The Métis in Manitoba

by Jean Lagasse

MHS Transactions, Series 3, 1958-59 Season

This article was published originally in MHS Transactions by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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In the course of this paper I would like to achieve three things. First, I would like to sketch briefly the birth and growth of the Métis from the time of the first White contacts to this day. Then I will attempt to illustrate what is meant in Manitoba by the word ‘Métis’. Thirdly, I hope to describe some of the major problems facing these people and the solutions which could be applied to their problems.

The Métis in Canada

It is likely that the first mixture of White and Indian genes on North American soil is as old as the first visit of White men to this continent. History has not yet revealed with full certainty who these first White men were. Amongst them are the Basques, the Normans, the Welsh, the Irish and the Scandinavians. In historic times, Indian mothers of Eastern Canada were the first women to have given birth to Métis children on Canadian soil. We know from reports written by the governors of New France [1] that free unions of White men with Indian women were causing some concern and were discouraged as much as possible. Most of the Métis born in Eastern Canada have not acquired a separate ethnic entity as they have in the Prairies.

The last federal census to include a separate listing for the Métis was taken in 1941. According to the Dominion Bureau of Statistics there were at that time 34,391 Métis in Canada distributed as follows:









British Columbia






In 1951, the Dominion Bureau of Statistics changed its way of enumerating the Métis. It was felt that the figures previously obtained were not satisfactory. There was a tendency for the Métis to be recorded with other ethnic groups. In fact, it is doubtful that the figures given in the Dominion Census for the Métis population were ever accurate except in the case of the 1870 census taken in Manitoba immediately after that province joined Confederation.

The Métis in Manitoba

The first Métis in Manitoban territory was probably born during the first quarter of the 17th century when explorers and their men began to winter on the west coast of the Hudson Bay. By the middle of the 18th century there were enough mixed bloods in the neighbourhood of the Bay for J. Isham, himself married to an Indian girl, to refer to them as a separate group, distinct from the White and the Indian. He described them as “straight limbed, lively, active ... and will venture to say ... that they are pretty numerous.” [2]

White infiltration in southern Manitoba took place more than a century later. Some historians [3] believe that des Groseilliers pushed his way over land from Lake Superior to the Hudson Bay via Lake of the Woods and the Winnipeg River around 1660, but the first reliable record of White penetration is with La Verendrye. In 1738, he reached the forks of the Red and the Assiniboine.

Uneven Distribution of Métis Population in Manitoba

There should be a larger Métis population in the north where Indians came in contact with the White men a century earlier than in the south. The contrary is true, however. Eighty percent of the people included in this study are living south of the 53rd parallel. Several factors may have contributed to this uneven growth.

The Hudson’s Bay Company did not venture inland until its fur empire was menaced in the south by the North West Company. Indian White contacts took place only in the neighbourhood of the forts. There were, nevertheless, sufficient illegal unions for the Company to enforce strict regulations concerning Indian-White relationships. As early as 1768, instructions were given to the effect that no White person should enter an Indian tent unless he was so ordered by the Governor of each Fort, nor could any Indian enter a Fort unless required to do so to trade.

Another factor affecting the growth of the Métis population in the north has to do with the reluctance of Hudson’s Bay personnel to settle permanently on the North American continent. After a period of service, they returned to the British Isles usually leaving behind their wives and children. Some did send their children home to be educated and from that group have emerged Métis or Half-Breed men and women who played an important role in the history of the Company and of the early west. Most of those who were left behind were raised as Indians by their mothers and did not become a part of the Métis group.

After the establishment of the Lord Selkirk colony at the forks, some Hudson’s Bay men retired on the banks of the Red River with their Métis families. Thus, part of the northern Métis population migrated south. With the founding of the Red River Settlement and the union of the North West Company with the Hudson’s Bay Company, the centre of economic and political activities moved from the littoral of Hudson Bay to the forks of the Red and the Assiniboine. The enactment of new legislation [4] in 1835 by the Hudson’s Bay Company concerning Indian-White marriages resulted in more employees staying with their families after their retirement. The new legislation concerned:

1) The men who wanted to leave their families behind;

“All officers and servants of the company having women or children, and wishing to leave the same in the country on their retirement therefrom, be required to make such provision for their future maintenance, more particularly for that of the children, as circumstances may reasonably warrant and the means of the individual permit.”

2) The men who wished to have their families with them;

“All those desirous of withdrawing the same from the country be allowed every facility for that purpose.”

and 3) The women and children of mixed marriages;

“That none hereafter be allowed to take a woman without binding himself down to such reasonable provision and maintenance for her and her children, in the event of issue, as on a fair and equitable principle may be considered necessary not only during his residence in the country, but after his departure therefrom.”

The English-speaking Half-Breeds in the Red River Colony never out-numbered the French-speaking Métis. Most Canadian authors who discuss the Métis or Half-Breeds of 1870 say that they were predominantly French-speaking. While this is true, it has led many to believe that the French far outnumbered the English. Actually, there were 5,757 French-speaking Métis in Manitoba in 1870 and 4,083 English speaking ones. [5]

The population in the Red River Colony grew from 3,500 in 1826 [6] to 5,391 in 1849 [7] and 6,500 in 1855. [8] It is not known what percentage of that population was Métis and Half-Breed. It can be assumed that the Métis and Half-Breeds must have accounted for approximately 80 percent of the total population as they did in 1870.

