• Sinead O'Sullivan

Student thesis: Phd


In 1982, the Canadian constitution included Métis as one of the aboriginal peoples of Canada, who may be entitled to certain aboriginal rights. Making aboriginal rights claims has required Métis, as a category, to be understood in a bounded, rigid manner, to fit with the wider legal system of categories of aboriginal peoples (First Nations, Inuit). Métis, as an identity, has been seen as a category based on aboriginality and mixed ancestry, but it is contested by many actors including the Canadian state, Métis organisations, academics and Métis themselves whether this means mixedness of ancestry in general (a residual category of aboriginal but not First Nations/Inuit), or a specific case of mixed ancestry in the Canadian interior in the 18th- and 19th-centuries (the Red River/Historic Métis Nation). The category of Métis is not only uncertain in the legal context, it is also unsettled in many other registers: political, personal, and social. This research, based on fieldwork in Edmonton, Alberta in 2012-13, discusses how the category of Métis is used, contested, and (un)settled, through several contexts. The contestedness of Métis is examined in the contexts of representation and self-representation of Métis identity, history and peoplehood: in Canadian courts as Métis claim aboriginal rights, in museums and festivals as Métis are displayed and display themselves in particular ways, within the Métis community, and in less formal environments as people talk about their self-identification and what Métis means to them as a folk category. The unsettled nature of Métis is made visible as Métis identity within these registers often does not overlap, for example as the self-identification and legal identity may not coincide. The separation between First Nations and Métis is particularly important, given its necessity in Métis aboriginal rights claims and in how Métis is viewed as a category of aboriginality separate from First Nations, but in practice this rigid separation is not so clear as people adjust their self-identification and recognition of others as Métis or First Nations depending on their understanding of their category of Métis. As the variety of ways of understanding Métis are made visible, it becomes clear that Métis is an identity and a category that is emerging within these legal, political and social registers, and remains unsettled, even radically unsettled.
Date of Award31 Dec 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPeter Wade (Supervisor) & Penelope Harvey (Supervisor)

Cite this