The sash is a finger woven belt made of brightly coloured wool and/or plant fibres approximately three metres long. (This technique is also used to create garters.) Wrapped about the midsection, the sash was used to carry belongings during fur trade duties, but had many uses. Used as belts, tumplines (a rope worn over the head to pull or carry heavy objects)and ropes, traditionally it was tied at the waist to hold a coat closed. It has fringed ends and the threads in the fringe served as an emergency sewing kit when the Métis were out on the buffalo hunt. The fringe might also have a key tied to some threads, a key that opened a chest left at home and which contained the valuables of the owner. Into this are thrust the buffalo knife behind, and the fire bag at the right side. The sash served as a tourniquet for injuries or to wrap a broken bone, as a wash cloth, as a towel, as a saddle blanket, a bridle and a marker left on a killed buffalo to identify it as the property of the shooter. It could lash your canoe, like a rope, for a portage. The sash used in the past could be upwards of 12 feet long and was utilized as a rope or pulley to assist the free traders to haul the trade goods up, down or along. It acted like a scarf, and the colours helped identify your allegiance.
While sashes are used all over the world, the sashes that voyageurs wore as they paddled their canoes west became the sash that Métis people became famous for. This sash is styled after an “Assomption sash”, named for the town in Quebec where they were mass produced. In French, a Métis sash can be called “un ceinture fleche”, literally “an arrowed belt”. The arrow design can be seen in the weaving.
In more recent times, the Manitoba Métis Federation began a ceremony called “The Order Of The Sash” and has been emulated by most Métis groups. A sash is presented as a thank vou to and honor for outstanding cultural, political and social contributions to the Métis Nation. Presentation of a sash is considered a great honor and it is worn with pride and esteem. Today, the sash is worn by all members of the Métis Nation as a symbol of nationhood and pride. Métis women occasionally wear it over the left shoulder, while others wear it the traditional way, around the waist and tied in the middle, with the fringes hanging down. The sash has been the most persistent element of traditional Métis dress, worn long after the capote and Red River coat were replaced by European styles.