The Métis Immediately Prior to 1870

Those who would attribute the difference of economic and social status observed in modern Manitoba between the Métis and the White to genetic or inborn factors would have trouble explaining the success of the Métis before 1870. There is a school of thought in Manitoba that believes Métis and Indians are biologically inferior to the White. If this is so, how could the Métis group have flourished as they did prior to 1870?

The Half-Breeds as a race never considered themselves as hangers-on to the White population as they are pictured in the modern stereotype concerning their group. They were proud of their blood and their deeds.

They developed a resolute feeling and a keen sense of their own identity which led them to regard themselves as a separate racial and national unit. [9]

Political evidence of that national feeling first appeared in 1845 when they sent a petition to the Governor of Assiniboia, stating that as descendants of the native Indians they could not anymore than the Indians be deprived of their hereditary property in the wild animals and their ancient forest and prairies. Alexander Christie [10] replied to their petition saying: “Your nine queries as well as the body of your letter are grounded on the supposition that the Half-Breeds possess certain privileges over their fellow citizens who have not been born in the country. Now, as British subjects, the Half-Breeds have clearly the same right in Scotland or in England, as any person born in Great Britain and your sense of justice would be to place Englishmen and Scotchmen on a less favorable footing in Rupert’s Land than yourselves.” The exchange of the right to hunt and trap in their homeland for citizenship rights in England and Scotland must have appeared rather lopsided to a people who were not in the least inclined to travel to the British Isles.

The political strength of the Métis continued to increase and reach a climax with the Riel Government. As one reads through a report of the events of 1869-70 one finds no justification for the belief that the Métis were not as capable as any of the other ethnic groups in the Red River Valley at the time. True, their way of life and their aspirations were different but the skills and wisdom which they applied to achieving their aims were as intricate as those employed by the White population. But for external influences, Manitoba might have remained a Métis province as is the case for many South American countries.

The Métis in 1870

With the passing away of the Riel Government, many Métis left the province for Saskatchewan, North Dakota and Montana. When peace was established and a census taken in the newly-formed province of Manitoba, there were still 9,840 Métis left to be enumerated. Of a total population of 11,963 only thirteen percent were White, five percent were Indian and eighty-two percent of mixed blood. The census of 1870 revealed that the Métis were, at least, numerically in possession of Manitoba. Of the 1,565 Whites, only fifty percent or 747 had been born in the Northwest, 294 in Canada, 240 in Scotland, 125 in England, 69 in the United States, 47 in Ireland, 15 in France and 28 in other countries. [11] The Indian population of 558 souls was equally small in comparison to the 9,840 Métis.

The Métis After 1870

After 1870, the political strength of the Métis began to wane. They were first represented in the first Legislative Assembly but numerically, socially and economically the scales began to be weighed against them.

The order by which they wanted to live was disintegrating to be replaced by the way of life of a new society founded in agriculture and industry. [12]

The second Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba, Alexander Morris, writing in 1880, divided the Métis population into three groups. [13] There were those who were entirely identified with the Indians, living with them and speaking their language. In the second group were those who had settled on farms or were permanently employed. The third group comprised wandering Métis bands with a way of life closely associated to that of the Indians.

It would be interesting to picture the life of the Métis in the years that followed the Riel Resistance. The reader will recall that it is during the fifteen-year period from 1870 to 1885 that angry cries were heard throughout the nation for the execution of the Métis leader, Louis Riel. Those Métis who were of Catholic background suffered a second loss with the passing away of the dual school system. After two world wars, some Canadians of European or Asian extraction know what it is like to belong to the same national group as an enemy nation, to see one’s co-nationals being defeated and perhaps to be suspected of wavering loyalties. The Métis must have experienced similar fears following 1870. There is evidence that many began to hide their identity and to give a European national appellation as to their nationality. According to the Dominion Census figures there were close to 2,000 fewer Métis and Half-Breeds in Manitoba in 1886 than in 1870. The French Métis decreased by twenty-four percent from 5,757 to 4,369 and the English Half-Breeds by twelve percent from 4,083 to 3,597. The 1941 census listed only 8,692 Métis and Half-Breeds in the province compared to 9,830 seventy-one years earlier.

In 1870, there were 9,830 Métis and Half-Breeds living in the area incorporated that year into the Province of Manitoba. If there had been no territorial expansion of the Province since then, nor mixed marriages, and if the rate of natural increase of the Métis population had been constant at twenty per thousand, [14] Manitoba would now have a Métis population of over 55,000. [15] Since 1870, however, the Province was enlarged so that additional Métis settlements became part of Manitoba. Mixed marriages between Indians, Métis and Whites have also added their sons and daughters to the original Métis population. As a result, there may well be between 100,000 and 200,000 persons in the Province who could claim some Indian ancestry.

The Métis of 1958, Their Identity

In the social and economic study which I have just completed the word Métis is taken to include only those persons who identify themselves or are identified by others as Métis or Half-Breed. Paradoxically, many persons of Indian and White background, who, like the members of the “Union Nationale Métisse,” are still conscious of their cultural heritage and take pride in the contributions of the Métis to the social and political life of the Province. Even among the members of the study population, few called themselves Métis or Half-Breed. A question about ethnic background was inserted in my research questionnaire. Less than one percent, or 3 out of 345 said they would answer “Métis” to a question about their nationality.

