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CHAPTER 2: Threats Internal and External

Events Leading Up to the North-West Rebellion (1 page)


Between 1871 and 1898 the event that had the greatest impact on Canada's young defence force was unquestionably the second Métis uprising that rocked the North-West Territories in the spring of 1885. This crisis stemmed from conditions closely resembling those that had prevailed in the Red River region in 1870. The seeds of the conflict were sown in 1872 when government emissaries passed over the heads of the Métis and signed a treaty with the Aboriginals of the Qu'Appelle district.

Close behind them came the surveyors who began carving up the big free spaces into settlement lands. Between 1878 and 1884 the Métis sent dozens of demands to Ottawa, calling for recognition of their right to the land they had been occupying for, in some cases, more than a generation. But nothing was done. The first land registry office in the Territories opened in Prince Albert in 1881 while disputes and fraud cases still dogged the 1870 Manitoba agreements.

This situation exasperated the Métis, many of whom had drifted back west from Manitoba, where the land was being overrun by settlers threatening their way of life. In May 1884 the Métis Council of Batoche held a meeting at which its leader, Gabriel Dumont, managed to get a motion passed inviting Louis Riel to come to the defence of his brothers.

Married, Riel was now living in Montana, where he taught at the Saint Pierre Mission. The Saskatchewan Métis delegation arrived there on 4 June. Five days later Riel resigned his position, beginning his journey north the following day. The Riel of 1884 was more fanatical than the previous one. He believed it was his mission to lead the Métis and Indians and ensure they became united as a single people.

Between the time of Riel's arrival in Batoche and the end of the winter of 1884-85, Ottawa's failure to respond to Métis claims stirred up unrest that reached a peak when a Hudson's Bay Company employee returning from Winnipeg informed the Métis that police were being sent to crush their revolt and clap Riel in irons. On 19 March, when the Métis traditionally gathered for the feast of St Joseph, their patron saint, they formed a provisional government led by Riel with Gabriel Dumont as adjutant-general. Batoche became the capital of this government and, very soon, the objective that the Canadian government authorities wanted to smash.

The group referred to as the "rebels" were planning to take action; their main goal now was to persuade the Indians to make common cause with the Métis. This diplomatic manoeuvre had only limited success; in the end, very few Amerindians actually supported the Métis. Seeking complete control over the territory, the Riel-Dumont government demanded that the North-West Mounted Police cede Fort Carlton and Fort Battleford. All the pieces were in position for the tragedy to occur.