The advent of the fur trade in west central North America during the 18th century was accompanied by a growing number of mixed offspring of Indian women and European fur traders . As this population established distinct communities separate from those of Indians and Europeans and married among themselves, a new Aboriginal people emerged – the Métis people – with their own unique culture, traditions, language (Michif), way of life, collective consciousness and nationhood.
Distinct Métis communities developed along the routes of the fur trade and across the Northwest within the Métis Nation Homeland. This Homeland includes the three Prairie provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta), as well as, parts of Ontario, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and the Northern United States.
Today, many of these historic Métis communities continue to exist along rivers and lakes where forts and posts were hubs of fur trade activity from Ontario westward. As well, large numbers of Métis citizens now live in urban centres within the Métis Nation Homeland; however, even within these larger populations, well-defined Métis communities exist.
Consistently throughout history, the Métis people have acted collectively to protect and fight for their rights, lands and ongoing existence as a distinct Aboriginal people and nation within the Canadian federation –from the Métis provisional governments of Riel in Manitoba (1869-70) and Saskatchewan (1885) to contemporary Métis governing bodies. This dedication continues to exist as citizens and communities throughout the Métis Nation Homeland keep the nation’s distinct culture, traditions, language and lifestyle alive and pursue their own social and economic development.
According to the 2006 Census, almost 400,000 people reported they were Métis with almost 90% located in the western provinces and Ontario. The Métis were younger than non-Aboriginal people (25% of the Métis population was aged 14 and under compared to 17% in the non-Aboriginal population). Almost 70% of Métis lived in urban centres, the largest concentration in Winnipeg (40,980), Edmonton (27,740), Vancouver (15,075), Calgary (14,770) and Saskatoon (9,610).
Urban Métis were twice as likely as urban non-Aboriginal people to live in smaller urban centres (41% of urban Métis lived in cities with a population of less than 100,000).The Métis make up a considerable share of the population in several smaller urban centres : in Manitoba, Portage la Prairie (10%) and Thompson (10%); in Saskatchewan, Prince Albert (17%), North Battleford (7%) and Lloydminster (7%); in Alberta, Cold Lake 6% and Grande Prairie (5%); in British Columbia, Dawson Creek (8%) and Prince George (5%); and in Ontario, Midland (9%) and Kenora (8%).
In the rural and hinterland areas of the mid-Canada corridor from northwestern Ontario across the north-central Prairies and into the Peace River district, there are a number of predominantly Métis communities or mixed communities with significant Métis populations . Northwestern Saskatchewan with Métis-majority communities like Ile-a-la-Crosse and Buffalo Narrows is a prime example. Another is the eight Métis Settlements in northern Alberta comprising the sole Métis land base in Canada, with close to 9,000 residents on 1.25 million acres of land.