History of the Metis Sash

By Louise Vien and Lawrence Barkwell The Assomption (or arrow) sash is a symbolic piece of clothing that has become central to the traditional cultures of the French- anadian and the !"tis# From the late $%&&s the finger wo'en sash has been worn by !etis( anayens and First )ations 'oyageurs# The origin of these sashes was partly from the )ati'e practice of finger braiding with nettle fibre( buffalo hair and nati'e hemp and the French anadian practice of making braided woolen garters#$ *ashes of indigenous origin can be found with arrow( lightning( diamond and che'ron designs# The earliest cientures-fléchés became part of the dress à la Canadien emerged from the +uebec wea'ing 'illages# , -The fur traders in their own personal adornment( always had to keep a step ahead of their nati'e clientele( if for nothing else than prestige# They had to ha'e finer and more brilliant belts and garters( on top of great coats and flashy red leggings. /n special occasions( when a notable 'oyageur wanted to honour an 0ndian chief for good ser'ice( he bestowed upon him a medal( a gorget( a capot or a sash. 1 These sashes and great coats thus became the badge of the bourgeois of the )orth-2est ompany# These sashes seem to be an art form uni3ue to )orth America since studies of the techni3ue of finger wea'ing and its distributions has failed to produce any e'idence of its practice in 4urope which would account for its introduction into anada in olonial days# Later( eastern anadian wea'ers in L5Assomption( +uebec began a cottage industry that produced the Assomption sash( known for its - einture flech"(6 or arrowhead design# The Assomption *ash formally got its name in $78% but was known prior to that as the -)orth 2est sash#6 0n the early $7&&s the )orth-2est ompany was stocking and trading a 'ariety of worsted sashes and belts# Barbeau notes that they had ceintures a flames (flame like)( ceintures a fleches (arrow sashes)( in both worsted and fine material# 4'entually the name ceinture fleche pre'ailed although the real arrow sash had almost disappeared# eintures a flames (flame like) more aptly describes what became the standardi9ed Assomption sash# The Assomption and *t# :ac3ues de Achigan sashes are so called from their place of manufacture as a home industry of the French anadians for the fur traders of !ontreal to barter with the 0ndians# The arrow sash became the standard type( when the ;udson5s Bay ompany began to import a cheap manufactured sash from 4ngland( as it does still< this ruined the home industry# Large sashes could be o'er fifteen feet long including fringes and ten inches wide( whereas the a'erage si9e made at L5Achigan near L5Assomption in the early $=&&s was si> inches or e'en less in width# The first known Voyageur sashes were either made of one set colour such as red scarlet) or a multi-coloured che'ron sash#

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!arius Barbeau( -*ashes in the Fur Trade6( The Beaver( :une( $=?$@ ,?-,%# *herry Farrell Aacette( Sewing Ourselves Together: Clothing, Decorative Arts and the !"ression of #etis and $alf Breed %dentit&# 2innipeg@ Bh#C# dissertation( Dni'ersity of !anitoba( ,&&?@ %8# 1 /p# cit# p# ,?-,8#


