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Nellie Defends Louis Riel

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

Nellie's "Besetting Sin"

 Disastrous Slow Ox Race

 Nellie Defends Louis Riel

Wes McClung


Nellie McClung, Clearing in the West: My Own Story (Toronto: Thomas Allen, 1935) 170-171.

After the Christmas dinner of turkey and plum pudding, the men sat and talked of the trouble Louis Riel was causing. . . .Frank Burnett was indignant that the Government had not sent an armed force, just as soon as the trouble began. . . .

I wanted to talk. Mr. Schultz had told us about it in school. The half-breeds and Indians had a grievance, a real one. . . .But much to my delight, Hannah came forward and defended the half breeds. Hannah was always listened to when she spoke. She had what I lacked, a quiet and dignified way of expression. . . .

They all began to talk; and I could feel a hostile tide of opinion gathering and sweeping ahead of it all good sense and reason and it seemed to me I would have to speak, no matter what happened. Will would listen to me anyway. I went over and stood before him.

"Will," I said, "I want to talk, make them keep quiet."

"Nellie has something on her mind," Will called out in his good humored way. "It is not often this poor tongue-tied child wants to talk, and she should get her chance on Christmas day, of all times."

Mother rose up to protest, but Will waved her back.

"Let the kid talk," he said, "talk won't hurt anyone. It's the things we don't say that hurt us, I know."

Then came the ordeal, when the silence fell on the room. I have faced audiences who were hostile since then and encountered unfriendly glances, but the antagonism here was more terrible, being directed, not as much against what I had to say, as against the fact that I dared to say anything.

I addressed Will, as people air their views in letters addressed to the Editor. "The Government is like the Machine Company, Will," I said. "The half-breeds are dissatisfied with the way they are treated, they are afraid they are going to be put off their farms, just as we were afraid when the tongue of the binder broke, and we saw we were going to lose our crop. The half-breeds have written letters, and sent people to see the Government and asked them to send out someone to straighten out their trouble, just a you, Will, wrote letters to the Company and asked them to send an expert, who would put the binder in good shape. The government won't answer the half-breeds, won't notice them, won't talk to them—and the only word they send them is a saucy word—"what we will send you will be an army; we'll put you in your place." Just as the Machine Company wrote to us a saucy letter saying that it was our own fault if the binders broke, and they couldn't supply us with brains. It's the same spirit. We should understand how the half-breeds feel. That's all I want to say," and before anyone could say a word, I left the room, glad to get away."

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