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

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Political Agitation (1870s and 1880s)

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After the Manitoba Act

When they arrived, Wolseley's troops set out to find the "traitor" Louis Riel. However, he had fled the country along with some of his council. Frustrated by their inability to find him, Wolseley's men began to ransack Métis' homes. During the period of Wolseley's stay in Manitoba there was bloodshed. Although Governor Archibald arrived shortly after the troops, he could not control the volunteers who went about brawling. On at least one occasion this brawling ended in the death of Elzear Goulet, a Métis. Such actions were not infrequent until Wolseley's expedition left to go back to Ontario. The complete story of the violence of Wolseley’s troops has not been made available yet, but research in the newspapers and diaries of the day reveal the truth.

With the passing of the Manitoba Act in 1870, everything seemingly went according to plan, except two important details, one of which was part of the Act. The first was the amnesty to be granted Riel. It was never to be granted. Massive pressure from Ontario forced Riel to become a man without a country. Although he was elected three times to the House of Commons, he could not take his seat because of the price on his head. Not much is said in western Canadian history about the responses to Riel from eastern Canada. The Orangemen of Ontario and the Quebecois were in direct opposition.

The View from Ontario

The murder of Scott, an Orangeman from Ontario placed Sir John A. Macdonald [himself an Orangeman] between the voters of Ontario and Quebec, and turned the event at Red River into a French-English, Catholic-Protestant confrontation. Orangemen in Ontario demanded that Macdonald take action and he did so. His government passed the Manitoba Act in June, 1870, which set up the province of Manitoba and granted the Métis many of their demands. However, to appease Ontario, Macdonald refused to grant amnesty to Riel.1

The View from Quebec

Ottawa plans a new Canada "from coast to coast" and wants to send new settlers in the lands between Ontario and British-Columbia. In doing so, the MacDonald government ignores the presence of the Natives that already live there, like the French-speaking Manitoba Métis. Louis Riel takes the lead of a rebellion that will oppose him to Ottawa. The Canadian government has absolutely no intention of seeing a second Québec emerge in the west and sends the army to crush the rebels.2

In October 1873, even with an outstanding warrant for his arrest, Riel won election to the Canadian Parliament. He traveled to Ottawa with plans to take his seat, but fearful of arrest and with a $5000 reward posted for his capture, he decided to return instead to the United States. In February 1874, Riel won the seat again, even though he was hiding in Montreal, far from his Red River home, at the time. Fellow legislators, calling him a "fugitive from justice," voted to expel Riel two months later, but that didn't stop Métis voters from giving him the unclaimed seat back for a third time in September. Tired of dealing with the Riel issue and anxious to put the 1869-70 problems behind them, legislators voted in 1875 to grant amnesty for participants in the Red River uprising--but in Riel's case the amnesty was conditioned on his agreeing to a five-year banishment from Canada.3

The second detail was the question of land. In the long term, it was perhaps more important. Prime Minister Macdonald would not grant the new province the right to control its resources. Neither would his government grant the new province the right to control public lands. He was determined to see that the Federal government controlled this matter. This meant that settlement in the west would strictly come under Federal jurisdiction. The Métis were to be given 1,400,000 acres of land, extinguishing their aboriginal title.

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Liens Rapides

The Last Refuge

 

 

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