Ethnography of Fiddle/Métis Fiddle Tradition

Métis fiddle is the style with which the Métis of Canada and Métis people in the northern parts of the US have developed to play the violin in folk ensemble and solo. It is marked by percussive use of the bow and percussive accompaniment. The Meti people themselves blend First Nations, French, Anglo, Celtic and others. Fiddles were "introduced in this area by Scottish and French-Canadian fur traders in the early 1800s".[1]


Aboriginal rights activist David Chartrand, President of the Manitoba Metis Federation, is interviewed in the 2006 documentary by John Barnard documentary and emphasizes that the Metis fiddle tradition is an aural tradition [2] which cannot be taught in schools. Meti fiddling has been analyzed by ethnomusicologist Lynn Whidden as featured in the film;[2] she indicates that meters can vary from measure to measure and is very percussive. Players use their feet and choke up on the bow to enable a very sharp bite. Some players, such as Sierra Noble, also plays fiddle in either traditional mode or in a modernized or blended Métis style which incorporates Celtic, country,bluegrass and other modern influences. She has been known to play Celtic rock fusion, as in the Sierra Noble Trio with Ariel Posen on guitar and Bruce Jacobs on bass. T[3] Her playing is strongly rooted in the Manitoda Metis style including classic use of feet for percussion both sitting and standing.[4]

In "A Note on Métis Music", Whidden emphasizes the French chanson and "Indian" derivation of the style and that they overlap and are indistinct.[5] She demonstrates this theme infusing lyrics as well, as in the song "Redj'Jan's Shoes -White Man's Shoes":

I ain't red nor am I white,
I've been like this for all of my life.

Citing various personal communications, she indicates that virtually everyone in the community played an instrument, and that gathers were usually in homes because of a lack of large built structures, although she also, somewhat paradoxically, refers to "weekly" dances.


The styles documented are European:polka, waltz, two-step,schottische, and square dance. However, the actual steps intermingle with First Nations means and methods.[6] The chord progressions use complex harmonic structures and abandon the I-IV-V-I progression of the European derived tunes.[7] Audience hand clapping, footstomping and dancing create an aural accompaniment as identified in the secondary literature and enthnomusicological clips.[8]


The central defining tune is Red River Jig, which is not actually a jig but rather a reel. ... relates an anecdote that "the way to drive a Metis crazy is to nail his moccasins to the floorand play the Red River Jig [9] The dancing involves prominent footwork as in Irish dance and has been brought to a high level of dexterity.[10] Cory Poitras demonstrates simultaneous fiddle playing and "jigging" at Metis crossing in a 2007 video clip available online.[11] According to Lederman, this is the same as the "La Grande Gigue Simple" or "La Grandeux" in Québec, which is also found in Cajun playing.[12] Other repertoire she identifies include "Drops of Brandy" ("Le Brandy" in Québec), and "Devil's Reel" ("Le Reel du Pendu" in Québec).[12] and American tunes: "Arkansas Traveller," "Home Sweet Home," and "Billy in the Lowground.[12]

Contemporary Metis Style Fiddle playersEdit

  • Métis Fiddler Quartet
  • John Arcand
  • Sierra Noble
  • Calvin Vollrath
  • Andy de Jarlis
  • Reg Bouvette
  • Cory Poitras


Main page: Métis

The Métis are one of the Aboriginal peoples in Canada who trace their descent to mixed European and First Nations parentage. The term was historically a catch-all describing the offspring of any such union, but within generations the culture syncretised into what is today a distinct Aboriginal peoples in Canada|indigenous group, with formal recognition equal to that of the Inuit and First Nations. Mothers were often Cree, Ojibway, Algonquin people|Algonquin, Saulteaux, Menominee, Mi'kmaq people|Mi'kmaq or Maliseet.[13] At one time there was an important distinction between French Métis born of francophone Voyageurs|voyageur fathers, and the Anglo Métis or Countryborn descended from Scotland|Scottish fathers. Today these two cultures have essentially coalesced into one Métis tradition.[14][15] Other former names—many of which are now considered to be offensive—include Bois-Brûlés, Mixed-bloods, Half-breeds, Bungi, Black Scots and Jackatars.[16]

The Métis homeland includes regions scattered across Canada, as well as parts of the northern United States (specifically Montana, North Dakota, and northwest Minnesota).[17]

Almost 400,000 people self-identify as Métis in Canada. Most Métis people today are not so much the direct result of First Nations and European intermixing any more than English Canadians today are the direct result of intermixing of Saxons and Britons (historical)|Britons. The majority of Métis who self-identify today are the direct result of Métis intermarrying with other Métis. Over the past century, countless Métis are thought to have been absorbed and assimilated into European-Canadian populations making Métis heritage (and thereby Aboriginal peoples in Canada|aboriginal ancestry) more common than is generally realized.[18] Unlike First Nations people, there is no distinction between Treaty status and non-Treaty status, since the Metis did not sign treaties with Canada with the exception of an adhesion to Treaty Three in Northwest Ontario. This adhesion was never implemented by the federal government. The legal definition itself is not yet fully developed. Section Thirty-five of the Constitution Act, 1982|S.35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 recognizes the rights of Indian, Metis and Inuit people in Section 35, however it gives no definitions for these groups.[18]


