Metis of Western Canada - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Few fur trade engagés had the ability to emerge as free men. For those who did, a country wife closely connected with the leading family of a prominent Indian band seems to have been instrumental in ensuring survival. The fur trade practice of "turning off" could see a free man, because of age, injury, or illness, decide to leave "Indian country." He would give his family and country outfit to a younger man in exchange for the younger man's willingness to serve as husband and father in the family. In some instances, fur trade officers turned off their country families to skilled servants of ability or to free men. Although some individuals, male and female, continued to find marriage partners in Indian bands, second-generation marriages among les gens libres emphasized themselves as the primary sociocultural entity. Courting and the marriage ceremony involved the exchange of gifts between the couple and their families. Residence after marriage was a function of particular circumstances, with all forms being observed.

Domestic Unit. In the bison days, related nuclear families grouped around the patriarch could be observed. Individual families tended to interests on their own river lots but shared garden produce and the returns of the hunt. They also cooperated in joint activities such as the hunt or the fishery. Such family patterns are still evident today. In areas of poverty and high unemployment, three-generational households reflecting female linkages appear.

Inheritance. Property appears to have been passed to those who provided care to children. In most instances, this was the surviving spouse. Should a widow remarry, however, the property passed to the children.

Socialization. Generally speaking, children were raised permissively, with greater restrictions placed on girls. Ostracism, ridicule, and the threat of external malevolent spirits were used to discipline children. Although aggression was discouraged, males particularly were encouraged to be assertive. Mission schools enjoyed very limited success. Many parents have acknowledged the value of education, but it is only recently that significant numbers of youths are appearing in senior high school classrooms and postsecondary institutions.

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