Published on August 3, 2014 by Amy
Language: About 500 Metis people in North Dakota and scattered locations in Canada still speak Michif, a unique French-Cree creole using French nouns, Cree verbs, and some local vocabulary borrowed from Indian languages like Ojibway or Dene. Unlike most creoles, Michif shows little if any grammatical simplification–the polysynthetic verb phrases of Cree are preserved in their full complexity. It’s likely that Michif originated, not as a pidgin between Crees and Frenchmen trying to communicate with each other, but as a badge of identity and occasionally-necessary secret code among Metis raised in both languages (similar to Yiddish in Europe). Most Michif speakers today are fluent in neither Cree nor French. Children are no longer learning Michif, leading linguists to class the language as “moribund” (headed for extinction), but there have been efforts to revive its use as a cultural language in some Metis communities.
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People: The word “Metis” has two different meanings in Canada: any mixed-blood Indian (“Métis” just means “mixed” in French,) who have their own Aboriginal status in Canada; or a member of a particular cultural group of mixed ancestry, the descendants primarily of French traders and Cree Indians. Only the latter group speaks the Michif language.
History: The Metis people live in every province in Canada; not all of them even have the same ancestry, much less the same historical background, so summarizing their history as a group is difficult. One event stands out in Canada’s history as particularly important to the Metis, and that is the Northwest Rebellion of 1885. Upset with the Canadian goverment’s violation of their land rights and withholding of food and supplies to coerce compliance, the Metis of Saskatchewan sent for Louis Riel, the Metis hero who had established Manitoba as a province and for his efforts been exiled to the United States. Riel, the Metis, and the local Cree rose up in armed revolt against the government and Canadian land abuses. The rebellion was short-lived and still controversial, but certainly it brought attention to the plight of native peoples in Canada. Riel, with eight other Indians, was executed for his role in the rebellion, and remains an icon of Metis pride and self-determinism to this day.