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Metis (Canada)

Last modified: 2006-07-01 by phil nelson
Keywords: canada | first nations | metis | metis rebellion | metis republic | infinity symbol | mathematics | buffalo | shamrock | fleur-de-lis | metis: battle standard | metis: red road flag |
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[Canada - Metis] image by Jan Oscar Engene, 13 December 1996

[Canada - Metis] image by Jan Oscar Engene, 13 December 1996

[Canada - Metis] image by Kjell Roll Elgsaas 10 December 1997

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Description of the Métis flag:

The flag was first used by Métis resistance fighters prior to the Battle of Seven Oaks in 1816. It is the oldest Canadian patriotic flag indigenous to Canada. The Union Jack and the Royal Standard of New France bearing the fleur-de-lis are older, but these flags were first flown in Europe. As a symbol of nationhood, the Métis flag predates Canada's Maple Leaf flag by about 150 years! The flag bears a horizontal figure eight, or infinity symbol. The infinity symbol represents the coming together of two distinct and vibrant cultures, those of European and indigenous North America, to produce a distinctly new culture, the Métis. The flag symbolizes the creation of a new society with roots in both Aboriginal and European cultures and traditions. The sky blue background of the flag emphasizes the infinity symbol and suggests that the Métis people will exist forever.
Maqtewekpaqtism, 31 May 2001


Metis Uprisings

Louis Riel flag
[Canada - Metis] image by Jared Wehrle

The Metis (people of mixed native Indian and European ancestry) staged two armed uprisings in the Canadian West (1869 and 1885), under the leadership of Louis Riel, in attempts to protect their historic rights against the encroachments of eastern Canadian settlers.

The flag of the Republic of Manitoba, the "Metis Republic", flown over Fort Gary in 1869 showed a "fleur-de-lis and shamrock against a white background, with a small buffalo on the fly". (Frank Rastey, The Taming of the Canadian West, McClelland and Stewart Ltd, Toronto, 1867, p. 205).

The front page of the Canadian Illustrated News, Montreal, Saturday, April 23, 1870, carried a colour illustration of the execution of Thomas Scott by the Metis Provisional Government. It shows a banner flying over Fort Gary: a white flag with a burgundy or maroon coloured cross pattee (Templar cross) in the canton.

Louis Riel was invited to lead what became known as the Northwest Rebellion. On March 18, 1885 a flag was hoisted in Batoche, a small village in present-day northern Saskatchewan. This consisted of a "coloured print of the Holy Virgin sewn on a white banner". (Frank Rastey, The Taming of the Canadian West, McClelland and Stewart Ltd, Toronto, 1867, p. 215).

Louis Riel was executed by public hanging in Regina, November 16, 1885. A contemporary black and white sketch of this event (in the Public Archives of Canada) shows a flag with the configuration of the British White Ensign, a flag usually associated with the Royal Navy, about three thousand miles from the nearest ocean.
Peter Cawley - 30 May 1995

One of the groups of French-speaking peoples in western Canada is the Metis - descendants of French explorers, fur-traders, and settlers and native North American peoples in the northwest. Their language of operation was French - there was a major uprising among them (the Louis Riel rebellion) as English-speaking settlers began to penetrate the area in the 19th century.
Rob Raeside

The Metis nation was born when French Canadian coureurs des bois (almost exclusively men) settled in the Prairies with Indian women. Being coureurs des bois was already a step towards the Native cultures. These French descendants escaped the white society, living under no King, no Seigneur, living only off the woods and its products they could sell or trade for clothes, guns, salt, etc. They lived as free men and could not tolerate anything else than the freedom the woods gave them or the more community sharing lifestyle that the Indians offered them (for those who settled within Indian communities).

The Metis nation lived more as a Native nation than as a European nation. They lived off fur trade, Buffalo hunting, etc. Though they adopted the French language (which actually became a creole named mistchiff = metis) and most of them stayed catholic, the degree of Native culture that withstood doesn't even compare with Natives who integrated white communities, actually one could fairly say that Native culture is inexistent in the latter case. And I could bet that some Native nations are a lot more Europeanized than the Metis.

So sure, the Metis have more European blood than other Native nations (and even this is open to discussion), but the fact remains that this nation was born in the Prairies and thus, they are a Native nation of the Prairies, not an immigrated nation who later considered itself as different from its mother nation. I quote Louis Riel (from memory and translated) :

What matter is it what part of our blood is European or Indian ? We are the Metis. Our people was born in the Prairies.
Luc-Vartan Baronian - 19 December 1997

For the record, the chart shows the flag as red (and describes the Metis thus: "Canada, Euro-Indians, actively seeking independence or greater autonomy"). Is this true, Luc? How are the Metis doing this?

I think the phrase "actively seeking independence" is an exaggeration.

