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The Red River Rebellion

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The Red River Rebellion

During the late 1860s the Red River Settlement was rapidly changing and along with these changes came multiple causes and conflicts that would subsequently lead to a resistance called the Red River Rebellion. Many profound changes occurred in the Red River Settlement that had caused problems and hostility among the inhabitants to emerge such as:the arrival of Canadians to the settlement, the economic problems and the decline of the Hudson Bay Company. However, the Red River Rebellion was sparked by the Hudson Bay Company selling Rupert’s Land to the new Dominion of Canada without consulting with the inhabitants nor paying any regard to their interests.The colonists of the Red River Settlement, many of whom were Metis, feared for their culture and land rights under the dominion’s control. In order to ascertain that their rights would be protected, the Metis set up a provisional government under the leadership of Louis Riel to negotiate an agreement with the new Dominion of Canada that the Red River Settlement and the lands surrounding it, could enter Confederation as the province of Manitoba under their own terms.

During the 1850s, the population of Canada West was rapidly rising, this meant that the majority of the suitable land for agriculture had already been farmed and settled. Thus, more and more people were moving West seeking for new areas to occupy and clear.The Red River Valley was a very appealing prospect to them because of its fertile soil and small population. However, the majority of the migrating population in the Red River were Protestants and members of the Orange Order, this fact alone had caused tension to rise within the colony. The Orange Order was a Protestant movement that was vehemently anti-French and anti-Catholic. The Metis was discriminated by the members of the Order, not only because the Metis both spoke French and were Catholics, they were also perceived as inferior because of their bicultural heritage. One of the most prominent members of the Orange Order was Dr. John Schultz. He arrived at the Red River Settlement in the 1860s. Schultz took over the only newspaper in the colony, The NorWester, and published numerous anti-Metis views. Consequently, agitating the Metis and increasing the tension and uncertainty among the Metis. Schultz also organized a small group of anti-Metis supporters into the Canadian Party, which he hoped would eventually gain dominance over the settlement. Schultz actions led to further animosity and rancor with the Metis.

Another factor that contributed to the rising hostility at the Red River Settlement was the economic problems and the decline of the Hudson Bay Company. Before the 1860s, the colonists and the Metis managed to work cooperatively with each other because the economy of the Red River Settlement depended heavily upon the needs of the Hudson Bay Company. However, the depleting bison number, the failing crops and the near extinction of fur-bearing animals all disturbed the fragile balance that existed within the colony as well as aided the decline of the Hudson Bay Company. With all the economic problems mentioned above, the majority of the populace of the Red River Settlement had lost their main source of livelihood. For example, the bison hunt provided the Metis of their main income and profoundly relied upon it to give them their supply of pemmican to last the winter. With the bison resources nearly exhausted, the Metis not only have to find another source of income but they also needed to find an alternative for the pemmican which was a staple for their diet during the winter seasons. On another matter, the failing crops meant that the Hudson Bay Company had lost its main supplier of food and produce for its network of fur-trading posts throughout the Northwest.The failing crops also meant that many Scottish farmers were without income and possibly had very little to no food at their disposal. To complicate matters further, the Hudson Bay Company’s growing lack of interest towards Rupert’s Land was a cause of economic instability as well. Fur-bearing animals were becoming scarce, thus the decline in fur-trade. Consequently, it became the cause of the Hudson Bay Company’s downturn considering its prime commercial focus was the fur-trade. The decline of the Hudson Bay Company meant the company could not properly govern its territory. Maintaining control over such a vast land was not exactly easy thereby the Hudson Bay Company was extremely interested in relinquishing control of Rupert’s Land.

On November of 1869, the Hudson Bay Company resigned its control of Rupert’s Land on the condition that it received a cash payment of £300,000, 2.8 million hectares of prairie farmland and the right to continue the fur trade, although without the monopoly it previously possessed to the Canadian government. The inhabitants of the Red River Settlement, especially the Metis, were greatly angered by this because the Hudson Bay Company proceeded with the sale of Rupert’s Land without consulting them nor paying any regard to their interests. Furthermore, the Canadian government sent out a contractor to build a road from Red River to the lake of Woods and surveyors to lay out the grids of townships and sections for settlement before the transfer was even completed. To complicate matters more, the surveyors operated on the assumption that the current inhabitants in the colony did not own their property and paid no heed to the traditional strip lots of the Metis that had existed along the Red and Assiniboine Rivers since the 1820s. This alarmed the Metis tremendously, they feared that the government was taking away their land. They were concerned that the government would not recognize their claim on their land because they had no papers to prove their entitlement to their properties. The arrival of Canadians, most of whom were Protestants and members of the Orange Order, seeking for a new area to farm and settle only reaffirmed them of their fears.

