Friday, October 4, 2013

The Metis Flag

The Métis flag consists of an infinity symbol (which looks like the number 8 tipped over on its side) on either a blue or red background. The blue background is believed to have originally represented those Métis who worked for the North West Company, while the flag with the red background represented the Métis who worked for the Hudson's Bay Company.

Metis flag with blue background

To some, the infinity symbol represents either the faith that the Métis culture will live on forever. To others it represents the blending of the two cultures from which the Métis came. The flag made its first appearance in Canada when Alexander MacDonnell, of the North West Company, gave it to the Métis as a gift. They quickly adopted the flag, and it was soon used by Métis resistance fighters before the Battle of the Seven Oaks in 1816.

Metis flag with red background

The Métis flag can still be seen in some areas of Canada. If you see one on your journeys, I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Ten Uses of The Metis Sash

An integral part of Métis life on the Red River trails was the Métis sash. It was originally called a L'Assumption sash, named for the town in Quebec in which it was created. It is made of wool and typically 3 meters long - which is close to 10 feet - and as you can see in the picture below, quite beautiful.

Métis sash

It looks simple, like a long scarf, yet it had many uses. Here are ten of them.

1 - Belt. It was often worn around the waist to hold a Métis coat - known as a capote - closed. A capote, by the way, was usually made from a Hudson Bay blanket.

A capote coat. Do you see the sash in the middle?

2 - Oven mitt. Of course, there weren't necessarily ovens on the ox cart trails, but if they needed to pull a hot pan or pot of coffee off of the fire, they could use their sash like we use an oven mitt today.

3 - Sewing repair. See the threads dangling on the end of the sash in the picture below? They were more than mere decoration. If a thread was needed for mending something, one of them could be pulled off and used for stitching.

4 - Key, knife, fire-kit holder. Those threads could also be used to attach items like keys. When wrapped around the waist, it often also held a knife on one side and a bag with fire-starting equipment on the other side.

5 - Buffalo marker. While on a buffalo hunt, the Métis sash could be used to mark a buffalo. Each sash had its unique qualities, and a Métis hunter could identify his from other sashes. If he killed a buffalo, he could place his sash on it, so that other hunters would know it was his.

6 - A tumpline. Tumplines were used by voyageurs and the Métis to carry heavy loads over portages or uneven terrain. They would place the middle of the sash over the top of their head and use the two free ends to tie a pack to their back.

7 - Bridle or saddle blanket. 

8 - Tourniquet. In a life-threatening emergency where heavy bleeding was involved, a Métis sash could be used as a tourniquet. It would be tied above an injury to stop or slow the flow of blood, turned tight by a stick or other baton-shaped object.

9 - A rope. 

10 - A scarf. A Métis sash does make a nice scarf!

Here's a closeup of the Métis sash so that you can see the detail:

As you can see, they are quite colorful. The colors have meaning. The red and white represent the mixing of the American Indian and European nations. The blue represents sky and water. Green represents fertility and growth. Yellows represents the sun.

My folks bought me this on a trip to Winnipeg, but you can find some here, too. 

Can you think of any other uses the Métis sash might have had?