Sash & Flag

The Sash

Of all the symbols associated with the Métis culture, the sash is perhaps the most widely recognized and best known. Wrapped about the midsection, it was used by Voyageurs to carry their belongings during their transportation duties. As the Métis took tremendous pride in their clothing, the sash, being an attractive piece was highly valued for its aesthetic presence. Often, a decorative beaded pipe bag was added to the Voyageur’s outfit, being suspended from his sash. As well, it was valued for its practicality and versatility. It was warm in the colder seasons and could be used as a rope when none was available. The art of weaving the sash was brought to the western regions via Voyageurs who had encountered the bright ‘scarves’ through contact with French Canadians.

The finger-weaving technique used to make the sash was firmly established in eastern woodland Indian traditions. The technique created tumplines, garters and other useful household articles and items of clothing. Plant fibres were used prior to the introduction of wool. Europeans introduced wool and the sash, as an article of clothing, to the eastern woodland peoples. The Six Nations Confederacy, Potawatomi, and other Indian nations of the area blended the two traditions into the finger-woven sash.

As the Métis took tremendous pride in their clothing, the sash, being an attractive piece was highly valued for its aesthetic presence. Often, a decorative beaded pipe bag was added to the Voyageur’s outfit, being suspended from his sash. As well, it was valued for its practicality and versatility. It was warm in the colder seasons and could be used as a rope when none was available.
The French settlers of Québec created the Assumption variation of the woven sash. Sashes were a popular trade item manufactured in a cottage industry in the village of L’Assomption, Québec. The Québécois and the Métis of Western Canada were their biggest customers. Local Métis artisans also made sashes. Sashes of Indian or Métis manufacture tended to be of a softer and looser weave, frequently incorporating beads in the design.

The Métis share the sash with two other groups who also claim it as a symbol of nationhood and cultural distinction. It was worn by eastern woodland Indians as a sign of office in the 19th century, and French Canadians wore it during the Lower Canada Rebellion in 1837. It is still considered to be an important part of traditional dress for both these groups.

The sash has acquired new significance in the 20th century, now symbolizing pride and identification for Métis people. Manitoba and Saskatchewan have both created “The Order of the Sash” which is bestowed upon members of the Métis community who have made cultural, political or social contributions to their people.

The Métis Flag

Recognized merely as a horizontal figure 8 by many settlers, the Métis flag was carried by the French ‘half-breeds’ with pride. The figure in the centre of a blue field represents the joining of two cultures and as an infinity symbol, represents the immortality of a nation.

As the Métis were strongly associated with the North West Company, a fur trading entity in competition with the HBC, they often fought for NWC causes. As part of a gift giving ceremony in 1814, NWC partner Alexander MacDonnell presented the Métis with this flag, which would soon become a trademark for the nation. Today, the Métis flag is still used and carried as a symbol of continuity and pride.