The Metis finally draw the line, when the Canadian government arranged for the government of the settlers by appointing William McDougall lieutenant-governor of Rupert’s Land and North West territories without consulting with them prior to taking actions. Alarmed by the possibility that they were being driven off their land, the Metis decided to take matters on their own hand. Louis Riel formed the Metis National Committee to fight for Metis’ concerns about their land. The Metis National Committee’s first action was to halt McDougall’s entrance into the new territory. Their party met with Governor McDougall and told him to return to Ottawa because they intended to govern themselves. Their next action was to seize Fort Garry and its munitions. This incident officially begun what most people would later call as the Red River Rebellion. However, although their actions seemed as if they were trying to stage a rebellion against the Canadian government to those outside their community, Riel and his supporters had no intention of rebelling against the government. Their only objective was to assure that the rights and traditions of the inhabitants of the Red River Settlement would be protected and preserved upon entering Confederation. The Metis defined themselves as a nation and they wanted to assert their right to decide on their fate. It is not that Riel and his supporters refused to join Confederation, however, they would only join Canada if it is done under their terms and provided that their List of Rights was heard. Hence, Riel decided to set up a provisional government to maintain order and to negotiate an agreement to enter Confederation as Manitoba and to ascertain that his people would receive the same rights and privileges the other colonies had received upon joining Confederation.

During the winter of 1869-70 and the spring of 1870, Riel’s provisional government remained in control at Fort Garry. However, Riel feared that civil war would transpire because the Canadian Party was already armed and poised to attack the Metis. So, on early December of 1869, Riel alongside his supporters, raided Schultz’s home which was headquarters to the Canadian Party. Riel in cooperation with his men arrested Schultz and forty-eight of his followers and held them captive in Fort Garry. Unfortunately, Schultz managed to escape from Fort Garry and attempted to free the other prisoners. Even so, before Schultz could attack, he and his supporters clashed with the Metis. As a result, more of his followers were taken prisoner. One of these prisoners was Thomas Scott. Scott was one of the most belligerent member of the Orange Order. He loudly expressed his anti-Metis views, assaulted his guards both physically and verbally, and threatened Riel’s life. So, on March 4,1870, Riel and his council, much to their regret, executed Scott. Schultz did not hesitate to use this fact to his advantage, he headed for Ontario around the same time Riel and his delegates departed for Ontario to negotiate with the Canadian government about the creation of the Province of Manitoba and its entry to Confederation and the moment Schultz arrived in Ontario, not only did he disseminated his views on the Metis, he, along with the Orange Order created a mythology surrounding Thomas Scott’s death, turning him into a Protestant martyr who had been brutally murdered by the Metis. The murder of Scott brought forth the bitterest of feelings in the English-speaking Canada. Appeals for justice and retribution soon reached the government’s office in Ottawa. By the time Riel and his delegates arrived, Ontario was in uproar. This made John A. Macdonald a difficult negotiator. However, Macdonald’s ideal of creating a country that stretch from sea to sea played well for the Metis. In the end, the colony of Red River entered Confederation as the province of Manitoba. Macdonald and his government also granted them with a 200,00 hectares of land as recognition for the Metis’ aboriginal status. Alas, the citizens of Ontario were displeased by this. In order to support and satisfy the cries for justice of the Ontarians for Scott’s death, Macdonald sent a 1200 man militia to Red River under Colonel Wolseley. Wolseley’s order were the following: seize Riel’s provisional government, capture Riel with his councils and to maintain peace in the Red River until a provincial government could be set up in the colony. Unfortunately, when Wolseley and his men arrived at Fort Garry on August of 1870, Riel had already fled the scenes without fighting and took refuge in the United States. The arrival of Wolseley’s expedition in the Red River marked the effective end of the Red River Rebellion.

The Red River Colony was changing, but it wasn’t the only one, all of Canada was changing, because in the late 1860s Canada entered a new era and the changes and events that occurred in the Red River was only the beginning of many more conflicts and circumstances to come that would help shape and define this age Canada has entered. Although the Red River Rebellion had ostensibly achieved most of its major objectives -- a distinct province with its inhabitants’ rights and cultures guaranteed -- the Metis would soon find themselves at a disadvantage. They would rise yet again for another rebellion called The North-West Rebellion of 1885 to assert their nationality once more.

Horizon; Canada Moves West pages 130-162

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