Lispaas Daashpaymoon Michif: Métis Places of Faith

This VisitList showcases a number of sites of spiritual and religious significance to the Métis people, from St. Boniface at the heart of Red River to the remote mission of Notre Dame de la Paix. These spaces provide a unique opportunity to learn about various aspects of Métis history and culture, and to explore the nuances of Métis lived religion. This is not an exhaustive list, but rather, a starting point for those interested in learning about the lived religion, spirituality, and faith of the Metis people.

If you asked a Métis person two hundred years ago how they viewed themselves religiously or spiritually, the overwhelming majority would have identified as some form of Christian; most were Catholic, although there was a sizable minority of Anglicans and Methodists. There were also some who identified more with Anishnabe or Cree practices, and at least one individual – Louison Cayen – was a devout skeptic of all of the above.

At first, it may seem odd to position Christianity as “traditional Métis spirituality,” but the historical record bears this out. There are accounts of prayers in French and infant baptisms before the arrival of the first missionaries. And yet Métis were regularly admonished by missionaries for being “bad Catholics.Contemporary accounts were quick to point out that despite professing to be Christian, their actions betrayed far more faith in First Nations’ beliefs and practices than their words would suggest. How does one navigate this apparent tension? 

The first thing we need to consider is that Christianity is not inherently European nor colonial. While Western European colonizers have historically exploited their version of Christianity to benefit colonial projects, this speaks more to how Christianity has been utilized throughout history than anything intrinsic to the religion itself.  After all, Christianity originated in the Middle East, and there are many Indigenous Christian traditions throughout that region, as well as in Africa (particularly Ethiopia) and India. Indigenous Christian traditions refers churches that spread organically and were taken up by their practitioners voluntarily, as opposed to being imposed by empires or states.  These traditions often blended and intertwined with local beliefs and customs, creating something distinct from the Western European model. Although an offshoot of Western Christianity, Métis lived religion seems to better fit the model of an Indigenous Christian Tradition. 

Moreover, religion and spirituality are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, for many Métis, they were viewed as complimentary. Sometimes, the relationship between these systems of belief was overt. For example, participation in First Nations ceremonies, using cedar and fir branches as palm fronds, and burning smudge as incense. In fact, in the early days, pemmican was used for the Eucharist instead of bread! Indigenous traditions regarding mutual support and sharing also became central to how the Métis understood and practiced their faith. 

Finally, religion and spirituality are not static. They are iterative processes that are filtered through the cultural and historical context in which they exist. They can both direct and be directed by changing circumstances, social norms, and ideals. They respond to new situations and adapt to new dynamics. This is because, far from being set in stone, religion is a lived experience. Understanding Métis religion, spirituality, and faith in terms of “lived religion” allows us to move beyond narrow, Western European conceptions of Christianity and understand how, according to religious studies scholar, Emelie Pigeon, for the Métis – and other Indigenous peoples – “[lived] Catholicism was a tool of identity formation, resistance to colonialism, and political action.” 


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