The White people are also confused when talking about the Métis. The word in most common usage in middle class urban circles is “Métis”; a word which only one percent of the people we interviewed employed. “Métis” is the usual word used in French while “Half-Breed” is the word most commonly used in rural Manitoba when talking about people of Indian and White background. The term “Half-Breed” appears to have been the accepted way of classifying people of mixed background at the beginning of the Red River Colony. It is also the appellation most frequently employed by Prof. W. L. Morton in his recent book, Manitoba, A History. [16]

It is no longer possible to identify, as Métis or Half-Breed, all those who are of mixed White and Indian background, for this presupposes a knowledge of individual genealogies. In a society as mobile as ours, it is frequently impossible and seldom convenient to obtain information about the family background of our neighbors or work associates. Hence, we attempt to devise other criteria to serve in lieu of genealogies. Language, physical appearance, surname, background of usual associates or friends, behaviour and level of occupation are some of the indices we use in determining a person’s ethnic background.

In the case of those who are of Indian ancestry, only those who answer to a stereotype conception of what a Métis or Indian should look like, tend to be identified as such. This first became apparent in the early phases of the survey whenever someone was asked to help make a list of Métis families in his territory. At every third or fourth name, the person would say, “You don’t want to visit this person. He no longer is a Half-Breed.” Another informant would say, “He is a Half-Breed alright, but don’t tell him I said so because he does not like to be called that.”

Twenty White informants were invited to submit a definition of a Métis or Half-Breed illustrating what these words meant to them. A few of their answers have been listed here to give a composite picture of the type of person usually identified as a “Métis” and “Half-Breed” in Manitoba.

1) Any person of mixed White and Indian blood having not less than one quarter Indian blood but that does not include Indians as defined in the Indian Act nor non-treaty Indians.

2) Half-Breeds are persons of Indian descent living in poor houses similar to those on the reserve, one-eighth being as far as I would go in searching for people of Indian background.

3) Any full-blooded or half-blooded Indian who is not living as a White person. In this connection, the attitude of the White neighbors may force certain families to remain Half-Breeds longer than they would otherwise.

4) A Half-Breed is a person who has some degree of Indian blood plus an upbringing which combines factors of primitive living usually in conjunction with a hunting and fishing economy. This applies even when these people have almost embraced the White way of life. A person with a similar degree of Indian blood is accepted into the Canadian way of life only when he conforms to all general requirements of this society; the degree of blood is not too important.

5) People with Indian background who do menial tasks or are generally employed on part-time jobs. They usually live in poorer homes and have poorer standards of living. For example, I would not consider Mr. X as a Half-breed because he is an office manager and a respected citizen in our community.

From these definitions one must conclude that there exists a certain way of life in Manitoba which, in addition to physical characteristics, identifies one as a Métis or a Half-Breed. This way of life was described as “living in poor houses”, “not living as a White person”, “living like the Indians”, “non-conformance to the general requirements of this society”, “performing menial tasks”, “poor standards of living”, to mention but a few of the criteria used by the informants. There are two components to each definition of the Métis: heredity and way of life. To be classified as a Métis a person must have some Indian ancestry. The presence of Indian physical characteristics is not important although it helps to identfy as Métis some persons who might otherwise not be detected. A second condition to being classified as a Métis is living under poor circumstances.

In the course of my study, I found 23,579 persons who were normally identified by their neighbours as Métis or Half-Breed and who answered to the above definitions. They were living in 253 different communities. There were 4,497 Métis north of the 53rd parallel and 19,082 to the south. The largest concentrations were found in Portage la Prairie, St. Eustache, St. Lazare, San Clara, St. Laurent. St. Ambrose, the Local Government District of Alonsa, Duck Lake, Camperville, The Pas, Norway House, Churchill, Grand Marais, Richer, Selkirk and Greater Winnipeg. These sixteen areas account for fifty-seven percent of the total Métis population recorded for the province. The total Métis population is listed at the end of this paper.

Main Problems

It is doubtful that Indians and Métis will be able to raise noticeably their standards of health, housing and education until they have access to higher and more stable incomes. They need the incentive generated by the prospects of higher incomes to desire higher standards. A family cannot budget for an increased standard of living unless it is assured of regular income, nor can it maintain high aspirations when it continually faces disappointments both as to kind of job available and remuneration received. The necessity of earning a livelihood or helping one’s family was given by forty-one percent of the urban interviewees as a reason for leaving school. If individuals can be so adversely affected in benefits available without cost, they must suffer from greater handicaps when they wish to improve themselves in the fields of housing, clothing, and health where disbursements are necessary.

Thirty questions in the Greater Winnipeg schedule of interview and seventeen in the rural one were related to employment. Preliminary visits to Indian and Métis communities had led the Director of the Social and Economic Research Office to the conclusion that a great deal of human energy was being wasted through unemployment and underemployment. Evidence of this condition was found in the large number of able-bodied men and women sitting idle in their homes or, if the visit took place in summer, by their homes. It appeared as if the first energy that should be tapped in helping Indians and Métis was the Indians and Métis themselves.

Employment of Métis

Twenty-five percent of the Métis that are employed have permanent jobs usually linked with industrial or commercial undertakings. Ten percent are farming. Lumber and pulp operations give work to fifteen percent, while another fifteen percent are engaged in seasonal work related to the gathering of natural resources, such as furs, fish, rice, seneca root and berries. Thirty-five percent could be called casual labourers. They are employed only periodically and frequently move from one type of labouring job to another.

