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Historical Sketch of the Quebec Métis.

The history of the Quebec Métis has evolved considerably since its earliest times. But who were the first inhabitants of Quebec? Do you know? The following facts may lead you in a direction very different from what you learned at public school, even during your more advanced studies.

Our earliest arrivals, some 18,000 years ago, populated the Americas. They were more than eighty million (Mann 2005, Karahasan 2008: 180), when the first Europeans gradually arrived in small groups more than 500 years ago. Before the arrival of the white man, there was a solid network of commercial exchanges between the savage tribes, exchanges which took place during the season of navigation, at the mouth of rivers flowing into the St. Lawrence (Perrault 1981:103).

It should be mentioned that the strategies of occupation, organized by the dominant powers (Europeans), disorganized the social dynamics of the indigenous culture, in place for thousands of year. As an example, the European version of law ordered that a simple “Act of possession” by a white man could invalidate the occupation of an entire nation since time immemorial. (Perrault 1981: 103).

The missionaries, who often preceded the traders and soldiers posted in the back-country, contributed more than any to opening the territory to colonization (Perrault, 1982: 87). However, their presence also brought numerous contagious diseases, unknown diseases of the prehistoric Amerindians. During 16th and 17th century, nine-tenth of the aboriginal population would disappear in contracting small pox, measles, influenza. The survivors of these epidemics, with the Europeans, created a new race we now call the “Métis”; a new race, stronger, that endured during centuries of shame, subjugation, domination, marginalisation, assimilation, misery. The definition in the “Dictionnaire universal de Trevoux” (Paris, 1743) describes them as “Métis: a people from fathers and mothers of different qualities, country, of colour or religion” (Karahasan 2008-4). Only since the last few decades have the Métis broken the silence by affirming their identity within our modern society.

It is often quoted, in the various texts that speak about the Indian and his history, that the Métis were a hospitable people. But their hospitality played a nasty trick on them. They could not suspect that in return for their hospitality, they would receive only brutal bullying and dispossession (Saint-Onge 1977: 3).

Popular history would like us to believe that the Métis people is a contemporary product of the Canadian west. In reality, the interbreeding was a Franco-Québec phenomenon of the 16th century and not a creation of Anglo-Canadians during the 18th century (Karahasan 2008 : 2). However, Métis Fleurimont, son of a Sioux mother, has been identified as being the first Métis in 1735 on the Canadian prairies (Karahasan 2008: 166).


It was France that advanced a policy of supporting mixed marriages through the presence of Samuel de Champlain, who sanctioned an official policy of assimilation, frenchication and evangelization with an aim of increasing the settlement of the colony. Samuel de Champlain proclaimed in 1633, in the name of King Louis XIII: “Our boys will marry with your daughters, and we will make one Nation” (Karahasan 2008: 2). Lionel Groulx explains, in “La naissance d’un race”, published in 1919, that the “Present of the King” would be of 150 pounds to the young redskin girls who would marry Frenchmen. (Karahasan 2008 : 118). The king promised, in the distribution of the dowries to the young grooms, that the native girls would have precedence over the French women in order to assure the mixing of the two races (Karahasan 2008: 118). The anticipated métissage took a direction contrary to what la Coutume de Paris, (the legal methods and laws of France,) originally had in mind. “The children will naturally take to the mother’s group, thus the French becoming savages. (Perrault, 1981: 105).

Even Marie de l’Incarnation had already noted: “A Frenchman becomes a savage rather than a savage turns into a Frenchman” (Perrault, 1981: 106). Obviously, the “country style marriages”, contracted openly between parties, endured the hazards of time (Perrault, 1981: 273).

On the French side, a certain Gaumin left his name to a very peculiar marital practice, which gained in popularity with the colonists what it lost in value in the eyes of the religious authorities. In 1717, this form of marriage was so popular that Mgr. de St-Vallier issued an edict condemning it and threatened all the accomplices with excommunication, a right reserved to the Bishop (Perrault 1981: 274).

Les Coureurs des Bois.

During “the years of panic” (Trudel 1971: 323), the coureurs des bois were created, resulting that in 1665, only one inhabitant on twenty-five was identified as farmers (Perrault 1982: 87). The other French colonists would rather become coureurs des bois to hunt and trap in order to sell their furs. What do you think then, of the legend that says that the first generation of settlers had been able to preserve the purity of their French blood? Even today, this same folklore continues to circulate in the highest learned circles (Groulx, 1919: 22-23).

