Traditional Metis sash and its meaning
So far I have discussed mostly the Native American cultures, beliefs and practices. Today I would like to focus on what is now considered a distinct Aboriginal group in Canada, the Metis people.
What is Metis?
For those of you who have never heard that term, it refers to people with mixed ancestry, typically European and Indigenous. Oftentimes, it was the mother who was Aboriginal (oftentimes Cree, Ojibwe, or Algonquin). Some Metis people come from French European “voyageur” fathers and some come from Anglophone fathers. Today, however, no distinction is made and they all constitute the Metis nation. However, it does explain why many Metis people have a French last name.
Today the Metis nation defines the Metis territory as the three Prairie provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba), parts of Ontario, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and the Northern United States. Although it might appear to have been chosen randomly, this territory originates from what is called the Red River settlement. The Red River settlement takes its name from the colony that settled in 1812 on the Red and Assiniboine rivers, whose boundaries crossed what is now part of Manitoba and North Dakota. For more information on the colony and settlement, see this site. For now, just know that the Metis people originated in part from Western Canada expanding from the Red River settlement. However, they originally came from eastern Canada, particularly Quebec. Nonetheless, some will argue that there are no pure Metis people in eastern Canada. Indeed, being of mixed ancestry does not equate being Metis. Being Metis refers to possessing a singular cultural heritage of dual ancestry or origins. In other words, a unique culture was born from the union of two ancestries, European and First Nations. If one’s heritage includes this unique cultural aspect, then one is Metis. I do not want to go into more details about the history of the Metis culture in this post, but for a more detailed history, see this site. Rather, I would like to discuss the traditional Metis sash and its meaning.
The Traditional Metis Sash
Most of you might not know what the Metis sash is or what it represents. The sash is the one pictured above. For those of you who are from Quebec, like me, you could have thought all this time that the sash was called the Winter carnival sash or “la ceinture flechee”. Indeed, every winter, Quebec city has a Winter carnival, with snow and ice sculptures, a parade, an ice castle, eating maple syrup on the snow, etc. And a mascot named “Bonhomme Carnival”, which is basically a big snowman. That would be him below. Notice what he is wearing?? Yep that would be a variation of the Metis sash. Moreover, if you are in Quebec city during the carnival, you will encounter numerous individuals wearing the sash. But as a child, I never learned (or at least I really do not recall learning) about the significance of the sash. So the sash became known as the winter carnival sash.
Real significance of the sash
However, as you might have guessed by now, as my post is about the Metis nation and the Metis sash, the winter carnival sash is really the Metis sash. It took me 35 years to learn the real meaning of the sash, but it was recently explained to me in one of my courses. To know more about the program I am enrolled in, see my previous post about Aboriginal focusing oriented therapy. As one can see, the Metis sash has numerous colors. And each color has a different meaning. If you look at the picture, you will see red, green, gold, blue, white and at the end of it (in the fringe part), there is a tiny bit of black. Let’s look at the meaning of each color.
The color red is the most prominent color in the sash. The red represents the lives that were lost over the years. It represents the blood that has flowed and has been washed away. But at the same time, the Metis people are still here today, so it represents their strength. The green in the sash represents fertility. Fertility from the womb, the birth process but also from the land. What is given to us by the land and by the life givers, aka women. The gold signifies prosperity and the resilience of the people. Their will to continue their cultural heritage and pass it down to future generations. Their resilience through trauma. The blue represents spirituality, our connectedness to one another, the “all my relations” part. Similarly, the white signifies our connection to the Creator, to the land, to the sky and to water. Finally, the little black thread at the end of the sash represents colonization. The loss of culture, lives, ways of life. However, as it was pointed out to me, the black thread is alone and tiny compared to the rest of the sash. People were there way before and continued to be there way after. It was part of history but it was not the whole history or story.
The Metis symbol
Finally, the Metis people also have a symbol, which you can see on the sash on the right. Yes, some people would say “it’s the infinity symbol”. And they would be right, it is. However, it also has another meaning within the Metis culture. Actually, it as two. The symbol represents the joining of two cultures as well as the existence of people forever. 🙂
Finally, if you would like to have your own sash, it is possible to buy one here on Amazon.ca, as well as other related products such as books.Or here on Amazon.com. However, please always be mindful what the sacred regalia you are wearing as it is very meaningful and not to be worn lightly. Please remember that for many years, it was not permitted to be worn. So please respect its meaning and significance. And always consult with Elders before making that decision. It is not an object to adorn and to accessorize with, it is sacred.
All my Relations