1) Permanent Employment

The Métis who is permanently employed is usually well on his way to successful integration. If he is permanently employed in a predominantly White community and maintains a fairly high standard of living, he is likely to lose his Métis identity. However, a sufficient number of the permanently employed have retained their Métis identity to account for twenty-five percent of the study population.

Members of this group are found in almost every type of employment. Many are self-employed operating successful businesses such as transfers, general stores, service stations, taxis, restaurants, etc. An impressive number are employed as sectionmen and section foremen, while the majority are performing semi-skilled jobs.

Most of the occupations available in mnetis and Indian communities do not offer full-time employment. Fishing and trapping can be performed only during seasons determined by the Department of Mines and Natural Resources. Frogs, rice, berries and seneca root can be harvested during summer months only. Many of the public works or construction projects employing Indians and Métis are temporary as well. It is to the advantage of the contractor to have the entire project completed in as short a time as possible and, therefore, his primary concern is not that of providing permanent employment.

There are a few opportunities for permanent jobs in most predominantly Métis and Indian communities. The maintenance of public or commercial institutions gives work to a few permanent employees. The remainder of the permanently employed listed in this study live in predominantly White communities or on the fringe of White communities.

2) Farming

The Métis and Indians in Manitoba are not primarily an agricultural people. Farming is an important occupation on seventeen reserves. Approximately ten percent of the rnetis included in our study are farm occupants. They are found in five general areas: south end of Lake Winnipeg, around Lake Manitoba, San Clara, St. Eustache and St. Lazare.

Generally speaking, the size of their farms is too small to provide an adequate level of living. However, as most families supplement their income with non-farm employment, the standards of living of the Métis who farm is usually higher than that of other Métis families. The problems faced by Indian and Métis farmers are similar to those of other occupants of marginal and submarginal land.

3) Lumber and Pulp Operations

Approximately fifteen percent of the Métis are engaged in lumbering and pulp cutting as their main occupation. They are employed mainly in three forest areas: Southeastern Manitoba, Duck Mountain Forest Reserve and Porcupine Forest Reserve. In addition, “working in the bush” forms the part-time occupation of a substantial number of farmers, fishermen, trappers and seasonal labourers.

The demands made upon our forest resources are so great that administrators find it difficult to follow sound conservation practices. Over cutting develops whenever family heads who depend upon the forest for a livelihood or other commercial interests, prevail urgently upon the Government to make more timber available for cutting than would be wise from a conservation standpoint. This situation occurs more frequently in the southeastern corner than in any other part of the province.

4) Seasonal Employment

Under this heading are included the people who engage annually in a series of occupations related to the gathering of fish, furs, roots and berries. They are usually self-employed. Approximately fifteen percent of the Métis are engaged primarily in seasonal work. The majority of the reserve Indians would also come under this heading.

Seasonal employment is the least dependable type of work available to Indians and Métis. Each operation is financially rewarding only when there is a favourable combination of several factors, the most important three being: high prices, good crops and a shortage of manpower. These three factors seldom co-exist as they affect each other negatively. Plentiful crops or ample labour supplies may cause prices to drop. High prices may attract workers who normally are unemployed or engaged in other types of operations.

An economy based on the gathering of natural resources cannot be stabilized unless methods are discovered to limit the number of people having access to it. This is usually achieved through a permit system. However, as shown in the previous discussion on lumbering, strong pressures are brought to bear upon the permit grantor to include all the citizens of the district. Yet, the present system appears to be the only practical one until part of the population migrates to new areas or new sources of local employment are discovered. It has the advantage of providing some employment for everyone even though welfare assistance must frequently supplement earned income.

5) Casual Jobs

Thirty-five percent of the Indians and Métis included in this study were engaged in casual work. Their jobs are usually of short duration, lasting three months or less.

Casual employees of all nationalities have a poor reputation as workers. The short relationship which they establish with the employers is not sufficiently binding to give them a sense of responsibility on the job. The Indian or Métis casual worker, as he moves from job to job, reinforces in each employer the belief that people of Indian background are not reliable workers. Other ethnic groups contribute their share of casual workers, who as casual workers are no more reliable than Indians and Métis. However, because seventy-five percent of the people of Indian background are engaged in casual work at one time or another, employers tend to attribute unreliability to Indian parentage rather than to the type of working personality common amongst casual workers.

It is doubtful that Indians and Métis presently unemployed or engaged in food gathering activities can be fitted into the labour market without going through a phase of casual employment, reproducing while they are at this state all the features of other casual employees. This thought should give birth to realistic planning on the part of those who will be responsible for helping Indians and Métis fit into our industrial economy.

Employers and government officials must be prepared to accept this intermediate phase when arrangements are made to place a group of Métis and Indians in what could otherwise be full-time employment. Insisting that only persons who are completely reliable be provided with full-time jobs will retard the integration of people of Indian ancestry.

6) Solutions to Employment Problems

The data on employment indicate that seventy-five percent or approximately 20,000 Métis and off-reserve Indians do not receive sufficient income to maintain an adequate standard of living. At the same time, more than eighty-five percent of the reserve population is suffering from lack of sufficient employment opportunities. The majority of the Métis and Indian population is not likely to become permanently employed without outside assistance. The causes of their economic failure are too deeply rooted in their culture and ours to justify any hope for a quick and easy recovery. They will need assistance over a long period of time in three general areas: (1) Developing an Employable Personality, (2) Acquiring Marketable Skills. (3) Increasing Local Job Opportunities.

