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Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada

Red River Resistance

During the Red River Resistance of 1869-70, the Métis formed a provisional government and negotiated Manitoba’s entry into Confederation. The resistance began as a response to the largest land sale in history. In 1869, Hudson’s Bay Company sold Rupert’s Land to the Dominion of Canada for $1.5 million (while being granted 1/20th of all land in the area near the southern border called the Fertile Belt, amounting to nearly seven million acres) without consulting its Indigenous residents. The Métis in what is now Manitoba were surprised at this attempted transfer of their homeland and felt that HBC did not possess the right to sell the territory without consultation or consent.

On Oct. 11, 1869, Métis Édouard Marion discovered government surveyors on his land and summoned his neighbours and Louis Riel to stop them. The Métis challenged this survey that was conducted without their consent. Angered, the Red River Métis formed the National Committee of the Métis and called for an independent Métis republic on Oct. 16, 1869. They elected John Bruce as president and Louis Riel as secretary. On Nov. 2, 1869, 500 Métis seized Upper Fort Garry, where the Council of Assiniboia (the pre-1869 government) met and where HBC had its main administrative offices in the region. The Métis gained food, armaments, and a defensive position from which to advance their cause.

The Métis formed a provisional government on Dec. 8, 1869, that was eventually led by Louis Riel—a Métis educated in Montreal. The provisional government, which was made up of French Métis and English Métis, negotiated with the Dominion government to enact the formal entry of Rupert’s Land into the Canadian Confederation.

From Jan. 25 to Feb. 10, 1870, the Convention of Forty was held with 20 English Métis and 20 French Métis delegates to determine the region’s political future. They drafted the second “List of Rights” (entitling it the Bill of Rights), which formed the basis of the Manitoba Act, 1870.

On March 4, 1870, Orangeman and anti-Métis agitator Thomas Scott was executed by a Métis tribunal. This execution brought serious reprisals to the Métis after Canadian soldiers arrived in Red River, and would have later repercussions for Louis Riel, who would be executed himself by the Canadian state in 1885.

The Manitoba Act became law on May 12, 1870. For the Métis, the act’s most important provisions included bilingual denominational schools, judicial and parliamentary systems, and measures to address their “Indian” title to the land, through the granting of 1.4 million acres of land to “the children of the half-breed heads of families” (Section 31).

As per the tradition of English common law, individual property rights were enshrined in the Manitoba Act rather than collective rights (albeit the French-speaking Métis had their linguistic and school rights protected until the province took these rights away in the 1890s).

On July 15, 1870, Manitoba became Canada’s fifth province, though the state did not recognize Louis Riel and the Métis as its founders. However, after Manitoba’s entry into Confederation, the situation markedly changed and the Métis soon became outnumbered by incoming Ontarians and FrenchCanadians. The newcomers were often hostile to the Métis’ desire to assert their hard-fought rights. For instance, the Métis were persecuted for their role in the Red River Resistance and the execution of Thomas Scott.

In August 1870, the Red River Expeditionary Force, commanded by Col. Garnet Wolseley, was sent by Ottawa to “pacify” the region. When this force of more than 1,000 Canadian troops arrived in Manitoba, they began a reign of terror against Métis citizens. Métis women were raped and some Métis men such as Elzéar Goulet were murdered. As a result of such an intolerable climate of violence and fear, more than half of the Métis in the new province of Manitoba left for the North-West Territories or the Dakota territory.

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