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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
Ottawa Responds

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Finally, something was heard from Ottawa. Sir John A Macdonald first sent two commissioners to explain Canadian intentions. He set up preparations for a military expedition to Red River in the summer of 1870. Then he attempted to re-establish HBC rule in the area. To do this, he sent Donald A. Smith, chief factor in charge of Company affairs, and who had been made a special commissioner. He had orders to "buy off the insurgents or otherwise break Riel’s hold over the colony."1

Donald SmithDonald Smith had the power of the HBC at his disposal. In Red River, that was a power that still got a response. Smith had his own goal, to negotiate the transfer, while Riel’s goal was to have the right of the Métis to self-government be recognized, by recognizing the Provisional Government. Smith forced Riel to convoke an extraordinary general meeting of the entire settlement at Upper Fort Garry on the 19th and 20th of January 1870. There was no place for them all to meet inside, so with the community leaders and Donald Smith, standing on the mess hall gallery, and over one thousand people standing below them in the courtyard, they met for two days to discuss the future.

Smith spoke to the people, telling them that they would be treated liberally by the Canadian government if they let the transfer proceed. He did not proclaim the provisional government a rebellious act, but agreed to Riel’s call for a new representative convention, the convention of forty, to consider his proposals.

Donald SmithRiel had retained power. There was a second convention, which created a second bill of rights and an agreement to send delegates to Ottawa to negotiate terms of entry into Confederation. The convention did not agree to repudiation of Canada’s bargain with the HBC or to a statement that they were seeking provincial over territorial status. What Riel did get from the convention of forty was approval for the establishment of an interim provisional government, representative of the entire settlement with himself as president. By February 10, when the convention ended, Riel seemed to have won the campaign he had begun last October, to create a united settlement.

The next week as Riel prepared to release the prisoners from Upper Fort Garry, the Canadian loyalists, including the remains of the surveyors party and those of Schultz’s party who had escaped or been released, decided they would attempt to release all the prisoners. They met with Schultz, and after discussing the matter, and maybe hearing that Riel was releasing the prisoners right away, decided to disband. Unhappily, Riel had already heard of their meeting and was on the way to arrest them. His horsemen surrounded them in deep snow outside the village of Winnipeg, and returned them to imprisonment in the fort.

Captain Boulton, the leader of the group, was sentenced to be shot as an example to the Canadian Party and the Canadian government. However, in the end, his sentence was commuted and the new provisional government was elected. The settlement looked like it was just waiting for peaceful annexation to Canada.

Donald SmithUnfortunately, John Christian Schultz had escaped when the rest of the Canadian party were arrested, and was now on his way through Minnesota to Ontario to launch a crusade to save the northwest from the French Métis. Thomas Scott, a labourer from Ontario and an Orangeman, had been captured again. His unpleasant mix of dysentery and contempt for the Métis irritated the guards beyond endurance. When the guards almost executed him on the spot, the Métis leaders including maybe Riel, but definitely Ambroise Lepine, ordered that Scott face a military court-martial. He was sentenced to death by firing squad. There were oral myths that came down through time in some families. One of them said that all members of the firing squad were to be firing blanks, except that one man had live ammunition.2 In the early morning of the 4th of March, an unbelieving Scott was taken out into the sunshine behind the fort and cut down by firing squad.

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