1) Developing an Employable Personality

The primary cause of unemployment for Indians and Métis is a cultural one. While it is true that there are few jobs available in their communities, other Canadians in a similar situation would migrate to an area with job opportunities. It is also true that Indians and Métis possess few saleable skills but a person fluent in the majority culture would develop work aptitudes on the job. Two of the main cultural handicaps are their unwillingness to relocate to areas of employment and their irregularity at work.

The Indians and Métis did not always suffer from a poor reputation as workers. Explorers like Henday and Hearne, who chose to rely entirely on Indians rather than Europeans during their trips must have had complete faith in their ability. Indians and Métis were the sole providers of foodstuffs in the west before the establishment of agriculture. The journals of early explorers and fur traders contain numerous descriptions of the strenuous tasks which they were able to accomplish.

The women enjoyed an equally good reputation. After reading through the minutes of the annual meetings of the North West Company, Marjorie Wilkins Campbell summarized the role women played in the lives of the fur traders thus: “Each of them (North West Company employees) had an Indian or Half-Breed wife ‘au (aeon du Nord’ from the McGillivrays down to the newest winterer. Each knew how useful an Indian woman could be to carry, cook, make fires or set up teepees on the trail; to gather gum and watape for mending canoes, to make snowshoes, moccasins and all leather garments and to supply their only feminine companionship while in the interior.” [17] Reference is made to these historical contributions of the Indians and Métis as evidence against the belief that Indians and Métis are leading a substandard existence because of hereditary factors.

While the work personality of Indians and Métis is in itself a deterrent to successful employment, the belief that this personality is produced through heredity prevents employers from recognizing those persons who could remain in steady employment. It would be more accurate to think of the work personality of the Indians and Métis as a carry-over from their former way of life. Those who have travelled and lived in Indian and Métis communities know that these people are still able to do a good day’s work. It would be difficult to qualify as lazy the men in Brochet who undertake each winter a 200-mile round trip by dogsled in order to fish at the south end of Reindeer Lake. Yet, these same men on their return will remain idle day after day while their houses and school buildings are in urgent need of repair. Few, if any, of the mines operating in Manitoba have been opened without Indian and Métis help. It is they who do the exhausting tasks of clearing the bush and hauling construction materials. Once the mine is opened, only a few have the ability to perform the more routine operations of maintenance and mining.

Authors who have analyzed the work personality of people of Indian ancestry also attribute the failure of Indians and Métis to obtain full employment to their cultural background. Hawthorne, in his recent study of the Indians in British Columbia, compares the work personality of the Indian wage earner to that of the White casual worker. [18] He explains that different occupational and income groups in modern urban societies tend to have sub-cultures which differ widely in economic and social values, work motivations and behaviour patterns. In the case of casual workers, their culture is sharply at variance on many points with the more accepted ways of life of a middle-class and the more steadily employed workers. In addition to these particularities Indians and Métis have retained some patterns of behaviour from their own culture.

Another study [19] of the casual worker concluded that the kind of behaviour which the boss regards as ‘unsocialized’ or ‘ignorant’ or ‘lazy’ or ‘unmotivated’ is really behaviour learned from the socio-economic and cultural environments of these workers. It is, in final analysis, a perfectly normal and sensible response to the conditions under which they live.

If the main reason for a large segment of the people of Indian ancestry not working in full-time jobs is their work personality and if their work personality is a normal expression of the culture they have acquired through living under a certain set of conditions, then one must conclude that a job-placement program for Indians and Métis would not be complete unless an attempt was made to change the conditions that gave birth to that work personality. Culture tends to perpetuate itself from generation to generation regardless of the few individuals who may deviate from it. All who are born in one culture tend to reproduce as adults the same cultural traits as their predecessors. Thus, a child born of hard-working parents in a Métis or Indian community will likely reproduce as an adult, the same kind of work personality as is common in that community rather than the one held by his parents.

Several studies were made in the course of this survey of work histories of Indians and Métis engaged in full-time jobs. Many of those who now have enviable records of several years of permanent employment left their first jobs without giving prior notice to their employers. Others stayed in their first job for a few days only, because they were dismissed for unsatisfactory behaviour. After several such experiences they were able to hold a seasonal or temporary job for its duration. Later, they obtained permanent employment and stayed with it until something more rewarding was available.

It is not very encouraging to think that permanency in employment for Indians and Métis can be gained only at the cost of several years of unreliability on the job. No evidence has been discovered, however, to allow the Social and Economic Office to believe that another path could be followed by a significant number of them.

2) Acquiring Marketable Skills

A second reason for underemployment of the Métis and Indians is their lack of saleable skills. Even when jobs are plentiful, Indians and metes remain unemployed while workers are imported from other areas. Employers tend to seek Indian and Métis help only for the most strenuous jobs which other people will not undertake or for work that requires limited skills such as brush clearing and hauling.

Indians and Métis have developed a number of special skills but those that they have are not in great demand. There is an urgent need to train Indians and Métis in greatly diversified skills so that they have access to a larger portion of the employment market. In the long run, there would be fewer Indians and metes who would rely upon fishing, trapping, and lumbering and those occupations could provide full-time employment.

