can be very confusing.

Many people think only of the French when it comes to the voyageur; however the Dutch were also very involved in trading with the Aboriginal community, particularly around New York. We must also remember that the native people (and the people active in trading) did not pay attention to political borders.  Parts of what we might now consider to be the United States were significant to trade routes and what we consider to be Canadian Aboriginal, Fur Trader and Métis might only be registered somewhere in the USA.

With explorers and traders of many countries traversing and colonizing North America, Métis ancestors can come from any number of European backgrounds.

Also, some of these travelling salesmen had rendezvous with native women, producing offspring that they never acknowledged.  In many cases, these children were known to be of mixed breed and frequently they were raised and identified as full-blooded Aboriginals, but were they?  What about European children who were kidnapped and adopted into the tribes?  Many of these people stayed and raised children alongside their native families.  Sometimes, the mixed background was not recorded with the first generation, but several generations down the line. It is also interesting to note that for a brief period of time, it was trendy to be an “Indian” and there were people who pretended to be native, to gain notoriety.

These and other conundrums make the concept of proving heritage through DNA testing and blood quantum questionable.  In relation to the Daniels case, the Federal Courts ruled that Métis is more a matter of culture than of birthright.  Some believe that one merely knows when they are Métis and it does seem that those who seek documented proof of Métis heritage are confused by groups who seem to apply their own personal measure or definition to the label.

Some researchers depend wholly on documentation, which,  if it is available,  is frequently incomplete (sometimes the ink has faded, names are misspelled or omitted).  Others will include anecdotal information but this sort of information can be sketchy, based on conjecture and subject to misunderstandings.

How can one be assured of the accuracy of records dating back to the early colonization of our country, through  the clashing and merging of various cultures which have further been subjected to the interpretation of history and corrupted by politics, religion, war or prejudice?

Renowned Canadian author, Margaret Atwood, inadvertently demonstrated the treatment of the Métis when she confessed that she did not study literature by Native authors when preparing her seminal work, Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (1972). At its launch, she said that she had been unable to find any Native works, then she mused, “Why did I overlook Pauline Johnson? Perhaps because, being half-white, she somehow didn’t rate as the real thing, even among Natives.”