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The Métis in Western Canada: O-Tee-Paym-Soo-Wuk

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The BeginningsThe People and Their CommunitiesCulture and Lifeways
Métis of the Northwest

The origins of the Red River settlement (located new present day Winnipeg) began in 1811.  This was when the Hudson's Bay Company awarded a huge land grant to the Fifth Earl of Selkirk, Thomas Douglas. Selkirk intended to bring disgruntled Scottish and Irish men and women, who had just recently been removed from their homes due to the Sutherland land reforms, to Red River to establish the first civilized colony in the area. Selkirk’s partner, Andrew Colvile, argued that the settlement would help provision the western fur trade, thereby reducing the costs of shipping supplies from Britain.  It should also be noted that the Métis were never consulted by the HBC of Selkirk when Red River was established. 

Neither the NWC employees nor Métis were pleased with the settlement.  The Métis felt threatened by it as they also had several large settlements in the area. The NWC had also occupied the area before the settlers arrived.  These traders relied on the Red River area as a source for the pemmican that fed the fur-trade brigades. They feared that the new colonists would provide a threat to the brigades of NWC traders. The new colony was located right on the NWC route to Montreal. The local Metis, who relied on the pemmican trade for their livelihood, were also unfriendly.

From the moment the settlers reached Red River they were plagued with problems.  The settlement began with only 35 people and even these numbers were reduced by disease in the first winter.  It was not until the late 1820s that the settlers were even able to produce viable crops for sustenance. Before that they survived with the help of local Ojibwa. The settlers had to rely on the local bison, which they were unable to hunt themselves, they had to obtain them from the NWC and the Metis. Thus traders and colonists ended up in conflict from the beginning. The colonists tried to keep the pemmican for their own use. The Metis and Nor'Westers tried to drive the new arrivals out of the country.

In 1816 the conflict became violent. HBC men seized an NWC fort just as pemmican supplies were being moved. A chance meeting at Seven Oaks resulted in the death of 20 colonists including the governor, Robert Semple. The Metis, who were far more skilled at this kind of warfare, lost one man. The other colonists fled. Selkirk himself arrived in 1817. He brought soldiers and reinforcements and distributed land.

The population of the settlement grew slowly and eventually consisted largely of Métis, they quickly outnumbered the original Scottish settlers.  There was also a group of retired fur traders who came to live in Red River rather than go back to Europe.

After Lord Selkirk died in 1820, the HBC took over the running of the settlement. In 1836, the colony was returned to the HBC, who spent a good deal of money trying to make the settlement economically useful. The HBC tried to control all trading in the region, but independent merchants could not be stopped. The issue was settled in 1849 when a Métis trader named Guillaume Sayer was brought to trial, charged with illegal fur trading. He was convicted but was released without punishment, from then on the fur trade was open to anyone.

As ties with the United States increased, people in traders in Canada began to fear that Red River would be lost to them. Once a unified Canada was created in 1867, steps were taken to absorb the Red River Colony. The inhabitants of the colony felt left out of these arrangements and they resisted the new regime. The Red River Rebellion broke out in 1869. Once these issues were resolved, the HBC turned over the colony, and all of Rupert's Land, to Canada in 1870. Red River became part of the new province of Manitoba.

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Liens Rapides

Life at Red River

Western Settlements

Buffalo Hunting

Agriculture

Fishing

Métis Traders

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