At the present time, Manitoba is training its labour force either in Vocational Institutes or on the job. As existing training facilities do not produce enough semi-skilled and skilled labour for industrial requirements, the deficit must be met through immigration. There is a shortage of help at every level of the employment field but at the bottom. If some of the surplus unskilled labour could be helped to higher rungs of the employment ladder, there would be enough room for those remaining at the bottom. The maintenance of a surplus of workers at the bottom is extremely costly to the nation in unemployment benefits, welfare assistance, loss in tax collections and in weakening the productive capacity of the country, to say nothing of the social evils created by idleness.

Present training programs are designed for grade nine and ten graduates. Automatically, they exclude from ninety to ninety-five percent of the people studied in this report. A second program of training should be instituted to meet the needs of those with grade eight education or less. This program should be geared to the immediate requirements of employers. A continuing survey would be made of the working force in relation to the labour demand to determine possible shortages. Courses to train sufficient Indian and metes workers to meet local shortages should be instituted in co-operation with the employers, the Department of Labour and the Department of Education. [20] On the one hand, the course should not be restricted to Indians and Métis as there are many other Manitobans who could benefit from similar training. On the other hand, few members of the study population would benefit from such training unless a special effort was made to interest them in it.

3) Increasing Job Opportunities

When a visitor to a Métis or Indian community inquires about the type of work that its citizens perform, he will almost invariably be told, “There isn’t much to do around here. We have to go out when we want to work.” When the head of a household wishes some money to pay grocery bills or purchase liquor, to buy a car or some furniture, he has two alternatives: leave his community in quest of a job or apply for public assistance.

If he resorts to the latter alternative, he is likely to be successful as representatives of the Department of Public Welfare will discover no local source of income for him. This is true of the unemployed not only in isolated areas, but in urban areas as well. For example, the unemployed in Greater Winnipeg may receive public assistance even though there are jobs available for them in northern mines or in other provinces. Yet, it would be easier for them to make employment arrangements with a mining firm than for the Métis of Norway House to secure jobs in Thompson or The Pas, their nearest places of steady employment.

A few Indians and Métis invariably choose to request welfare assistance when in need of money, while others are prepared to go through much personal inconvenience to secure a job. A large number resort to both. However, there are more Indians and Métis who belong to the second group than there are jobs available within easy access of their communities.

Voluntary migration of Indians and Métis to employment areas will in the long run provide a more permanent solution to unemployment than attempts to induce light industries to locate in their communities or attempts to develop new markets for local resources. It is realized that most Indians and Métis living in remote areas are not yet ready to migrate to predominantly White settlements. It is natural that they should be deeply attached to their home environment and no attempt should be made to tear them away from it. However, knowledge about existing opportunities for outside jobs and faith in the long-term prospects of outside employment will help them to decide to establish themselves permanently in non-Indian or non-Métis communities. There are many employment opportunities, especially in connection with mining, construction and road building projects, which Métis and Indians could fill on a temporary basis. Presently, they do not benefit fully from these developments. Their knowledge of employment procedures is limited. They may not learn of employment opportunities in their district unless the employer is short of White labour. Transportation to development sites may be too high for the small savings they have accumulated or for the amount they can borrow from the local traders or from friends and relatives. All these factors contribute to perpetuate unemployment in Métis and Indian communities.

The Department of Citizenship and Immigration, through the regional supervisors of the Indian Affairs Branch already provides an employment service for on-reserve Indians. A Placement Officer supervises the employment of specially qualified Indians while a Rehabilitation Officer employed by the Sanatorium Board of Manitoba looks after former T.B. patients. As a result of their efforts many Indians have been placed in employment who would have otherwise remained idle on the reserves. The Provincial Government should establish a similar service not only for the Métis but for other Manitobans living in underprivileged areas. Perhaps arrangements could be reached with the Indian Affairs Branch to have one agency serve all Manitoba residents who are in need of that type of service.

Cultural and Social Problems

While the lack of work is certainly causing much misery for the Métis, their inability to make full use of the little work there is should also be a cause of concern. It would appear, as I said earlier, that the past experiences of these people and the conditions under which they are now living do not produce a type of person much in demand in our society.

Any program of assistance for these people should strive at achieving through scientific planning a change in their general motivation. This could be achieved by attempting in every way possible to give these people the same kind of life experiences as is available to other Canadians. People are the way they are because of their past. Hence we must insert into the present activities (which will soon become part of the past) the kind of things which teach the attitudes and behaviour we want to see them adopt.

As a means of achieving this, I would suggest that workers be placed in Métis communities with the above-mentioned aim in mind. These workers, I will call them Community Development Officers, would live with the Métis and seek to promote adult learning. Their activities would cover a wide range of influence.

1) Winning the Confidence of Local People:

The first task of a Community Development Officer would be to win the confidence of the people he hopes to serve. Upon reaching a community he would have to obtain essential information about the local situation without arousing suspicion and undue tensions. He would seek to become accepted as a person of goodwill and practical insight. In order to have easy access to the confidence of the people, he would not be expected to perform administrative duties on behalf of other government departments.

2) Helping People Identify Their Needs:

He would spend considerable time visiting people in their homes, asking questions that would cause Indians and Métis to think about themselves and to become concerned enough about their problems to want to do something about them. He would leave people to decide which type of program they wanted to achieve but once that choice was made he would be available for consultation. His knowledge about community organization techniques and about available resources would help the local citizens achieve success with their projects and lead them on to more ambitious programs.