The -4toffe du pays6 at the time of the ;abitant of )ew France Eust before the $7&&5s wore as their daily costume a sort of moccasin( garters made on a loom( wool pants with a cotton or linen shirt( to3ue( capote and sash to keep coat closed# Actually Thomas Anbury in $%%F wrote in his tra'el Eournal while 'isiting harlesbourg and Beauport about the colored sash the people wore# This apparel changed 'ery little since it was mostly worn by the lower class peasant# The sash in general was only worn during frigid weather basically it kept the coat closed( nothing else# The sash was ne'er worn during the summer days because it was deemed not necessary to the e>ception of special occasions in some elite factions# The French western !"tis are known to ha'e adopted the French anadian attire( while the 4nglish country born stayed with British norms of imported te>tiles# The capote was then adopted by The ;B after the amalgamation of $7,$ with the )2 for all its employees# Geep in mind that the )2 had already employed the capote before the merger because of its French employees# The capote had two colors they were blue for the ser'icemen and grey for the elite( so status was of great importance and what you wore denoted your status# *ashes among the Voyageur also had status attached to it# lerks wore a certain sash while the agents of higher status wore another( the length of the fringe and the colour helped to determine those factors# *herry Farrell Aacette notes that@ -The )orth 2est ompany may ha'e been the first to supply yarn for the indigenous manufacture of sashes# The company also commissioned sashes for both an indigenous market and their own employees( stimulating the de'elopment of creati'e centres of production# Between $7&? and $7,&( )orth 2est ompany in'entories offered an increasing 'ariety of worsted belts@ common( fine( )orth 2est( scarlet( fine scarlet( scarlet and crimson )orth 2est#6? The )2 accounts show =F worsted sashes manufactured by )otary at l5Assumption in $%== and by $7&?( L# Venance supplies( $= fine ientures( ,7 worsted belts( F ientures( %& fine worsted belts( ?F common( $8 broad worsted belts and 8 narrow fine( destined for the :une canoes to Athabasca( Fort des Brairies( Lac la Bluie( and Hrand Bortage# *ashes do not appear in the ;B in'entories until $7$7 following the ;B merger with the )2 in $7,$# The ;B in'entories at Aed Ai'er between $7$8 and $718 list broad belt( scarlet or crimson( narrow belt( scarlet or crimson and a fine anadian belt# Ale>ander Aoss commented in the $78&s that the French style had been adopted by the *cots ;alf Breeds@ -The blue capote and red belt( so peculiar to those of French origin in this 3uarter ha'e become fa'orite articles of dress among the rising generation#6 8 The ;B shipment of $7$7( out of !ontreal( was of $%, sashes in four si9es sent to :ames Bird at :ack Ai'er#F

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Aacette( op# cit# pp# %8-%F# Ale>ander Aoss# The 'ed 'iver Settle(ent: %ts rise "rogress and "resent state, with so(e account of the native races and its general histor& to the "resent da& )4dmonton@ ;urtig( $=%,( reprint of $78F edition@ p# ,&7# F ;BA( B# $1?IdI$8( folio $&#


A ;alfcast with his 2ife and hild( c# $7,8 by Beter Aindisbacher # 2innipeg Art Hallery( H-7,-,$8

As can be shown( the !etis adopted the sash as a result of their participation in the fur trade# 0n the early $7&&s in the old )orthwest it became a symbol of !etis identity# 0n $7,1( 2illiam Geating obser'es a party of twenty mounted !etis buffalo hunters leading a party of 1&& people back to Bembina@ All of them ha'e a blue capote with a hood( which they use only in bad weather< the apote is secured around their waist by a military sash# They wear a shirt of calico or painted muslin( moccasins and leather leggings fastened round the leg by garters ornamented with beads.7


2illiam Geating# *arrative( $7,?@ ?&# 0llustration of a !etis buffalo hunter on following page from a pen and ink drawing by harlie !# Aussell( !ontana ;istorical *ociety (J $=F1#&$#&1)#


Brian yr demonstrates fingerwea'ing at Aiel ;ouse( August ,&$1# Bhoto by *hirley Celorme-Aussell#

Bictured abo'e is a finger wo'en !etis sash in the new colours de'eloped by !anitoba !etis Federation# This sash was hand wo'en by Brian yr 'ice-chair of the *t# )orbert Barish La BarriKre !etis ouncil#


The new 'ersion of the !etis sash de'eloped by the !anitoba !etis Federation replaces the yellow of the old sashes with black# Black represents the dark period after $7%& when the !etis were suppressed and dispossessed of their land by anada# The !anitoba !etis Federation *enate began a tradition of draping the sash o'er the table whene'er !etis people are gathered for discussion# The sash is composed of many interconnected threads< the main colours are red( blue( white( green and yellow# Aed represents the historical colour of the !etis sash( blue and white symboli9e the !etis )ation flag( green signifies fertility( growth( and yellow stands for prosperity# The /rder of the *ash is the highest honour bestowed upon !etis by many of the !etis organi9ations#

