Blanchet, G. (photographer). ca.1923-25.Sousi Beaulieu with caribou on the tundra
These “North West Company halfbreeds” were quite apparent as a group to outside observers. Newcomers in the male population, mostly of solely European descent but occasionally of mixed ancestry, continued to arrive over the course of the nineteenth century. Marriage and baptism records show that these newcomers were integrated into older Métis families, and their Métis children born in the region in turn married into Métis families old and new.
Throughout the 19th century, European and Métis marriage to Aboriginal women continued to occur, but was not as common as marriage within the Métis population. Census records from the late nineteenth century show that the Great Slave Lake Métis population was overwhelmingly locally-born, with few Métis people born outside the region. Some of these people were identified by observers as “Indians” or Europeans, but the use of the term “Métis” or “halfbreed” to distinguish mixed-ancestry individuals or populations persisted throughout the 19th and early 20th century. The nature of the Great Slave Lake area, with its emphasis on subsistence wildlife harvesting and the fur trade, discouraged the accumulation of large numbers of people in settlements.
Groups of Métis people were evident by the end of the 19th century, particularly at Fort Resolution and Smith’s Landing (Fitzgerald), but even these communities were often depleted of population by seasonal harvesting cycles. There is some limited documentary evidence of Métis people moving and hunting together, either in extended family groups such as the Mandevilles or the Beaulieus, or in combined groups such as the “Cayenne” that came to hunt with François Beaulieu II and the second Franklin expedition, and the “Indian Half breed” that accompanied Beaulieu’s group part way to Fort Franklin. The historical evidence tends to emphasize mixed-ancestry people hunting with “Indian” groups, probably at least in part because that was what they were expected to do if they were employed by fur traders.
Marriage and baptism records indicated that marriage networks between mixed-ancestry families extended to all parts of Great Slave Lake and into some adjacent areas like Fort Simpson, Fort Chipewyan, and Great Bear Lake. Employment and scrip records indicate that many in the mixed-ancestry population moved frequently around this larger region, which helps to explain the far-flung marriage networks. 18th – and 19th -century geographic co-location of Métis families should probably therefore be thought of in those broad terms, rather than focusing on one settlement.
Russell, J. (photographer). ca.1922.Sousi Beaulieu at Fort Reliance
The broadness of the geographic connections between Métis people extended to some degree to connections across linguistic and religious lines. The majority of the Métis population was of French and Dene ancestry. A small group, becoming more prominent near the end of the 19th century, was of British (English or Scottish/Orkney) descent.
In the early part of the 19th century, there is some limited evidence to indicate that fur-trade employers saw French Métis people as being similar to French-Canadians, and British Métis people as being like others of British descent. These two groups were often divided along religious as well as linguistic lines, the French being overwhelmingly Catholic and the British tending to the Anglican Church. However, the overall presence of the Catholic Church was much greater than that of the Anglican Church around Great Slave Lake — the Indian population was also overwhelmingly allied with the Catholic Church — so that some people of British descent supported the Catholic Church’s efforts even if they were not nominally Catholic. Birth and marriage records show that there was intermarriage between the English and French Métis populations, although there was a stronger tendency to marry within the language group.
The above summary of Métis culture and history is a paraphrased overview from Jones (2005) work. For a more detailed read, please review: Jones, G. (2005). Historical Profile of the Great Slave Lake Area’s Mixed European-Indian Ancestry Community. Unpublished manuscript, Department of Justice Canada and Office of the Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non- Status Indians.
For further information, please read:
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. (June, 2013). “The People Who Own Themselves”: Recognition of Métis Identity in Canada”.
Northwest Territory Supreme Court. (2013). Enge v. Mandeville et al, 2013 NWTSC 33