3) Preparing Them for Action:

He would seek to promote a sense of co-operation among the people. He would keep constant watch for occasions to involve as many local people as possible in a common task, for he knows that they must learn how to work as a group before they can solve their own problems.

He would also teach new skills to the people. Instead of meeting needs himself, he would teach the local people how to provide certain services, as he will expect them to help their fellow citizens. He would make provisions for adult education. Training would be related to immediate needs such as “getting a job” or “learning how to read and to write.” Other courses would be given to develop leadership and the ability to function efficiently as a member of a group.

4) Helping Them to Use Local Resources:

Helping the community make use of its resources would be another task for the Community Development Officer. Métis and Indian communities are not likely to disappear even if they are located in depleted areas because the people are reluctant to move. Recurring unemployment makes available to each community several able-bodied men whose talents could be enlisted for improving community services. It was customary during the first decade of the twentieth century for farming communities to contribute man hours rather than taxes towards the building of roads and bridges. A Community Development Officer would help Métis and Indian settlements to recognize this potential for betterment. Other resources which the people could be helped to identify would include government services, techniques for exploiting natural resources, job opportunities, civil rights, sources of information and many other services known to well-informed citizens of urban areas but little known to those who live in isolation.

5) Co-ordinating the Work of Other Government Services:

The function of co-ordination has already been mentioned. In the light of the above discussion, it will be seen that the first responsibility of the Community Development Officer would be to work with the local citizens. As a specialist in Community Development, he should not become involved, nor take sides in local issues. He should not allow himself to perform administrative duties for other government departments. As co-ordinator of government and voluntary agencies he would provide no more than a meeting ground and the skill for promoting intensive study and action. His role would be to ascertain that the local people, the voluntary agencies and the government services participate equally in the process of community betterment, since he would know that it is only in this way that lasting results would occur.

6) Identifying The People’s Readiness for Action:

A Community Development Officer would seek to identify the people’s readiness for improvement. An outsider would have difficulty in performing this task. Yet, it is essential to be able to predict the reaction of a group to a new service before introducing it. People who try to help Indians and Métis frequently waste their efforts in promoting programs for which there is no immediate need nor desire while the wishes of the people are neglected. Research has revealed that Indians and Métis have many unmet needs with which they would welcome assistance. Yet, the majority of those who work with them state that their programs are not successful because the Indians and Métis lack ambition or will not co-operate with them.

7) Helping Predominantly White Communities:

Several predominantly White communities have difficulty in accepting Indian and Métis people. A Community Development Officer would visit key citizens and voluntary organizations in those communities to help them understand people of Indian ancestry. Integration can be seriously retarded when White communities refuse to let Indian and Métis families purchase or rent homes or otherwise restrict them in the exercise of their civil rights.


I have, in the time allotted to me, tried to give you a summary of the work we have done in Manitoba towards finding a solution for the problems of people of Indian descent. I am afraid I may have appeared to wander from history to anthropology, and from sociology to economics. In justification, I should say that the problems of a group such as the Métis cannot be explained, and certainly not solved, through the means of only one science. I know that before it is solved, we will need the help of all the scientific disciplines. It is only in coordinating the best from each field into an effective whole that we will eventually achieve our goal.

