Métis In The Fur Trade

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(Mid 1800's) The Buffalo Hunt by William Armstrong

This painting or sketch shows the Métis coming back from a hunt. We know this because their Red River carts are filled with bison hides and meat to trade with most likely the people of the North West Company. The carts are seen to have people on them, perhaps they are the wives and children of the hunters. Families would work together in bison hunting, the women and children would help drag the cart, while the men went out on their horses to hunt down the buffalo. It required much skill to hunt buffalo because firstly, the hunt itself was dangerous, but also they had to ride the horse as they reloaded their rifles, the horse could trip and fall, and the bison could become aggressive at anytime.

The Métis’ economy was very well cared of. They had a relationship with the North West Company so they were able to trade the furs and pemmican they made for tools and food. The marriages between the Aboriginals and Europeans also kept economy alive, since that would tie the two together even closer. The Métis developed French Canadian farming styles, like having their crops in long narrow lots along the river. Behind these river lots was an area called the “hay privilege” where farmers could grow hay. The bison hunting effected much of the economy, and the Métis life. The North West Company was very demanding in the furs and pemmican, because the furs were made into clothing such as robes, and pemmican was an important food source since it was small but packed with calories and protein.

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(1825-26) A Métis And His Two Spouses by Peter Rindisbacher

This painting shows a Métis man in between two of his spouses. The Métis perhaps accepted polygamy. The women on the left bears a child on her back, and is holding a pipe that has smoke coming out of it. The Métis man is wearing a colorful outfit, with what looks like animal hide pants, and is carrying a rifle. I think he may have come back or is about to go buffalo hunting. The women on the right is covering herself with an elaborate yellow cloak. They seem to be on a field-like area, with houses in the background.

The Métis’ society is very diverse because they had both the elements of Aboriginal and European cultures. Their language was a mix of French nouns and Cree verbs. Bison hunting had contributions to their society as well, it was a way of living. It was almost like a family business, since all members of the family would have some sort of part (like I said in the economic paragraph). It fostered a strong sense of community, pride, and discipline as well.

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The Métis were important in the fur trade because they were not only suppliers for hides, fur, and pemmican, but they also helped with making new connections (socially, economically, and in loyalty) through marriage, and the women were excellent as negotiators, interpreters, and guides. The Métis were excellent hunters in the bison hunt, they were admired by many 19th century observers for their skill. They must ride their horses, directing them with their knees so they could use their hands to reload their rifles (they were muzzle loaders). An example of the Métis’ vast knowledge was when 64 Métis bison hunters were overtaken by a group of around 2000 Lakota, another Aboriginal tribe. The Métis circled their carts like a barrier, and started a three day long battle with Lakota. In the end the Lakota retreated, vowing never to attack them again. This shows us that the Métis were quick thinkers, and were very persevering. They were also quite strong since they were able to last three days with just a circle of carts as a shield against 2000 Lakotas.

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