That hope died at Batoche, Sask., 1885-05-12. However, one of the stated goals of the Metis Nations of Alberta is "To stand as the political representative of all Metis in Alberta and to promote self-determination and self government for Metis in Alberta and Canada."
What they mean by self-determination and self-government is left undefined, but I don't think they seek full sovereignty and a seat at the U.N. A reasonable interpretation is that they're looking for more the establishment of more official Métis settlements in places where there is already a significant Métis population, enlarging the existing settlements, and giving those settlements more autonomy.

How much autonomy? I don't know, and I'm worried about expressing too much of my political opinions in this apolitical forum. I think there is wide range of opinion, even among the Métis themselves, of how much autonomy would be enough. Powers comparable to those of a city--policing, zoning, control of development, property taxes--along with rights to royalties from natural resources, and social services are the ones most commonly discussed.

By the way, at the page referred to above there's an image of the red Métis flag and another Métis symbol: a Red River cart. The cart was invented by the Métis, and if I remember correctly, was held together without any metal: only buffalo leather. Greasing the axle would have been futile in the thick prairie dust, so they were left dry. Apparently, the screeching could be heard for miles.

Another flag-related comment: I happened to drive by the headquarters of a Métis organization a few weeks ago, and the red Métis flag was being flown on the same pole above the National Flag. A disturbing breach of etiquette.
Dean Tiegs - 20 December 1997

The Infnity Symbol

Here is info on the Metis flags, the ones with a white infinity symbol on a red or blue background. This was taken from Calvin Racette, Flags of the Métis, Regina : Gabriel Dumont Institute of Applied Native Studies, 1987. (Thank Jan for the reference).

The Metis give this symbolism to their flag, though it is not clear how ancient is this interpretation : the infinity symbol has two meanings, the joining of two cultures and the existence of a people forever. The infinity symbol has also emerged in the traditional dances of the Metis ; the quadrille, in which the dancers move in a figure eight pattern, is a perfect example. Historically, the red of the first Metis flag was associated with the main colour of the Hudson's Bay Company. However, later conflicts with this company led the Metis to favour trades with the North West Company who rather used blue as a main colour. (Here I am a bit confused, since both NWC and HBC flags in the book are red)
Luc-Vartan Baronian - 19 December 1997

Colour Debate

Blue ? ...

An article in a Canadian newspaper (L'Actualite') described the Metis flag as an infinity emblem on a pale blue field.
Ivan Sache - 05 December 1996

Ivan's close - I've seen it on the news, and the blue is much, much darker. NEVER seen it a "pale" blue, more like the blue of Scotland's/UK flag.
David Kendall - 05 December 1996

The dark blue flag is the only one I've seen in either an official or unofficial role. Does your source say what context the red flag was used for? I'm curious.
David Kendall - 13 December 1996

I have NEVER seen a red version of it, but rather a dark blue is quite prevalent amoung the Metis community here.
David Kendall - 18 March 1997

The official site of the Metis nation in Canada describes the nation flag as follows:

Recognized merely as a horizontal figure 8 by many settlers, the Metis flag was carried by the French 'half-breeds' with pride. The figure in the centre of a blue field represents the joining of two cultures and as an infinity symbol, represents the immortality of a nation. As the Metis were strongly associated with the North West Company (NWC), a fur trading entity in competition with the Hudson Bay Company, they often fought for NWC causes. As part of a gift giving ceremony in 1814, NWC partner Alexander MacDonnell presented the Metis with this flag, which would soon become a trademark for the nation. Today, the Metis flag is still used and carried as a symbol of continuity and pride.
Dov Gutterman - 07 January 1999

... or Red ?

We are interested in non-state and/or ethnical flags. Reading the question about Metis flag I remember a Kevin Harrington's information on his "Flagscan", reproduced in the first poster of the Flag Society of Australia: Flags of non-Independent Peoples. There the Métis flag show a white infinity emblem on a red field.
Sebastia Herreros - 05 December 1996

In "Flagscan", Fall-1987, newsletter of the CFA, there is an information about the book "Flags of the Metis" by Calvin Racette, published by Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research, 121 Broadway Avenue E. Regina, Saskatchewan S4N 0Z6. Kevin Harrington explains that the publication, 11" by 8 1/2" in format, has 36 pages. It contains 20 flags in colour. It is available from the Institute at $8.95.
Sebastia Herreros - 11 December 1996

I think I have read somewhere that the red flag is the one now used, but I can't remember where. Obviously I am wrong anyway.

Racette says that the red flag was a gift from an agent of the North West Company. The company wanted the Metis to harass settlers arriving from the East, and gave pistols, swords and uniforms too. This was in 1814. As for the introduction of the blue flag, Racette is unclear. I have read the relevant paragraphs over and over again, but can't find out when it was introduced. Since it is treated in the same chapter as the red flag, I guess it was probably introduced at about the same time.
Jan Oscar Engene - 13 December1996

or both

The booklet by Racette contains two flags with the infinity symbol, one blue, the other red (emblem in white in both). As far as I could understand, both came into use about 1812. I think it is the red flag that is used today, David would no doubt know more about that.
Jan Oscar Engene - 13 December 1996

On the NAVA site, it is written that the Metis flag is red for the Manitoba and NWT Metis and blue for the Saskatchewan Metis.

