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Ethnic Groups, Part Two: The Métis

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After the Métis Rebellion of 1870 was quelled in Manitoba, even more Métis moved west, settling in Alberta along the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers. But the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway signaled the beginning of a new wave of settlement by other ethnic groups.

This did not sit well with Louis Riel, who envisioned the West as a political nation for Métis, natives and Catholics. And as historian David Leonard explains, Métis leader Louis Riel once again raised the battle cry amongst his people.

(David Leonard) The concerns gave vent to physical violence and the Frog Lake Massacre in 1885, and the government sent an Alberta Field Force and other troops westward to settle the matter. And, along the Saskatchewan, the Métis did rise on behalf of Louis Riel to a great extent, and Chief Big Bear, of the Cree, also found common alliance with the Métis. And so, with the battle of Batoche and the defeat of the contingent led by Gabrielle Dumont and Louis Riel, effectively this meant that the northwest of Canada would not be an enclave of Métis culture, nor indeed would it be an enclave of Francophone culture.

Defeated in the North West Rebellion of 1885, the Métis were pushed further north as farmers from Ontario and settlers from Europe moved into the West. Some took up trapping and trading, and ran barges up the Athabasca River to Fort Chipewyan. Others took scrip, which entitled them to 240 acres. But most sold their entitlement, and by the early 20th century, it was clear the Métis of Alberta were landless, homeless and desperately poor.

(David Leonard) So that by 1934, the government, recognizing the plight of the Métis, which was made more severe by the fact of the Great Depression, decided to establish a committee of inquiry into the condition of the Métis in Alberta. Justice J. B. Ewing was assigned to head a commission called the Ewing Commission, which took vast evidence and looked at the plight of the Métis, and recommended that a number of settlements be established throughout the central and northern areas of the province; vast tracts of land, set aside for the Métis, and people who could prove they were Métis, so they could be given this land free, in order to begin careers in farming, and to possibly better their lot as a semi-indigenous people.

The land was to be given free so that Alberta's Métis could farm, and hopefully prosper once again.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.


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