Intersections and Intertwinings: Understanding the Métis Sash

Written by: Laura Golebiowski, Indigenous Heritage Section

Editor’s note: November 14-20 is Métis Week, the annual invitation to remember the leadership, advocacy, sacrifice and legacy of Louis Riel, and to celebrate the continued achievements of Métis peoples across their homelands.

RETROactive readers will already be familiar with Matt Hiltermann for his extensively researched accounts of the Métis presence in southern Alberta. Did you know he is also a skilled fingerweaver and sashmaker? With Matt’s help, writer Laura Golebiowski dives into the historical roots and evolving cultural significance of the Métis sash. Note: banner image above courtesy of Travel Alberta.

Métis public historian Matt Hiltermann is the first to note the origins of the Métis sash are convoluted and obscure. Though several cultures produced woven textiles, the sash’s beginnings are understood to lie with the traditional weaving practices of eastern woodland First Nations, combined—quite literally—with woolen goods introduced by early French visitors. The coming together of these two cultures and crafts produced a unique item truly of its time and place. “It couldn’t have happened any other way or anywhere else.”

With practical beginnings, the sash likely served numerous functions, including a rope, tumpline (a carrying strap worn across the head), pocket, tourniquet, emergency sewing kit or belt. The earliest designs were that of the double-chevron or arrowhead. The Assomption sash, or ceinture fléchée (“arrow belt”), proliferated with the fur trade and made its way to west. Varying colours and designs were used to signify rank, status and trading allegiances or employment.

“A gentleman travelling in a dog cariole in Hudson’s Bay with an Indian guide,” 1825. Source: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. R9266-1052.2 Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana. Although not explicitly identified as such (typical of exclusionary practices of the time), the middle individual driving the cariole and wearing a traditional capote, leggings and sash is very likely Métis.
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