In reality, many of these coureurs des bois had selected native women at every stop on their trips, resulting in even more undocumented Métis. (PAC* 1685 : 111). French Canadians, whose fathers had a particular taste for Indian girls, were not open to discuss the issue (Trudel, 1960: 290). On the other hand, Amerindian girls were never preoccupied with illegitimate births (Perrault 1982: 86), while Frenchmen preferred the option of cohabitation (Karahasan 2008: 181).

The Métis.

Around the year 1700, more than half of the colonists devoted at least a year to the fur trade (Mathieu 1977: 159). Jacques Rousseau established, for his part, that more than 40% of the French-speaking people of America counted at least an indigenous ancestor in their genealogy (Smith 1979: 116). In 1627, there were barely a hundred persons of French origin, including only five women (Perrault 1980: 111). Moreover, between 1608 and 1699, only 1,772 women (excluding nuns) immigrated to Canada, against 12,621 men (Charbonneau 1987: 8).

In 1627, Cardinal Richelieu created the “Company of the Hundred Associates,” whose mission was the settlement of the country, to allocate cleared land to the settlers and the maintenance of the ecclesiastics. In the original edict of 1628, written in old French, it is noted: “We had to be sure that the French would penetrate well into Indian lands, and that their piety would promote the conversion of these people enshrouded in infidelity and barbarism.”

Unfortunately, over the centuries, these policies were not interpreted in the same manner. “The strategy of indifference, a deliberate misinterpretation of reality, characterizes so well our relations with the savages”. (Perrault 1981: 273). The Churches and all forms of Western penetration turned part of the native population into minors, dependents, pagan “evangelists”, social welfare recipients, folklore objects, political tools. (Gendron & Tremblay 1982: 133). The social and racial barriers, created by the colonizers, were explained by the fact the colonized needed supervision, control, sanction (Saint-Onge 1977 : 6).

Did this French policy disappear with the arrival of the English regime? No! Assimilation became the ill-reputed residential schools, frenchication became a pan-Canadian bilingual policy and the evangelization became multi-sects.

Towards the end of the 1960’s, the attitudes of Quebecers towards the Métis changed. The refuted racist theories, for example, no longer prohibited the mention of métissage. “Savage” was transformed into “Amerindian” (Smith 1979: 117-118).

For the last few years, the natives, dispersed throughout the country, are slowly gathering into regional Métis communities. The censuses of 1996 indicates 340 Métis while in 2001, there were 360; an increase of 6% in Métis identity within a radius of 50 km around Métis-sur-Mer. However, in the 2006 census, we find an increase of 275 percent with 1005 Métis within the same area. While the native population in the Province of Quebec was 71,415 in 1996, by 2006, there were 108,425 Amerindians. Do these observations indicate a movement of identity and cultural reaffirmation oriented towards self-determination and reintegration of the rights of the Métis people?

Our genes don’t lie:
to be Métis, is a way of being,
of living and thinking which must rest
on Métis values and traditions.
Unknown author.

I sincerely thank Charles Martijn, Isabelle Perrault, Saliha Belmessous of the Department of History of the University of Sydney, in Australia, Devrin Karahasan of the European University Institute, Florence; Statistics Canada; Chief Ginette Racette of the Bédékwé Community, and all those who have helped me research and write this article.

Gilbert R. Bossé


Métissage in New France : Frenchifications, Mixed Marriages and Métis shaped by Social and Political Agents and Institutions (1508 - 1886). par Devrim Karahasan, 2008.

Assimilation and Racialism in Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century French Colonial Policy. American Historical Review 110: 2 (April 2005) 322-349, par Saliha Belmessous.

Être français en Nouvelle-France: Identité française et identité coloniale aux dix-septième et dix-huitième siècles. French Historical Studies 27: 3 (Summer 2004), 507-40, par Saliha Belmessous.

Métissage en Nouvelle-France. (1980), thèse par Isabelle Perrault.

L’Indien est – il un colonisé? RAQ* Vol 6, nos. 3 – 4, p 5 par Anne Saint-Onge.

L'Historiographie de la dissolution. RAQ vol X : no. 4, 1981 p 273 - 275 par Isabelle Perrault

On débarque en Nouvelle-France. RAQ vol XI : no. 2, 1981. p 103 – 107 par Isabelle Perrault

Traite et métissage: un aspect du peuplement de la Nouvelle-France. RAQ vol. XII : no. 2, 1982. p 86 – 94 par Isabelle Perrault.

Basin, Jean et Alban Bensa; avant-propos dans Jack Goody : La raison graphique, la domestication de la pensée sauvage. Paris, Editions de Minuit, 1979, p. 26.

• PAC – Public Archives of Canada.
• RAC - Recherches amérindiennes du Québec.