Red River Rebellion (1869-1870), resistance movement against the sale to Canada of territories held by the Hudson’s Bay Company. It marked the high point, but also signaled the decline, of the Métis people’s power in the Canadian west. The Métis descended from the intermarriage of Europeans with indigenous peoples and they possess elements of both cultures.
The Hudson’s Bay Company charter of 1670 gave the company ownership of the lands drained by all the rivers flowing into Hudson Bay. In 1869 Hudson’s Bay agreed to sell this immense territory, known as Rupert’s Land, to Canada, effective December 1 of that year. The deal, however, was negotiated without consulting the 12,000 people who lived in the district of Assiniboia, better known as the Red River colony, in the southern part of Rupert’s Land. About 90 percent of these people were Métis, who included both French-speaking Catholics and English-speaking Protestants. Many worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company manning the boat brigades and cart trains that transported furs and supplies across Rupert’s Land.
The English speakers would have accepted Canadian jurisdiction. However, most of the French speakers feared that their language and religion would be jeopardized by massive immigration from the province of Ontario and that they might lose their small landholdings, many of which were not legally documented.
|III||SEIZURE OF CONTROL|
Under the leadership of Louis Riel, a group of French-speaking Métis stopped a Canadian survey party on October 11, 1869. This was their first act of resistance. They then formed the Métis National Council, which on October 21 issued an order to William McDougall, the governor appointed by Canada, not to enter the colony. On December 8, after seizing control of the Hudson’s Bay headquarters at Fort Garry (now Winnipeg), Riel proclaimed a provisional government of which he soon became president.
Having no way to send troops to Red River in the middle of winter, Canada tried to negotiate through emissaries like Donald A. Smith, an official of Hudson’s Bay. Smith persuaded the Métis to send delegates to the Canadian capitol in Ottawa to present their grievances to the government, and three delegates left for Ottawa at the end of March 1870. By then Riel had consolidated his power and formed a second provisional government with support from some of the white settlers and English-speaking Métis, as well as the French-speaking Métis.
|IV||FORMATION OF A PROVINCE|
In a series of meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald and Minister of Militia and Defense Sir George-Étienne Cartier, the three delegates negotiated terms of the land transfer to Canada. These were approved in May by Canada’s parliament (legislature) as The Manitoba Act, 1870. The small area around the Red River colony became part of Canada on July 15, 1870, as the province of Manitoba, with special guarantees for the French language and Catholic education. The new province was self-governing except that the federal government retained control over Manitoba’s public lands and natural resources. This allowed Canada to pursue plans to build nationhood in the west through immigration and railway construction. The rest of Rupert’s Land became the nonself-governing Northwest Territories of Canada.
The transfer did not end conflict entirely, however. On March 4, 1870, Riel had allowed the court martial and execution of Thomas Scott, a man from Ontario who had repeatedly helped organize armed opposition against the Métis provisional government. The execution of Scott caused such an outcry in Canada that Riel had to flee Fort Garry on August 24, 1870, when Colonel Garnet Wolseley’s Canadian expeditionary force took possession of Manitoba. This set off a chain of events culminating in Riel’s second resistance movement, the Northwest Rebellion of 1885. Defeated after two months of resistance, Riel was tried for treason and executed the same year.
|VI||SIGNIFICANCE TO HISTORY|
Interpretations of the Red River Rebellion differ. Some historians see it as a valiant attempt by indigenous people to protect their rights in the face of Canadian expansionism. Others see it as a misguided adventure that provoked needless ill will, made Manitoba a province before it was ready for self-government, and led to the massive migration of Métis out of Manitoba.