The Metis Sash is Good Medicine

Two hundred years ago the Metis sash had many uses. There was a CBC article that likened it to Batman's toolbelt, which is as good and memorable a comparison that a modern society could grasp. But what was useful during for the fur traders and trappers doesn't apply to most of us today. What use does it have for today's Metis?

The most unsettling things I've read suggest that the sash is only important ceremonially, or as adornment -- a visual symbol of identity. I think that is crass underestimation.

The sash is a story -- a sad one and a hopeful one, but an import ant one that reminds Metis who they are, where they will go, and what the costs were in getting this far.

I've read a lot about the symbolism of the colours. Not everyone agrees universally, and that's fine. Trying to make every Indigenous person or community fit into a tightly fitted container of sameness is not something we should aspire to emulate. Even the word Indigenous itself is a convenient shorthand meant to combine an immense diversity of peoples. 

One thing that is commonly agreed on is that red is the colour of blood: blood that was shed by Metis to preserve rights, freedoms, culture and identity. My sash is a reproduction of the one worn by Louis Riel in the months preceding this death, and by far, red is the predominant colour.

White is the spiritual connection of the Metis people to the earth beneath and the Creator above.

Blue is often suggested to be the depth of the Metis spirit, and when combined with the white in the Metis flag, it tells a beautiful story about the infinite nature of spiritual connection to the earth and the Creator. In the context of a sash, I like to think of blue as the water and sky that nourishes the people.

Green evokes the fertility of earth which, like the air and water, feeds us.

Yellow or Gold is hope for future prosperity. I never think Gold as in Gold Rush. That was a travesty against the land and the Peoples, with settlements and trap lines overrun with settler prospectors. I prefer to see grain or hide -- sustenance that the land provides.  

But my favourite feature of my sash is how the strands of colour are combined in threes. In each combination there is red, suggesting the blood that was shed to preserve freedoms and values signified in the other colours of the trio. And in the very centre of the sash, three red strands which to me suggest bravery and ultimate sacrifice. Even in defeat, individual lives were given to protect and preserve an overall way of life.  

Do not wear your sash as identity without knowing what your identity is. When you forget who you are, the sash is medicine. Wrap yourself in it and be reminded. Look at the colours and think about what they mean. It doesn't matter if the colours tell you the story differently. Read the story; think about the meaning; share it with people who don't understand. It is not a costume. It is your history.