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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
Provisional Government (1869-1870)

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Rieland 1870 Council

In 1869, an agreement was reached with the Hudson's Bay Company for the transfer of Rupert's Land (which included the Red River Settlement) to the Dominion of Canada. Unfortunately the people of the Red River Settlement were unprepared for this sudden change. What was most disconcerting to the Métis was the new wave of Canadian and American settlers moving into the area. This led to growing concern that the rights of the Red River community would not be preserved. For their part, the Hudson's Bay Company and the Canadian Government did little to assuage these fears.

This was the climate in Red River when surveyors arrived and began to scribe off lines, across lots, with no explanation. Someone went to fetch Louis Riel Jr who had just returned home from school in Montreal. When he arrived, it is believed that he stepped forward and put his foot on the surveyor’s chain. He warned them that if the survey began again before they heard from Canada about safeguarding Métis rights the survey would be halted by force.

The community was upset and wanted someone to speak for them. Their resentment incensed them. Their highly developed sense of community united them and Riel Jr was one of the few people in the community who not only had an education, but who possessed the trust of his people as well. Riel’s father had also been an influential figure in the community. Meetings were held to discuss how to deal with the surveyors. The Métis were determined that they would not let themselves be chased off land where their families had lived for three generations. A section of the community met and organized themselves as the Comité National des Métis, with John Bruce as President and Louis Riel as Secretary.

William McDougall had been appointed as the new governor of Red River. He was a pro-annexationist and he was also the owner of a Toronto newspaper. He had also been Federal Minister of Works and a negotiator with the HBC. He was also unfamiliar with the Red River area and was deemed an unfit governor.

A group of forty armed Métis rode south to put a blockade across the road that McDougall would take. They sent him a note, forbidding him from entering the west, without the express permission of the Committee. There are some who have counted this trip to the border as the first illegal action of the Métis. Legally, the Métis action was a resistance and not a rebellion. The sovereignty of Red River was still held by the British Crown, as the transfer was not complete. The Dominion of Canada at that time had no power in the west. The Métis were seeking to be heard before the Canadians assumed power.

On the 2nd of November, the same date that the Métis horsemen at the border confronted McDougall, Riel sent several hundred Métis to drift across the Assiniboine in groups of three and four. The Métis soldiers seized Upper Fort Garry without a shot being fired. The Fort’s defence system included a cannon, small arms, ammunition and a considerable store of pemmican. With that one step, they established military dominance and Riel was now negotiating from a position of military strength. In spite of the on-going military standoff, Riel refused to challenge the sovereignty of the Crown, and moreover, kept careful lists of what the Métis men used of Company property so they could be reimbursed. Most residents did not view Riel as a rebel.

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