Traditional Roles of Métis Women
“Metis women played key roles in relationship building and the survival of their families and communities through challenging times…their spiritual lives blended elements of traditional beliefs with Christianity”.
(Women of the Métis Nation, Traditional Knowledge Policy Paper. Pg. 2).
The traditional role of Métis women was that of a solid foundation for Métis families and communities. Unwavering in their strength, diverse in skills, persevering and devoted, Métis women shared equally important roles as men in terms of negotiating trade, commerce, and gathering food and medicine and directing the hunt by interpreting family and community needs.
The sustainability of Métis communities relied heavily on women as they were the keepers of our Traditional Knowledge, our voices, our advocates and were responsible for the safety, wellbeing and prosperity our families, communities and Nation. The lives of Métis women revolved around caregiving. Women cared for their communities and made decisions, grew food, made clothing, offered ceremony and lived within Creation in a good way.
Métis women had many responsibilities including taking care of her immediate family (her husband and children), her extended family (parents, nieces, nephews and grandparents) and her community. They were the bridge builders between cultures, easily navigating through different worlds.
Women primarily prepared the fresh and dried meats. Women were also responsible for the preparation of pemmican, the very first protein bars that fueled the fur trade and powered the voyageurs. It is interesting to note, pemmican was one of the first currencies in Métis communities, traded with HBC outposts and was significantly impactful in preventing starvation Another crucial role of Métis women was to prepare suitable and appropriate clothing and tools for their families, communities and further the employees of the fur trade and the voyageurs that facilitated the transportation of trade goods. Their products were sturdy yet embellished with intricate beadwork and embroidery known to their region. Moccasins, capotes, pants, shirts, Sashes, fire bags, snowshoes and tools were crafted by the women to enhance the work. Many an ill-prepared man would have starved or frozen in the harsh conditions were it not for the skills and knowledge of women
Passing on traditional knowledge, by sharing wisdom and leading by example was a traditional way of mothering. Métis women shared the teachings that sustained our culture and our way of being and allowed the growth our nation. Fostering traditional knowledge for the tiny spirits they birthed or whose custodianship was entrusted to them laid the cultural foundation that allowed the sustainability of our culture through dark times in our history, primarily intended to rob and extinguish our distinct Métis culture.
Even through the dark times when Métis culture was forced under-ground, women quietly and skillfully kept the fires burning within their hearts and retained he teachings, traditions, ceremonies, language and ways of being that kept our Culture and sense community thriving and surviving for future generation.
Métis women were the keepers of our oral history, our language, our ceremony, and our way of life.
Violence against Métis women has stifled their voices; it has buried some of our traditional in the lives that have been traumatized, scarred or lost. Despite those perils, Métis women are recovering their identity, places of respect and honor in their families and communities. We are grateful that our voices are beginning to be heard in leadership roles.
At every point on the life cycle, Métis women have distinct roles that prepare us for an Eldership role.
Women are the life givers, life carriers and life sustainers, they were revered and respected for the knowledge they hold. Through toils and challenges and the loss of cultural through government actions and policy -the Indian Act, the North-West rebellion, residential schools, sixties scoop, Métis women’s voices are regaining strength and the path is becoming clearer to reclaim their roles as the heartbeat of Métis families, communities and our Nation.