The Spirit of Resistance 12

The events of the Northwest Rebellion eventually led to the surrender, by Riel, against overwhelming odds. He felt this would save further blood shed and that the ensuing trial would provide a platform from which to air the grievances of the Metis people. He did not wish his actions to be known as those of a “madman”, the defense’s main tool. This did not help him. After pleading the case of the Metis for an hour, the judge finally lost patience and along with the jury, sentenced him to be “hanged by the neck until dead”. The arm of the law could not be seen as weak.

I often ponder the many aspects of the Riel situation. I think about my grandmother, Josephine Daigneault and how she must have heard the story many times as a child; perhaps there were still relatives living who were affected by the death of their relative.

I think about Riel’s situation;  how he was thrown into a situation he may not have been fully prepared for because he was educated and religious. His father was a man of strong opinion and ambition and probably gave him a strong sense of responsibility towards the community.

Talk of his sanity brings to my mind the religious raptures that the nun, Marie L’Incarnation experienced as she went through the trials of establishing a convent in the New World.  We are taught that we must put our faith in God when we are overwhelmed with fear. Belief can overcome.  That is what it would take to face the strong possibility of death.

I think Riel’s life is an example of being swept up by forces out of our control, about fighting against greed, deceit and inhumanity. Rest in Peace, cher cousin.

The Spirit of Resistance 11

After the rebellion in the Red River colony,  many people migrated to Saskatchewan in the areas of Prince Albert and St. Laurent.  Not long after that the new settlers, Metis and white,  began to demand the same rights to land as those in Manitoba. In the first year, 1878,  the lots were surveyed running back from the river but were later changed to the square surveying method.  Title to the land was not granted nor was any change made to surveying methods and worse, they had no democratic right to representation.

Again, Riel was called upon in St. Peter’s, Montana where he was teaching, to represent  the settlers in dealing with the federal government. Riel however, did not find support from the Church when he arrived.  On December 16, 1884, a petition was drafted by Riel requesting the organization of Saskatchewan as a province. Further to that, a Bill of Rights on March 8, 1885, called for Alberta and Saskatchewan to have their own legislatures. These would only be implemented after Riel’s death.

The disregard of the government would soon lead the Northwest into the unrest that had occurred in Manitoba. The Metis formed a Provisional Government on March 19, 1885 which was also termed the “Exovedate”.  Riel was asked to advocate for responsible government, parliamentary representation and land grants for French and English Metis and white settlers. Also tabled would be income from land sales for hospitals, schools and farm equipment, better provision for the Indians and the establishment of Alberta and Saskatchewan as provinces.

Running in the background of this political unrest was the fate of the railway and the fortunes of then Prime Minister John A. Macdonald.  Macdonald had gained his seats by granting tariff protection to manufacturers in the east who in turn supported the Conservative Party. This tariff protection was coined by MacDonald as the “National Policy” and it soon led to what became known as the “Pacific Scandal”.  Macdonald had accepted election funds from shipping magnate Sir Hugh Allan in exchange for the contract to build the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway. Macdonald resigned and Alexander Mackenzie became Prime Minister. However, because of a depression Allan lost the charter to build the railway.

In 1878, John Macdonald (after a prolonged alcoholic binge), and the Conservative Party were re-elected and his ambition for nation building rose once again. This time, his horizons broadened to western immigration and the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. His ambitions trammelled the rights of the Indian and Metis people whose way of life depended on the land the railway would cross over. The buffalo had disappeared and treaties were made with the Indians to live on reserves where starvation would limit their movement.   The near bankrupt CPR would receive huge money and land grants and tax exemptions. In 1883, it was in trouble again and a further grant was given. In 1885, another request was made which the federal cabinet rejected.

At the same time, the Battle of Duck Lake in Saskatchewan erupted led by Gabriel Dumont against Major Crozier of the NWMP.  The Metis had sent Isadore Dumont and Assywin (an Indian Leader) to talk peace with the Major but were shot down. At this, firing commenced, the Metis forcing Crozier’s men to retreat. This was the perfect excuse for Macdonald to persuade the cabinet to grant the money needed to for the railway.

Now, Riel, as leader of the Northwest Rebellion, was a condemned man. General Frederick Middleton was sent at the head of 3,000 militia to the area of Batoche, Saskatchewan, in opposition to a mere 400 Metis. Battles occurred at Duck Lake, Fish Creek and Batoche where trenches were dug as rifle pits. The Metis held out for three days but were no match for the Gatling guns and cannons of Crozier’s troops. The battle met its unequivocal end on May 12, 1885. Dumont escaped to the United States but Riel voluntarily surrendered thinking that his trial for high treason would at least allow him a venue to plead the case for his people.