A French ;alf Breed ($=&$ pen and ink drawing by harlie !# Aussell( #!# Aussell !useum( Hreat Falls( !ontana)#

)e>t( is a description of a !etis horseman representing the )akota at Treaty Four negotiations at Fort +u5Appelle in $7%?# .the whole camp came forward in martial array( led by an enormously large man( riding a 'ery fair specimen of the buffalo hunters of that time( standing about si>teen 8

hands high( dark brown( and showing a strain of good blood( his rider attired in blue cloth capote with brass buttons( cotton shirt (unstarched)( moleskin trousers and new deerskin moccasins with broad L5Assomption belt or sash of 'ariegated colours in silk around his waist( 0ndian pad saddle with hea'ily beaded saddle cloth( complimented with the -tout en semble6 of this would be leader now riding well in ad'ance cur'etting and ascribing circles and half-circles( at the canter or lope( and now and then parading up and down the whole frontage until close up to our !ar3uee tent#7

FranLois Lemire wearing his sash ca# $=&&#=

The !etis report many functional uses for the sash( which could be as long twenty feet# 0t was tied around the waist of the capote for warmth and could also be used as a tumpline for carrying packs or as rope to haul canoes during a long and difficult portage# The sash also ser'ed as an emergency bridle when the !etis were out on the hunt# The fringed ends were also useful as threads to make sewing repairs# The sash acted as a con'enient pocket to tuck small obEects away between the sash and the body#

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Diar& of Bugler Burns( Archi'es of !anitoba# !H $A%@,# This is a )orthwest !etis *crip ommission photograph courtesy of the Cuck Lake Aegional 0nterpreti'e entre( Cuck Lake( *askatchewan#


!etis man wearing capote and sash# Archi'es of !anitoba( Aackham( 2illiam $=& ()$,7=$)

heryl Troupe gi'es us an e>planation of sash construction@ +uality sashes were made from 'ery fine wool( which was wa>ed and re-twisted# These sashes were wo'en so tightly that they were often water-resistant and could be used to carry a small amount of water# A top 3uality sash( using 1&& to ?&& finewa>ed woolen threads usually took about ,&& hours to complete# A lower 3uality sash made from $&& or so thicker woolen threads could be made in %& to 7& hours#$& *ome modern !etis sashes are wo'en on a four-harness loom or on an 0nkle loom# The traditional arrow pattern is still used and beautifully coloured sashes ha'e become a symbol of the !etis )ation# Typically( the sash (usually two metres long) was wound two( three or four times around the waist (depending on length) and tied so the fringed ends would hang downward from the point where a man5s belt buckle would be# ;owe'er( !etis women occasionally wear the sash o'er the shoulder in a more contemporary fashion#


heryl Troupe# !"ressing Our $eritage: #etis Artistic Designs, 'esource #anual) *askatoon@ Habriel Cumont 0nstitute( ,&&,@$=#


Louise Vien at !etisfest ,&$,( Gillarney( !anitoba# Bhoto by Lawrence Barkwell

0nkle Loom wea'ing


!ary onway making a sash on her large inkle loom (!etisfest( ,&$$) The sash pictured below was gi'en to !argaret ;alcrow of the ;alcro *ettlement in *askatchewan in $778( by Louis Aiel# After the resistance fighting had ended at Batoche on !ay $,( $778( !rs ;alcrow had hid Louis Aiel in her root cellar until he surrendered to !iddleton5s scouts Eust north of L"pine5s rossing (the *t# Louis Ferry)# The ;alcrow5s held onto the sash through the birth of eight daughters and two sons# The sash went to their daughter 4li9abeth who married a well-known Anglican minister by the name of Ae'erend B# # ;ackworth# The sash was then left to their son :ack who was the father of !arion ;ackworth5s late husband ollin ;ackworth# The Louis Aiel 0nstitute of the !anitoba !etis Federation ac3uired the sash from !arion ;ackworh in ,&&%# This sash was made in 4ngland at o'entry sometime between $78& and $778# 0t is a 'ery wide -presentation sash6 typical of those sold by the ;udson5s Bay ompany in the $77&s