However, three times (one of them was 5 minutes ago, on SRC (French CBC) in a 30 minutes Manitoba special) I have seen the blue flag in Manitoba.

Then, would the red one be for the Saskatchewan Metis ?
Luc-Vartan Baronian - 16 March 1997

There is a very long debate on the FOTW website about the Métis flags, because there is a blue one and a red one. The answer to the debate is very simple...

Blue Métis Flag: - Blue was the color of the North West Company. Métis working for the North West Company. used the blue flag.

Red Métis Flag: - Red was the color of the Hudson Bay Company. Métis working for the Hudson Bay Company used the red flag.

These were two rival companies. Think of it like two rival nations, like England and France in history, which English soldiers wore red uniforms, and French soldiers wore blue uniforms. It distinguishes the two rivals apart from each other.

Both colors are correct!

However, today, Métis do not work for North West Company. or North West Company.Hudson Bay Company, and the flag colors do not follow this rule anymore. Today, it is really a matter of choice for which one they want to use. I have found that the blue flag is used more however.
Maqtewekpaqtism, 31 May 2001

I am Metis from Winnipeg MB. A long standing member of the MMF. My late brother Gordon Ranville, a noted historian of Metis history had often talked of the significance of the two colors for the infinity symbol background. The blue background he told me was always the most significant and well known/used flag of the Metis, however the true purpose of the red background was flown only during the hunt. The great hunts of the Metis of the prairies, that ended in Manitoba in the Swan River Valley in 1896. The last known buffalo hunt where these types of parties or groups of armed men with provisions, a priest, ammunition, could often and would often be confused as a war party, thus the red infinity flag, signifying to enemies (and there were many) the group was not at war, but on the hunt.

He also made reference that the long period of time that passed since 1896 and the modern rebirth of the Metis Nation in the late 60's may have lead to confusion or simply never were told why the red flag ever surfaced in the first place within the modern Metis of today. For that reason we often see the red flag flown at different ceremonies, and now even during funerals to drape coffins in place of the blue which have already often been used here in Manitoba. As for me, I hope that my brothers research can be found and followed up on as to the source(s) of the info he left me. He spent years in Ottawa and Winnipeg. archives researching the Land Claim and basically all aspects of the history of the Metis Nation. Thank you and I hope this info is of some help and if so, please let me know in loving Memory of my wonderful brother and friend GORDON NELSON RANVILLE, Metis Historian.
Donna C, 23 November 2003

Other Metis flags

Racette mentions nine flags from the 1869-70 period. These flags are also illustrated, but they are all based on descriptions only. They are:

  • White field, yellow fleur-de-lis (hoist), green shamrock (hoist).
  • White field, yellow fleur-de-lis outlined in black.
  • White field, yellow fleur-de-lis (hoist), green shamrock and brown buffalo (hoist) .
  • White field, three yellow fleur-de-lis along the top, green shamrock in bottom centre.
  • White field, green shamrock top hoist, yellow fleur-de-lis top fly, brown buffalo bottom centre.
  • White field, brown buffalo top hoist, large fleur-de-lis in fly.
  • White field bordered in yellow, blue fleur-de-lis in centre with green harp in fly and green shamrock in fly.
  • White field bordered in yellow, large red cross in centre with smaller yellow crosses on both sides.
  • White field, in the centre a brown buffalo with a circle of yellow fleurs-de-lis (sp?) and green shamrocks around it.

There are also pictures of Metis flags from 1885, these have mostly religious motives.
Jan Oscar Engene - 13 December 1996

Battle Standard

There is also a flag called "Battle Standard" of the Metis.

During the Battle of Batoche, the Metis women and children were forced to hide in caves along the Saskatchewan River. While hiding, these woman crafted a flag to encourage their men not to give up. This flag is known as Surtoute Liberte'. The flag has a blue background with a wolf's head and a hand (palm outward) in the middle, with the following words in Michif in a banner "Out Homes, the Altar, Above All Liberty". This flag is the Battle Standard of the Metis Nation.

See: <>.
Valentin Poposki, 9 April 2006

Red Road flag

Among many Metis flag, I noticed a green flag with red infinity sign on it.

"The red infinity or figure-eight symbol on this flag symbolises the Red Road, the Traditionalist way, as followed by North American Métis people. The green background symbolises the great forests and grass lands and our love for them, as well as our desire for the restoration of the life-sustaining eco-systems of the North American continent and a halt to the destruction and scorched earth policies called "progress" and "development"."

See: <>
Valentin Poposki, 7 April 2006