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.

 

The Spirit of Resistance 5

It is hard to say whether Selkirk had any real notion of the circumstances the Scottish settlers would find themselves in when they arrived on the banks of the Red River (modern-day Winnipeg) in 1812. The journey to that point had already been an arduous one. Not long after their arrival, they were met by men “painted, disfigured and dressed in the savage costume of the country”, employees of the Northwest Company who ordered them out.  These were the “half-breeds” French and Scots. A new colony would block the company’s trade route to the northwest.

The new settlers, already exhausted, decided to continue on to Pembina, 69 miles away in North Dakota. Soon, they were followed by a group of Metis offering to guide them but this time working under their own egis. The language we now know as “Michif” did not seem to hamper negotiations and a rigorous trade was done leaving many of the colonists bereft of prized possessions including wedding rings and family heirlooms. In Pembina, the winter was spent living on the “products of the chase”. The next year, since no crops had survived, they returned to Pembina. This time they were surprised at the selfish behavior of the Metis and had to barter away some of their clothing to survive. They did not return back to the colony much better off than when they had left.

Out of this desperate situation, the Pemmican Proclamation arose, denying any outside trading of goods that were brought into or were a product of the colony. including pemmican. This started a type of civil war between the “Norwesters”, largely Metis and the Hudson’s Bay Company. It later became known as the “Pemmican Wars”.  The trade in buffalo products would be curtailed, thus reducing the livelihood of the Metis. It became so bad that some of the colonists actually joined their enemies in order to survive. Hatred welled until their homes were eventually burned to the ground.

Under the leadership of an educated Scotch half-breed named Cuthbert Grant, an order was issued,  “All settlers to retire immediately from the River and no appearance of a colony to remain.” It was signed by Cuthbert Grant, Bostanais Pangman, William Shaw and Bonhomme Montour.

My 4th great grandfather, Dugald Cameron, whom I have mentioned previously was a very willing participant in all of the events leading up to the of the “Battle of Seven Oaks”.  Speaking the Gaelic tongue and using it to inspire dissension among the settlers, he sent many off to Canada (Quebec) with the promise of land and goods. The determination of the settlers was paid with violence and upheaval. Those that did not leave moved up to Norway House, then called Jack River. Cuthbert Grant seeing the way events were going, attempted to stop the bloodshed but most of the men with Robert Semple were shot down. There still remains controversy over who fired the first shot.  Among the list of casualties, we find Toissant Vaudry another 4th great-grandfather who lost an arm. Alexander Ross states that it would have been better if Semple had gone out to talk on his own instead of displaying arms. The battle called Lord Selkirk back to the colony with a group of disbanded soldiers known as the “de Meurons” and led to actions on his part for which he would pay dearly.

Among my ancestors who may have been part of the uprising would be Charles, Jean and Pierre Beauchamp, Jean Baptiste Lagimodiere, Toussaint Vaudry, Louis Cyr, Joseph Daigneault and of course John Dugal Cameron through his wife Marie Lesperance.

Quotes are from Alexander Ross “The Red River Settlement: It’s Rise, Progress and Present State, Published 1856