Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Mystique of the Red River Rebellion

The Mystique of the Red River Rebellion

By Furano Yukihira
The Daily Magi
December 3, 2059

The Red River Rebellion (or the Red River Resistance, Red River Uprising, or First Riel Rebellion) was the sequence of events related to the 1869 establishment of a provisional government by the Métis leader Louis Riel and his followers at the Red River Colony, in what is now the Canadian province of Manitoba.

The Rebellion was the first crisis the new government faced following Canadian Confederation in 1867. The Canadian government had bought Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1869 and appointed an English-speaking governor, William McDougall. He was opposed by the French-speaking, mostly Métis inhabitants of the settlement. Before the land was officially transferred to Canada, McDougall sent out surveyors to plot the land according to the square township system used in Ontario. The Métis, led by Riel, prevented McDougall from entering the territory. McDougall declared that the Hudson's Bay Company was no longer in control of the territory and that Canada had asked for the transfer of sovereignty to be postponed. The Métis created a provisional government, to which they invited an equal number of Anglophone representatives. Riel undertook to negotiate directly with the Canadian government to establish Manitoba as a province.

Meanwhile, Riel's men arrested members of a pro-Canadian faction who had resisted the provisional government. They included an Orangeman named Thomas Scott. Riel's government tried and convicted Scott, and executed him for threatening to murder Louis Riel. This was considered an act of treason. Canada and the Assiniboia provisional government soon negotiated an agreement. In 1870, the legislature passed the Manitoba Act, allowing the Red River Colony to enter Confederation as the province of Manitoba. The Act also incorporated some of Riel's demands, such as provision of separate French schools for Métis children and protection of the practice of Catholicism.

After reaching agreement, Canada sent a military expedition to Manitoba to enforce federal authority. Now known as the Wolseley Expedition (or Red River Expedition), it consisted of Canadian militia and British regular soldiers led by Colonel Garnet Wolseley. Outrage grew in Ontario over Scott's execution and many eastern folk demanded that Wolseley's expedition be used to arrest Riel for murder and suppress what they considered to be rebellion. Riel peacefully withdrew from Fort Garry the day the troops arrived. Warned by many that the soldiers would harm him, and denied amnesty for his political leadership of the rebellion, Riel fled to the USA. The arrival of troops marked the end of the Rebellion.

The Red River resistance was only described as a rebellion after sentiment grew in Ontario against the execution of Thomas Scott. Historian A.G. Morice suggests that the phrase "Red River Rebellion" owes its persistence to alliteration, a quality that made it attractive for publication in newspaper headlines. The word "resistance", though decidedly less dramatic, retains the alliterative character of the earlier phrase and is generally preferred by the majority of contemporary academic historians, as it more accurately describes the particulars of the political situation at the time.

In 1875, Riel was formally exiled from Canada for five years. Under pressure from Quebec, the government of Sir John A. Macdonald took no more vigorous action. Riel was elected to the Canadian parliament three times while in exile, but never took his seat. He returned to Canada in 1885 to lead the ill-fated North-West Rebellion. He was subsequently tried and convicted for high treason and executed by hanging.

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