Le Grand Gigue Simple, Canadian Folk Music from 78

Ethnovideographic documentationEdit

In this field, in accordance with the Ethnography of Fiddle Local Manual of Style, videographers, amateur or professional, are considered to be documentarians and thus secondary sources just as Allan Lomax or other professionally trained ethnomusicologists. Of course, their commentary may merge into authentic primary source to the extent they lack what has been called distanciation by literary critics or would be called professional distance by anthropologists or other trained professional observers. Thus, use of these sources might be controversial in projects such as our sister project Wikipedia, but Wikiversity, with which WikiBooks is closely affiliated, explicitly rejects the Wipedia emphasis on secondary sources and thus the debate is moot. Please note that although this content is open source, it might be subject to controversy or deletion if transferred to Wikipedia.

  • Folklorama 2008 Opening set at Folklorama, Sierra Noble with guitar,plucked eight string, drum and second fiddler backup demonstrates the percussive technique of foot stomping or "clogging" while seated. Note the right foot is more active and uses heel-toe taps. The left knee is synchronized but at she shifts to a one leg percussion first left (2:15) then right, then returning to the original two-footed percussion. She then (3:25) stands and continues left foot foot percussion; the second fiddle uses right foot standing percussion. The tune closes with a double stop "goose egg" or held note with a fermata and she slides into the note.
  • Riverton

This clip, also from 2008, demonstrates a lateral displacement in the seated right foot percussion which is only visible from the frontal camera angle. Note the head position, alternately cocked on the fiddle, which does not appear to have a high classical-style Kuhn or Wolf shoulder rest attached, or vertical, allow the neck muscles to relax. This is distinctively fiddle, as classical violin training, which this fiddler did receive as a child, teaches a less animated head position utilizing a high fixed shoulder rest or chin rest. This clip also evinces two-footed percussion technique.

Other scholarly referencesEdit

  • 1987 Ledennan. Ann Old Native and Metis Fiddling in Manitoba. Vol. L Toronto: Falcon Productions, 783

A. Queen St W. M6J 101

  • Canadian Journal for Traditional Music (1991)

Old Indian and Metis Fiddling in Manitoba: Origins, Structure, and Questions of Syncretism

Anne Lederman

  • This article was originally published in The Canadian Journal of Native Studies 7.2 (1988): 205-30.
  • 1983 Music of the Indians and Metis I & n (Kit). Winnipeg: Manitoba Department of Education and

Training, Media Productions.

  • Whidden, Lynn 'How can you dance to Beethoven? Native people and country music,' CUMR, 5, 1984

' Whidden, Lynn Hymn anomalies in traditional Cree song,' Recherches Amérindiennes au Québec, vol 15, no 4, 1984


  1. ref name= "AL"|Canadian Journal for Traditional Music (1991) Old Indian and Metis Fiddling in Manitba: Origins, Structure, and Questions of Syncretism|Anne Lederman|This article was originally published in The Canadian Journal of Native Studies 7.2 (1988): 205-30.
  2. a b
  3. ref name="SNT"|Sierra Noble TRIO |DABE (Celtic Fiddle Medley)|cinematographer=not give|
  4. ref name=Folklorama2008|source=announcer's intro|titel=Sierra Noble|media=video clip|location=Folklorama Festival 2008 location not stated|date=posted Aug 27, 2008|videographer=battlevan55|post production=battlevan55|url=
  5. ref name=NMM"|date=Undated latest reference is 1989|
  6. NMM
  7. NMM|Citing (personal Communication, Brandon, Manitoba, 1989).
  9. NMM, personal Communication,Crane River, Manitoba, 1981)
  10. dancer=Felicia Morrisseau| affiliation= The Asham Stompers| performance= Red River Jig|venue=unknown|link=
  11. This ref needs to be conformed to the citation style we are establishing on this article|
  12. a b c AL
  13. "First Nations Culture Areas Index". the Canadian Museum of Civilization. 
  14. Ethno-Cultural and Aboriginal Groups
  15. Rinella, Steven. 2008. American Buffalo: In Search of A Lost Icon. NY: Spiegel and Grau.
  16. McNab, David; Lischke, Ute (2005). Walking a Tightrope: Aboriginal People and their Representations. 
  17. Howard, James H. 1965. The Plains-Ojibwa or Bungi: hunters and warriors of the Northern Prairies with special reference to the Turtle Mountain band. University of South Dakota Museum Anthropology Papers 1 (Lincoln, Nebraska: J. and L. Reprint Co., Reprints in Anthropology 7, 1977).
  18. a b Barkwell, Lawrence J., Leah Dorion and Darren Préfontaine. Métis Legacy: A Historiography and Annotated Bibliography. Winnipeg: Pemmican Publications Inc. and Saskatoon: Gabriel Dumont Institute, 2001. ISBN 1-894717-03-1