The Métis: A Blending of Two Cultures
As a result of the fur trade, a new ethnic group was born in the Red River Valley. Marriages between European men engaged in the fur trade and Native women were very common. Their children and descendants became known as the Métis. The word Métis means “mixed” in French.
Métis people considered themselves to be neither Indian nor European. They formed their own vibrant society, a blend of two cultures. Métis spoke their own language, a combination of tongues – particularly French and Cree. They adopted Catholicism as their religion, dressed in a combination of Native and European clothing, and based their economy on the fur trade, particularly their two yearly bison hunts.
In the early fur trade, Métis men often served as canoe men (voyageurs), guides, and interpreters, their dual heritage serving as a link between Native and European participants in the fur trade. Native and Métis women tanned perishable hides, and made pemmican, a most valuable food.
In 1821, approximately 500 Métis were living in or near Pembina. The Métis population climbed to 2600 by 1843, and in 1870 it exceeded 12,000.
Red River Carts
Red River carts were well-known symbols of Métis culture. These highly functional carts were introduced to the area in the early 1800s. Pulled by horses or oxen, they could haul up to 1000 pounds. When fitted with canvas-covered bows, they served as tents, and with the wheels removed the carts could be floated across a river.
Because they were made completely of wood and rawhide, repairs did not require a blacksmith. The wooden wheels produced a piercing squeak, but couldn’t be oiled because trail dust and mud would adhere to the wheels.
805 State Highway 59,
Pembina, ND 58271
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