The Louis Aiel presentation sash gi'en to !argaret ;alcrow n"e !onkman in $778# Bhotograph M Louis Aiel 0nstitute#


lose-up of a !etis Nork-boatman on a )elson Ai'er portage in $=$& Archi'es of !anitoba( A#V# Thomas =& ()7$F?)

Aeferences@ Barbeau( !arius# Assu("tion Sash) )ational !useum of anada( Cept# of !ines O Aesources# Bulletin =1( Anthropological series no# ,?( $=1%# Barbeau( !arius# -*ashes in the Fur Trade(6 The Beaver( :une( $=?$@ ,?-,%# Barbeau( !arius( Ceintures fléchées( !ontr"al( Pditions Baysana( $=?8# Bois'ert( !ichel Q La production te>tile au Bas-*aint-Laurent# L5e>emple Laurentien R Cahiers de géogra"hie du +uébec( 'ol# ?&( nS $$$( $==F( p# ?,$-?1%# Barkwell( L#:# and Audreen ;ourie# -!etis lothing6( in L#:# Barkwell( Leah Corion and Audreen ;ourie (4ds#) #etis ,egac& -ol) %%@ !ichif ulture( $$

;eritage( and Folkways# *askatoon@ Habriel Cumont 0nstitute and Bemmican Bublications( ,&&F@ %$-7?# Cerouet( amille# . ,e #étis Canadien /ran0ais 1 (icrofiche collection 2345 Archives Canada Farrell Aacette( *herry# *ewing /ursel'es Together@ lothing( Cecorati'e Arts and the 4>pression of !etis and ;alf Breed 0dentity# 2innipeg@ Bh#C# dissertation( Dni'ersity of !anitoba( ,&&?@ %8# :ames( arol# /ingerweaving 6ntangled# 2innipeg@ author( ,&&7# Geating( 2illiam# *arrative of an !"edition to the Source of St) 7eter8s 'iver, ,a9e winne"ee9, ,a9e of the :oods ; etc) in the &ear 24<=) Bhiladelphia@ ;# # arey O 0# Lea( $7,?# LeBlanc( !oni3ue# -Assomption *ash(6 4ncyclopedia of French ultural ;eritage in )orth America( on-line at@ http@IIwww#ameri3uefrancaise#orgIenIarticle-?%%IAssomptionT*ash#html !cGinnon( Aileen# -Cress in Aed Ai'er *ettlement@ $7$8 to$718#6 4dmonton@ !#A# dissertation( Dni'ersity of Alberta( $==,# Br"fontaine( Carren# -The *ash#6 *askatoon@ Habriel Cumont 0nstitute Virtual !useum of !etis ulture and ;istory( ,&&1# http@IIwww#metismuseum#caImediaIdocument#phpI&&%?$#pdf Auddel( Ca'id-Thiery# -The Comestic Te>tile 0ndustry in the Aegion and ity of +uebec( $%=,-$7186 *ational #useu( of #an) Troupe( heryl# !"ressing Our $eritage: #etis Artistic Designs, 'esource #anual) *askatoon@ Habriel Cumont 0nstitute( ,&&,#

/ccasional Bapers of the Louis Aiel 0nstitute( ,&$$# ompiled by Lawrence Barkwell oordinator of !etis ;eritage and ;istory Aesearch Louis Aiel 0nstitute