The Métis fiddle is a violin and playing-style associated with the Métis people. Traditional Métis music draws from both Native American/First Nations and European sources (including Cree, Ojibwe, Scottish and French) and is a post-Columbian multicultural invention. The music is marked by percussive use of the bow and percussive accompaniment, such as spoon percussion. It is not unusual for a player to use his or her feet and choke up the bow to create an exceedingly sharp “bite”.
The chord progressions use complex harmonic structures and abandon the European I-IV-V-I progression in favour of other alternatives. According to ethno-musicologist Lynn Whidden, the meter of Métis fiddling can vary from measure to measure and is very percussive.
It is common for the audience to participate by clapping hands and stomping feet.
In the Métis fiddle music, Native American/First Nation music and dancing have mingled with European influences. Regrettably, we tend to know less about indigenous music and dances than the European ones. Examples of European influences are the polka, waltz, schottische, jig, and French chanson.
Today, the Métis fiddle and the tradition of jigging are seen as key features of Métis culture and identity.
About the Métis
The Métis is a people of mixed Native American and European ancestry whose homeland is Canada and parts of northern United States. Not all people of mixed Native American and European descent are Métis; the Métis are a distinct group with their own culture and language. The focal point for the Métis culture is located between the Rocky Mountains and the Great Lakes regions.
In Canada, the Métis are recognized as a distinct Indigenous people under the Constitution Act of 1982. As of 2016, roughly 585,000 people self-identified as Métis in Canada. One example of a Métis community living in the United States is the Little Shell Tribe of Montana.
The French adjective métis denotes something that is mixed, and the term Métis was used by French colonists in New France (now Quebec) as early as the 16th century to denote a person of mixed Native American and European ancestry. A majority of the early Métis were born to male fur trade workers of French or Scottish origin and women who were Cree, Nakota or Ojibew.
Early on, a distinction was made between a French Métis (born to a French-speaking voyageur father) and an Anglo Métis (born to a Scottish father), but this distinction was soon lost as the generations continued and a unified Métis culture developed.
Over time, the Métis people adopted various aspects of both Native American and European culture and customs, while also developing traditions and cultural expressions of their own. Michif is the language of the Métis, and it combines Cree and Métis French (a version of Canadian French) with some elements from English, Ojibwe and Assiniboine. Michif is thus a mixed language rather than a creole. Today, few people still speak Michif.
The Red River Jig
A very important tune for the Métis culture is the Red River Jig, which is actually a reel and not a jig. The dancing have notable elements of the complex footwork seen in certain Irish dances. Within the Métis culture, it is jokingly said that you can drive a Métis crazy by nailing their moccasins to the floor and playing the Red River Jig.
Examples of Métis fiddle players
- Andy de Jarlis
- Brad “Chug” Morin
- Brianna Lizotte
- Calvin Vollrath
- Erin Okrainec
- Gabriel Brie
- Jamie Fox
- Jimmie La Rocque
- Joe Parisien
- John Arcand
- Lawrence “Teddy Boy” Houle
- Michael Audette
- Mike Page
- Patti Kusturok
- Reg Bouvette
- Sierra Noble