One of the most prominent symbols of the Métis Nation is the brightly coloured, woven sash. In the days of the voyageur, the sash was both a colourful and festive item of clothing and an important tool worn by the hardy tradesmen. Doubling as a rope when needed, the sash served as a key holder, first aid kit, washcloth, towel, and as an emergency bridle and saddle blanket. Its fringed ends could become a sewing kit when the Métis were on the land.
The art of sash weaving was brought to the western regions of Canada by Voyageurs who 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 in the area blended the two traditions to produce the finger-woven sash.
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, and beads were frequently incorporated into 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.
Meaning of Its Colours
Order of the Sash
The “Order of the Sash” is a short ceremony (no more than a few minutes) that the Métis Nation utilizes to recognize extraordinary/exceptional work that supports Métis citizens. The ceremony involves the Métis Nation leadership (usuallythe President) who presents the Order at a specific forum/event to ensure there are witnesses from the Métis community.
The Order of the Sash ceremony is the presentation of the ceremonial sash (the cultural icon for the Métis citizens). The ceremonial Order of the Sash has been specifically designed as a very distinct Sash and involves all of the traditional colours recognized by the Métis.
The Order of the Sash is a distinct award provided by Métis leadership to honour important work by an individual. The Métis Nation only recognizes special work that supports the Métis Nation and any individual who receives this prestigious award should feel quite honoured.
Real Significance of the Sash
The Métis sash has numerous colours. And each colour has a different meaning. If you look you will see red, green, gold, blue, white and at the end of it (in the fringe part), there is a tiny bit of black. Let’s look at the meaning of each colour.
The colour red is the most prominent colour in the sash. The red represents the lives that were lost over the years. It represents the blood that has flowed and has been washed away. But at the same time, the Métis people are still here today, so it represents their strength.
The green in the sash represents fertility. Fertility from the womb, the birth process but also from the land. What is given to us by the land and by the life givers, aka women.
The gold signifies prosperity and the resilience of the people. Their will to continue their cultural heritage and pass it down to future generations. Their resilience through trauma.
The blue represents spirituality, our connectedness to one another, the “all my relations” part.
Similarly, the white signifies our connection to the Creator, to the land, to the sky and to water.
Finally, the little black thread at the end of the sash represents colonization. The loss of culture, lives, ways of life.
The Métis Symbol
Finally, the Métis people also have a symbol, which you can see on the sash. Yes, some people would say “it’s the infinity symbol”. And they would be right, it is. However, it also has another meaning within the Métis culture. Actually, it as two. The symbol represents the joining of two cultures as well as the existence of people forever.
The Métis Sash
Historically, the sash has had a different meaning to the many who have shared in its origin. But none have celebrated and adopted the L'assomption Sash (Ceinture flechee) to their proud heritage as did the Métis Nation.
This colourful sash, as well as being distinguishable Métis apparel, had many more uses. It had fringed ends. These served as emergency sewing kits when the Métis were out on a buffalo hunt. The sash also served as a key holder, first aid kit, washcloth, towel, and as an emergency bridle and saddle blanket.
In the west, the name L'assomption Sash gave way to today's term "the Métis sash". It has been said that this likely occurred because many of the sash wearing voyageurs were of mixed blood and the sash was most popular among the Métis of the Red River. Today the Métis sash continues to be an integral part of the Métis cultural celebrations.