Métis fiddle

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Métis fiddle is the style which the Métis of Canada and Métis in the northern United States have developed to play the violin, solo and in folk ensembles. It is marked by the percussive use of the bow and percussive accompaniment (such as spoon percussion), the Meti (/mˈt/; Canadian French: [meˈtsɪs]; Michif: [mɪˈtʃɪf]) people blend First Nations, French, English, Celtic and other ancestry. Fiddles were "introduced in this area by Scottish and French-Canadian fur traders in the early 1800s".[1]


The Métis are one of the aboriginal peoples in Canada who trace their descent to mixed European and First Nations parentage, the term was historically a catch-all describing the offspring of any such union, but within generations the culture coalesced into what is today a distinct indigenous group with formal recognition equal to that of the Inuit and First Nations. Mothers were often Cree, Ojibwa, Algonquin, Saulteaux, Menominee, Mi'kmaq or Maliseet.[2] At one time, distinctions were made between French Métis (born of francophone voyageur fathers) and 'Anglo Métis (or "Countryborn"), descended from Scottish fathers. Today these two cultures form a single Métis culture.[3][4] Former names (many of which are now considered offensive) include Bois-Brûlés, mixed-bloods, half-breeds, Bungi, Black Scots and Jackatars.[5]

The Métis homeland includes regions scattered across Canada and parts of the northern United States (specifically Montana, North Dakota and northwest Minnesota).[6] Almost 400,000 people self-identify as Métis in Canada. Most contemporary Métis are no more the direct result of First Nations and European intermarrying than English Canadians today are the direct result of intermingling of Saxons and Britons, the majority of Métis who currently self-identify are the result of Métis intermarrying with other Métis. Over the past century, many Métis are thought to have been assimilated into European-Canadian populations, making Métis heritage (and thereby aboriginal ancestry) more common than generally realized.[7] Geneticists estimate that 50 percent of today's population in Western Canada have aboriginal blood,[8] and therefore would be genetically classified as Métis.[8]

There is controversy over who qualifies as Métis. Unlike First Nations people, there is no distinction between "status" and "non-status" Métis; the legal definition is not yet fully developed. S.35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 mentions of the Métis.

David Chartrand (president of the Manitoba Métis Foundation) was interviewed in a 2006 documentary by John Barnard, and emphasizes that the Métis fiddle tradition is an oral tradition [9] which cannot be taught in school. Métis fiddling was analyzed by ethno-musicologist Lynn Whidden in the film;[9] she documented that the meter can vary from measure to measure and is very percussive. Players use their feet and choke up on the bow to enable a very sharp "bite", some players (such as Sierra Noble) play fiddle in a modernized (or blended) Métis style, which incorporates Celtic or country-pop influences. Noble plays Celtic rock fusion in the Sierra Noble Trio, with Ariel Posen on guitar and Bruce Jacobs on bass.[10]

In "A Note on Métis Music" Whidden emphasizes the French chanson and "Indian" derivation of the style, noting that they overlap and have become indistinct,[11] she demonstrates this theme as infusing lyrics as well, as in the song "Redj'Jan's Shoes-White Man's Shoes": "I ain't red nor am I white, I've been like this for all of my life". Citing personal communications, she indicates that nearly everyone in the community played an instrument; gatherings were usually in homes, because of the lack of large buildings; however, she also refers to "weekly" dances.


The styles documented are European: polka, waltz, twostep, schottische, jig and square dance; however, the steps intermingle with First Nations dances.[11] The chord progressions use complex harmonic structures, abandoning the I-IV-V-I progression of European-derived tunes.[11] Audience hand-clapping, foot-stomping and dancing create an aural accompaniment.


