The Sash
The origins of the sash reflect the diversity of the Métis experience. 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 fibers were used prior to the introduction of wool. Wool and the sash, as an article of clothing, were introduced to the Eastern Woodland peoples by Europeans. The Six Nations Confederacy, Potowatami and other Indian nations of the area blended the two traditions into the finger-woven sash.
The French settlers of Québec created the Assomption variation of the woven sash. The sash was 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. Sashes were also made by local Métis artisans. Sashes of Indian or Métis manufacture tended to be of a softer and loose weave, frequently incorporating beads in the design.
The sash was used by the Métis as a practical item of clothing. It was decorative, warm and could be used to replace a rope to tumpline if none were available. The sash has been the most persistent element of traditional Métis dress, worn long after the capote and the Red River coat were replaced by European styles.
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. It was worn by French Canadians during the Lower Canada Rebellion in 1837. It is still considered to be an important part of traditional dress for both of 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 sash is one of the most recognized garments worn by the Métis. Traditionally, the sash or calenture flechee was worn by men, but today it can be seen on both genders either tied at the waist or draped across one shoulder. The sash can come in many different colour variations, and in the past certain colours and patterns were used to identify specific families from various communities.
Meaning of the Sash Colours…
Red – Is for the blood of the Métis that was shed through the years while fighting for our rights.
Blue – Is for the depth of our spirits.
Green – Is for the fertility of a great nation.
White – Is for our connection to the earth and our creator.
Yellow – Is for the prospect of prosperity.
Black – Is for the dark period of the suppression and dispossession of Métis land.
Originally the sash was used for back support for the voyageurs that traveled the fur brigade trails. It was a belt that was finger woven and had fringe that hung down on either end. Some of the uses for the sash included a tie for a capote, a harness for carrying materials, and a washcloth or towel. The fringed ends were used as thread for an emergency sewing kit.
Although the fur trade days have long ended, the sash still remains an important symbol for the Métis and is often presented as a gift to both Métis and non-Métis people.
The Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket
Point blankets were most often used by Native American tribes as a piece of clothing. The blanket was wrapped around the body and worn like a robe. The blanket became an essential part of daily wear, especially in the winter months, and its importance was reflected in the culture of the times in that it became a major form of currency in a society where barter was the lynchpin of the economy.
Among the many point blankets traded in those times, it was the blanket traded by the Hudson’s Bay Company that became the most prized because of its excellent craftsmanship and high quality. These blankets were woven in blanket mills, mainly those in Oxfordshire and Yorkshire in England.
While the Hudson’s Bay Company never actually manufactured the blankets, it did play a vital role in ensuring the quality and manufacturing standards of the blankets that they imported to the new world. Around 1890, the Hudson’s Bay Company began affixing a label to the blankets to ensure that buyers would be receiving the genuine article, as there were many similar blankets on the market.
Throughout the past century, the label affixed to blankets has changed twenty six times (since 1890); this assists collectors in dating blankets to a particular time period. The Hudson’s Bay blankets became so popular that eventually point blankets themselves came to be associated with the Hudson’s Bay Company.
The blankets were sold in a variety of sizes and colours and their now trademark multi-stripe design with headers of green, red, yellow and indigo came to be associated with the Hudson’s Bay Blanket around 1820. These were later called “Queen Anne’s colours” because during her reign nearly a century earlier (1700-1714), these colours were widely popular. The association of these colours with the Hudson’s Bay point blanket has grown stronger over the years and has since been adopted as part of the corporate identity of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Though it probably made its way there earlier with the migrations of Native American tribes, the Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada eventually officially exported the blanket to the United States where it gained an association with camping and rugged outdoor life. In many cabins for rent through the United States, you will find Hudson’s Bay Blankets on the beds – a sign of prestige associated with the establishment. It’s a kind of moniker saying, “It may be cold and harsh outside – but you’ll sleep warm tonight.”
The cost of this well crafted blanket has grown immensely over the years. In 1800, a pair of four point blankets sold for two pounds sterling, which was then about ten US dollars. In the 1930s, a pair of four point blankets cost $22 Canadian, and by the 1950s, the cost was $25 Canadian for a single blanket. Today a four point blanket costs around $300 Canadian, and is roughly the size of a double bed.
Larger blankets, like the six point queen and the eight point king, cost more and were introduced during the past fifty years to accommodate larger bed sizes. Today, the blankets are made in much the same way as they were many years ago, albeit on more modern machinery.
The wool is gathered, blended, and then carded – a process by which the fibers are straightened. The fibers are then spun into yarn and the yarn is woven tightly into a finished blanket. The blanket is then carefully inspected, washed to remove any oils and brushed to raise the nap slightly and give it the characteristic look people have come to associate with Hudson’s Bay blankets.
Over two centuries old, the Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket has become part of the rich tapestry of the history of North America, a tapestry that’s still being woven today. An Canadian icon for your bed.
The Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket
Over two centuries old, the Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket has become part of the rich tapestry of the history of North America, a tapestry that’s still being woven today. An Canadian icon for your bed.
The Dreamcatcher
An ancient Chippewa tradition, the dream net (or dreamcatcher) has been made for many generations. Where spirit dreams have played, hung above the cradle board or in the lodge up high. The dream net catches bad dreams, while good dreams slip on by. Bad dreams become entangled among the sinew thread. Good dreams slip through the center hole while you dream upon your bed. This is an ancient legend since dreams will never cease. Hang a dream net above your bed and dream on and be at peace.
A dreamcatcher is a Native American good luck talisman reputed to bring good dreams. A knot, or “mistake”, is intentionally woven into each dreamcatcher to trap any bad dreams. Only good dreams would be allowed to filter through. Bad dreams would stay in the net, disappearing with the light of day.
Traditionally, the Ojibwa construct dreamcatchers by tying sinew strands in a web around a small round or tear-shaped frame of willow. The resulting “dreamcatcher”, hung above the bed, is then used as a charm to protect sleeping children from nightmares.
Dreamcatchers made of willow and sinew are not meant to last forever but instead are intended to dry out and collapse over time as the child enters the age of adulthood.
Learn More About Métis
Check out the links below for more information about Métis!
Métis Citizenship Applications
BC Métis Federation
Métis Nation BC
Métis Language/Culture
Métis Culture & Heritage Resource Centre
The Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture
Learn Michif
Métis Commission for Children and Families of BC