The Metis of Montana

The Métis

The Metis are a sector of our greater society that has been part of North American history since the coming of the first Europeans. The children of marriages between Aboriginal women and Euroamerican men gave birth to large and significant mixblood population throughout North America by the 1740s.

On the Northern Plains of the United States and Canada, the first major population of Metis trace their line to the Hudson's Bay Company men after 1682 (when their first post was set up on the shores of The Bay), and the LaVerendrye encounters in Manitoba and the Dakotas during the 1730s-40s. By the 1780s, with the fur trade having trapped out the Woodlands and Great Lakes region, coupled with the formation of the American nation in 1783 (up to that time being only 13 colonies east of the Appalachian Mountains), many who were once citizens of New France, and others who wanted to maintain their distinct and personal liberty and independence, moved west of the Mississippi. A large contingent of Great Lakes and Mississippi Basin mixbloods who had evolved over the150 years prior to to the formation of the United States, converged at the confluence of the Pembina and Red Rivers, in what is today North Dakota. Those people, joined by Ojibwa and Ottawa pushed west from the Great Lakes, intermarried with the Cree and Assiniboine who then controlled that territory. The Cree and Assiniboine were allied with each other and already intermarried from at least the early 1600s. It was they with whom the HBC and LaVerendrye's men mixed. More French and Scots fur traders working with the Hudson's Bay and the North West Companies moved into the region. All of those people intermarried in beneficial economic, cultural, and social relationships.

By the turn of the 18th to 19th century, the mixblood offspring of those polyethnic associations began intermarrying among themselves. A new mixed culture and society came to be, the Metis, comprised of cultural lifeways amalgamated from both sides of their heritage, including a wholly distinct language called Michif.  The Metis of the Northern Plains (as distinct from other mixblood peoples in North America) came to Aboriginal nationhood as a singular and manifest people at the Battle of Seven Oaks, now called Winnipeg, in 1816. The Metis allied with the Cree, Assiniboine, and Ojibwa as part of the Nehiyaw Pwat Confederacy (Nehiyaw Pwat means "Cree Assiniboine" in Cree). The Nehiyaw Pwat Confederacy homeland stretched from the Red River on the east, to the Front Range of the Rockies in the west, and straddled the borderlands of what became the United States and Canada. The Metis have had a consistent presence in Montana since the 1790s. Settlements along the Milk River, Poplar River, and Wood Mountain corridor have been inhabited since that time. Significant Metis communities were in the Deer Lodge, Bitterroot, and Flathead Valleys by the 1840s. By the 1850s there were Metis settlements along the Front Range from the Augusta, to Choteau, to Dupuyer, Heart Butte, and St, Mary's, on up to Fort Edmonton. Following the Metis resistance movements of 1870 at Red River (Winnipeg), and 1885 in Saskatchewan (in which many Montana Metis participated), an influx of displaced peoples from those Troubles sought refuge in Montana with their relatives in many established communities.

Families with Metis heritage in Montana are found on every reservation and in cities and towns throughout the state. As well, the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians, recognized by the State of Montana, though not the federal government, is comprised of predominantly Metis culture First Nations families.

by Nicholas C. P. Vrooman, Ph.D.