The central defining tune is Red River Jig, which is not actually a jig but rather a reel. A local anecdote relates that "the way to drive a Métis crazy is to nail his moccasins to the floor and play the Red River Jig[11] The dancing involves prominent footwork as in Irish dance and has been brought to a high level of dexterity.[12] Cory Poitras demonstrates simultaneous fiddle playing and "jigging" at Métis crossing in a 2007 video clip available online.[13] According to Lederman, this is the same as the "La Grande Gigue Simple" or "La Grandeux" in Québec, which is also found in Cajun playing.[1] Other repertoire she identifies include Arcandsaw Traveller (a Métis version of the American tune Arkansas Traveller), "Drops of Brandy" ("Le Brandy" in Québec), and "Devil's Reel" ("Le Reel du Pendu" in Québec).[1] Other dances include Duck Dance, Square Dance and Drops of Brandy [14]

Métis-style fiddle players[edit]


  • Lederman, Anne, 1987. "Old Native and Métis Fiddling in Manitoba". Vol. L Toronto: Falcon Productions, 783A Queen Street West, M6J 1O1.
  • Lederman, Anne. "Old Indian and Métis Fiddling in Manitoba: Origins, Structure, and Questions of Syncretism". Canadian Journal for Traditional Music, 1991 (originally published in The Canadian Journal of Native Studies 7.2 (1988): 205-30).
  • "Music of the Indians and Métis" I & n (Kit). Winnipeg: Manitoba Department of Education and Training, Media Productions (1983).
  • Whidden, Lynn. "How can you dance to Beethoven? Native people and country music". CUMR, 5, 1984.
  • Whidden, Lynn. "Hymn anomalies in traditional Cree song". Recherches Amérindiennes au Québec, vol 15 no 4, 1984.


  1. ^ a b c Lederman, Anne (1988). "Old Indian and Metis Fiddling in Manitoba: Origins, Structure, and Questions of Syncretism". The Canadian Journal of Native Studies. 7 (2): 205–30. 
  2. ^ "First Nations Culture Areas Index". the Canadian Museum of Civilization. 
  3. ^ Ethno-Cultural and Aboriginal Groups
  4. ^ Rinella, Steven. 2008. American Buffalo: In Search of A Lost Icon. NY: Spiegel and Grau.
  5. ^ McNab, David; Lischke, Ute (2005). Walking a Tightrope: Aboriginal People and their Representations. 
  6. ^ Howard, James H. 1965. The Plains-Ojibwa or Bungi: hunters and warriors of the Northern Prairies with special reference to the Turtle Mountain band. University of South Dakota Museum Anthropology Papers 1 (Lincoln, Nebraska: J. and L. Reprint Co., Reprints in Anthropology 7, 1977).
  7. ^ Barkwell, Lawrence J., Leah Dorion and Darren Préfontaine. Métis Legacy: A Historiography and Annotated Bibliography. Winnipeg: Pemmican Publications Inc. and Saskatoon: Gabriel Dumont Institute, 2001. ISBN 1-894717-03-1
  8. ^ a b "Complete History of the Canadian Metis Culturework - Metis Nation of the North West". 
  9. ^ a b "Sierra's Song - Metis Fiddle Music" on YouTube
  10. ^ Sierra Noble TRIO - DABE (Celtic Fiddle Medley) on YouTube
  11. ^ a b c d Whidden, Lynn (March 1990). "A Note on Métis Music" (PDF). Canadian Folk Music Bulletin. 24 (1): 12–15. 
  12. ^ dancer=Felicia Morrisseau| affiliation= The Asham Stompers| performance= Red River Jig|venue=unknown|link=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IoXGCmQ7bLg&feature=related
  13. ^ Cory Poitras and Kelsey Poitras (2007). Red river jig Metis crossing 2007. Smoky Lake County, Alberta. Retrieved 8 October 2016. Cory Poitras and sister, Kelsey Poitras jigging at Metis crossing 2007 
  14. ^ "Culture - Music and Dance". Alberta Metis Historical Society. Alberta Metis Historical Society. 2001. Retrieved 8 October 2016.