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

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The Saskatchewan Riel Rebellion impacts Lac La Biche

Louis Riel (photograph of original portrait)On 2 April 1885, at Frog Lake, a party of Cree people led by Wandering Spirit, killed nine people, including two missionary priests. Although Big Bear personally favoured negotiations as opposed to warfare as a means of settling Aboriginal grievances, he accepted the consensus of his council of warriors, lead by Imasees (Big Bear’s son) and Wandering Spirit, who were determined to drive the White men out of the North West, in the belief that their expulsion would result in the return of the buffalo herds. Big Bear convinced them to take hostages to promote bargaining with the Whites.

His band capitalized on the events at Frog Lake by spreading the news and hoped to encourage other bands to join them. Word that Big Bear had joined Louis Riel and was sending out riders to stir up all the tribes he could reach spread like wild fire. Peter Erasmus, who was trading for Harrison Young at Whitefish Lake, brought the news of the unrest amongst the First Nations and Métis to the people of Lac La Biche. Erasmus informed Harrison Young of the massacre and the rebels’ plan to take possession of all the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) posts in the North West. Young then went to the Lac La Biche mission to inform Bishop Faraud of the uprising and impending danger.

Many believed that "indiscriminate killing" had taken place and hostages had been taken. The mission residents were fearful that the same fate awaited them. Bishop Faraud hastily began to make plans in the event of an attack; the mission would be protected with the assistance of his loyal followers and the sisters would be sent to Black Fox Island to take refuge in a fishing cabin.

Harrison Young quickly returned to his establishment. The Aboriginal peoples were restless and took this opportunity to express their concerns about food shortages and the fact the government had not provided the usual supply of seeds for the spring. The Beaver Lake and Lac La Biche bands held a council with Young and after discussion, agreed to remain calm. Young promised he would go to Edmonton and try to get the provisions and seeds.

Young then began making arrangements to send his wife and children across the lake to safety and went on to Edmonton hoping the rebels would not arrive at Lac La Biche Post before he returned. Patrick Pruden was left in charge of the post while Young set off with Erasmus on 19 April. He obtained his ammunition and met with the Indian Agent who arranged to send off the required provisions and seeds on 26 April.

On 25 April, word arrived from Victoria that a party of Big Bear's men from Frog Lake had gone to Whitefish Lake and Lac La Biche to incite the Aboriginal peoples there to rise. Lac La Biche, with its large Métis and First Nations population was seen as a prime recruiting area for the rebels. Alexander Hamelin who operated a store near the Lac La Biche Mission was chosen as the target to be leader of the rebel movement at Lac La Biche. A letter was couriered to Hamelin. The letter requested that he and the Métis and First Nations join Big Bear and then join forces with Louis Riel at Batoche. Hamelin refused. Out of fear of Big Bear, a group of people from the Beaver Lake Band near Lac La Biche joined the insurgents. On 26 April, they raided the Lac La Biche Post.

Upon reaching the post on 30 April, Young and Erasmus found the place in shambles. Young writes that "the post had been raided and completely pillaged. Everything in it that was moveable except some furs and platform scales had been carried away, broken, or destroyed. Young regained his composure and made plans to go the mission with Erasmus to enquire about his family. On their way, they stopped at Umla's store where they encountered six of the raiders who had pillaged Lac La Biche Post. There were some very brave words exchanged between Erasmus and the sore owner, concerning what was going to happen to those who followed Big Bear, and those who raided and damaged property. Erasmus promised soldiers and government reprisals. Following this verbal threat of reprisal there was a brief armed encounter that ended with the raiders surrendering their weapons to Umla.

Fear was rampant in the community. The Aboriginal residents were fleeing in panic. As a measure of protection, community leaders Young, Erasmus, and Patrick Pruden, agreed that a resistance should be organized in anticipation of Big Bear's attack. Big Bear's men never returned to attack the mission. On 28 May, Julien Cardinal brought news that Louis Riel had been taken prisoner and Big Bear was fleeing. As a precautionary measure he sent the St. Albert Mounted Rifles, a volunteer army of about 40 men raised by Sam Cunningham of St. Albert, and under the command of Captain Des Georges to protect the mission. The army arrived later that day. Faraud let the soldiers stay in the barge hanger and the officers in the mission hanger. Alexandre Hamelin brought news that while Big Bear was not yet captured, he was "almost alone with only 12 or 15 men who are afraid to surrender. The volunteer army was no longer needed and the Captain left in the evening. The Rebellion ended soon afterward.

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The Mission at Lac La Biche

The Saskatchewan Riel Rebellion impacts Lac La Biche


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