Cultural Items

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The Métis Sash

The Métis sash is a colorful finger woven belt that is usually 3 meters long. It is sometimes referred to as L ’Assumption sash or Ceinture Fléchée (arrow sash).

The sash was used by the Voyageurs of the fur trade and was quickly adopted by their Métis sons. They used the sash as a belt to hold coats closed and it also served as tow rope, tumpline, towel, and even a sewing kit.

The Métis sash became the most recognizable part of Métis dress and a symbol of the Métis people. Today the sash continues to be an integral part of Métis culture and heritage.

 

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Red River Métis Cart

According to the journal of North West Company fur-trader Alexander Henry (the younger), the carts made their first appearance in 1801 at Fort Pembina, just south of what is now the United States border. Originally, the carts were small horse-drawn affairs, with three-foot solid wheels cut from large trees, carrying up to 450 pounds. Later, larger wheels with four spokes were used and gradually the red river carts with their huge, spoke wheels evolved, carrying nearly twice as much. Some had “tires” made of shaganappi (green rawhide).

In 1878 Harper’s Magazine carried a description of the red river cart, written by reporters who visited the territory:

It is simply a light box with a pair of shafts, mounted on an axle connecting two enormous wheels. There is no concession made to the aversion of the human frame to sudden violent changes of level; there is no weakness of luxury about this vehicle. The wheels are broad in the felloes (rims), so as not to cut through the prairie sod. They are long in the spokes, so as to pass safely through fords and mud-holes. They are very much dished so that they can be strapped together and rawhide stretched over them to make a boat. The whole cart is made of wood; there is not a bit of metal about it, so that, if anything breaks, the material to repair it is easily found. The axles are never greased and they furnish an incessant answer to the old conundrum: “What makes more noise than a pig in a poke?”

Each wheel was said to have its own peculiar shriek, announcing the coming of a train from a great distance. (Grease or oil would have only mixed with the dust, wearing down the axles.) As it was, a cart often used four or five axles on the trip to St. Paul from the Red River settlement. Harness was made from a buffalo hide, often in one piece. Carts moved single file, except when in danger from Indians, when they traveled several abreast. Each driver controlled five or six carts strung out behind him, each ox tied to the cart ahead.

 

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Red River Jig

The Red River jig is the most popular Métis dance. It is a very structured competition dance between two partners. The dance involved hardly any movement of the body above the knees, and all the work was done with the feet. Furniture used to be moved aside and cleared out in order to make room for jigging contests at gatherings. Other popular dances include the Duck Dance, The Reel of Four, and Drops of Brandy, but none was more favored than the Red River Jig.

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Métis Fiddle

Métis fiddling style was developed in Western Canada and incorporated many Native rhythms, but was heavily influenced by music brought from the European fur traders. The Métis fiddle is played with a bounce in the sound, which is not common to hear in any other style of music. This type of playing makes the music not as choppy and regimented, making it very easy to dance to.