Métis Population in Manitoba by Community

Amaranth 157

Amery 9

Anama Bay 47

Arden 4

Arnot 6

Ashern 30

Athapap 14

Atik 1

Atikameg Lake 3

Bacon Ridge 90

Baden 130

Badger 10

Balsam Bay 112

Barrier 27

Barrows 40

Basswood 5

Beaconia 56

Belair 28

Bellsite 49

Benito 15

Berens River 131

Bethany 15

Big Eddy 125

Big Black River 32

Binscarth 170

Birch River 110

Bird 11

Birdtail 15

Birtle 20

Bissett 82

Bloodvein 5

Boissevain 20

Bowsman 10

Brandon 90

Brochet 99

Buchan 58

Bylot 10

Camperville 655

Carberry 20

Carman 162

Carrot River Valley 7

Catfish Point 6

Cayer and area 150

Cedar Lake 87

Churchill 310

Clearwater Lake 57

Clements Point 10

Cordova 5

Cormorant 163

Cowan 61

Craig Siding 72

Cranberry Portage 197

Crane River 259

Cromarty 10

Cross Lake 101

Curtis 10

Cypress River 3

Dauphin 125

Deloraine 54

Derby Lake 8

Dryborough 3

Duck Bay 518

Dunlop 6

Dunrea 3

East Braintree 20

Ebb and Flow 77

Elk Island 18

Elm Creek 15

Elphinstone 84

Erickson 29

Eriksdale 119

Fairford 50

Fay Lake 3

Fisher Bay 45

Fisher Branch 25

Fisher Indian Reserve 40

Flin Flon 125

Foxwarren 22

Garraway 1

Gillam 52

Gladstone 56

Glenboro 20

Glenella 8

Gods Lake 23

Grand Marais 230

Grand Rapids 236

Great Falls 189

Greater Winnipeg 3,500

Gypsumville 132

Hadashville 15

Halcrow 7

Haywood 45

Heaman 4

Helston 4

Heming Lake 4

Herb Lake 14

Herchmer 11

High Bluff 25

Hodgson and area 244

Hollow Water 48

Hone 3

Ilford 22

Inglis 10

Island Lake 3

Jetait 1

Kinosota and area 250

Koostatak 8

La Perouse 24

Lac du Bonnet 25

Langruth 85

Lawledge 4

Layland 73

Libau 12

Lido Plage 14

Little Grand Rapids 30

Loon Strait 79

Luke 2

Lundar and area 220

Lyddal 2

Lynn Lake 164

MacGregor 48

Mafeking 75

Mallard, S.D 59

Manigotagan 173

Marchand 80

Mariapolis 20

Matheson Island 175

McAuley 6

McClintock 1

McVeigh 3

Meadow Portage 100

Minitonas 15

Minnedosa 73

Molson 6

Moose Lake 282

National Mills 20

Neelin 20

Neepawa 12

Nelson House 37

Ninette 7

Norway House 428

Oak Lake 15

Oak Point 77

Oakbank 5

Oakville 25

Ochre River 40

Odhill 2

Onanole 12

Overflowing River 8

Overton 34

Oxford House 5

Patterson 11

Pelican Rapids 200

Pickerel Narrows 10

Pigeon Lake 29

Pikwitonei 106

Pilot Mound 8

Pine Dock 100

Pine Falls 300

Pine River 20

Plumas 6

Ponton 8

Poplar River 25

Portage la Prairie 616

Pukatawagan 1

Rabbit Point 4

Rafter 9

Rahls Island 10

Rapid City 35

Rathwell 8

Reaburn 40

Red Deer Lake 59

Red Sucker Lake 2

Rennie 17

Renwer 13

Reynolds 15

Richer 422

Rivers 40

Riverton 50

Roblin 55

Root Lake 1

Rorketon 31

Rossburn 10

Ruddock 4

Russell 91

Salt Point 62

San Clara and area 950

Sandilands 30

Scandinavia 14

Scanterbury 25

Schist Lake 3

Sclater 7

Selkirk and area 1,500

Seven Sisters Falls 23

Shamattawa 10

Sherlett Island 4

Sherridon 132

Shortdale 15

Silcox 6

Skownan 23

Snow Lake 64

Solsgirth 13

South Indian Lake 101

South Junction 17

Split Lake 3

St Adolph 100

St Ambroise 363

St Anne 135

St Claude 75

St Eustache 434

St Labre 15

St Laurent 949

St Lazare 220

St Mark 40

St. Martin 15

St. Rose 211

Starbuck 20

Stitt 5

Stonewall 60

Stoney Point 56

Strathclair 10

Suffren 32

Swan Lake 21

Swan River 100

The Pas 612

Thicket Portage 167

Timberton 20

Traverse Bay 48

Turnberry 1

Tyndall 10

Umpherville 35

Vassar 100

Vestfold 67

Victoria Beach 55

Virden 7

Vista 10

Vogar 152

Wabowden 209

Wanless 92

Warren Landing 22

Washaw Bay 20

Wekusko Falls 8

Wekusko 13

West Hawk Lake 15

Westbourne 26

Westgate 25

Westray 1

Whitemouth 5

Winnipegosis 140

Wivenhoe 5

Woodridge 115

Young’s Point 42

TOTAL 23,579


1. Giraud, M., Le Métis Canadien, p. 313, Institut d’Ethnologie, (Paris, 1945).

2. Isham, J., Observations on Hudson Bay, 1743 as quoted by M. Giraud in Le Métis Canadien, p. 432, (Paris, 1945).

3. Begg, Alexander, History of the Northwest, Vol. I, p. 67-8. Hunter, Rose and Company, (Toronto, 1894).

4. Item 42, Standing Rules and Regulations, 1835.

5. Canada, Sessional Papers, V. (20) 1891, p. 91.

6. Ross, Alexander, The Red River Settlement, p. 413, Ross and Haines, Inc., (Minneapolis, Minn. 1957).

7. Ibid. p. 409.

8. Ibid. p. 409.

9. Stanley, G. F. G., The Birth of Western Canada, A History of the Riel Rebellion, p. 10, (London, 1936).

10. Begg, Alexander, History of the Northwest, Vol. 1, p. 263. Hunter, Rose and Company, (Toronto, 1894).

11. Bryce, Prof. George, A History of Manitoba, p. 166. The Canada History Company, (Toronto, 1906).

12. Morris Alexander, The Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, pp. 293,295, Willing and Williamson, (Toronto, 1880).

13. Morton, W. L. Manitoba, A History, p. 150, University of Toronto Press, (Toronto, 1957).

14. The rate of natural increase for Canada as a whole in 1954 was 20 persons per thousand, that of the Indian population for that year was 41.5. As increase rates are not available for the Métis, the figures of 20 per thousand used here is merely hypothetical.

15. This figure was obtained with the help of the formula for population increase: PN = P(1 + i)n or Population after 88 years: Population of 1870 (1 + rate of natural increase) to the 88th power or P88 = P (1 + .02)88 = 56,152.

16. Morton, W. L., Manitoba, A History, 519 pages. University of Toronto Press, (Toronto, 1957).

17. Campbell, Marjorie W., The Northwest Company, p. 156, St. Martin’s press, (N.Y., 1957).

18. Hawthorne, H. B. Belshaw, C. S. and Jamieson, S. M., The Indians of British Columbia, 499 pages, University of Toronto Press, (Toronto, 1958).

19. Davis, Allison, The Motivation of the Underprivileged Worker, p. 84-106, Industry and Commerce, edited by White, W. F., McGraw Hill Book Co. Inc., (New York, 194-).

20. Such courses were offered with success in British Columbia.

Page revised: 1 October 2012