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The Northwest Resistance

Northwest Resistance Soldiers The Northwest Resistance (also referred to as the Northwest Rebellion, the Saskatchewan Rebellion, and the second Riel Rebellion) of 1885 was a notable, brief, and unsuccessful attempt by the dissatisfied peoples of the Northwest Territories to establish their own nation independent of the Dominion of Canada. An armed uprising, the resistance occurred along the North Saskatchewan River, and was the result of Métis, First Nations and white settlers’ discontent over land and other rights not accorded them by the government.

After the Red River Resistance of 1869-1870, many of the Métis moved from Manitoba to present-day Saskatchewan, where they founded the settlement of Batoche on the South Saskatchewan River. However, here they found themselves once again facing the arrival of settlers from Ontario. The government’s reaction was minimal, and in 1884 the Métis requested that Louis Riel return from the United States — where he had fled in self-imposed exile after the Red River Resistance — and appeal to the government on their behalf.

In 1885, a group of men including Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, set up a provisional government and mobilized their armed forces, believing that they could influence the federal government as they had done in 1869. However, now they had the North West Mounted Police to contend with and a railway line running across Canada. The Canadian Pacific Railway played a key role in stopping the Resistance by transporting government troops to the area in a fraction of the time that it had taken to send troops in response to Riel's previous uprising.

The small log house used during Battle of Duck Lake Riel lacked support from both the English settlers of the area and many of the non-Métis Aboriginals; and because of his belief that God had sent him back to Canada as a prophet, the Catholic Church no longer supported him either. The government’s reaction was astonishingly swift, and in less than a month’s time, almost three thousand troops had been transported west. Gabriel Dumont fled to the United States, while Riel stood trial and was hanged for treason on November 16, 1885, in Regina. Many of the other participants in the Resistance, many of them First Nations, were also found guilty of treason and sentenced to prison terms or hanged.

The Battle of Duck Lake signaled the beginning of the Northwest Resistance. A few First Nations were among Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont’s group of Métis who clashed with the NWMP, led by Superintendent Crozier. After only half an hour the NWMP were forced to retreat. Key Métis events in the Northwest Resistance also included the successful Métis victories at the Battle of Fish Creek, as well as their defeat at the Battle of Batoche. For further information about Métis life in the Northwest, see “The Métis in Alberta” at www.albertasource.ca/metis/index.htm.)

The Northwest Resistance was significant, for it was the only time in Canadian history during which there was open armed conflict between the First Nations and the Canadian government. The following section explores the involvement of Treaty 6 First Nations in the Northwest Resistance, including the fates of Big Bear and Poundmaker, the 1884 Thirst and Hunger Dances, the Sacking of Fort Battleford, the Frog Lake Massacre, the Siege of Fort Pitt, the Battle of Cut Knife Hill, the Battle of Frenchman's Butte, the Battle of Loon Lake, and the Executions of some of the participants in the Northwest Resistance.

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