Louis Riel Overview:
Louis David Riel (October 1844 – 16 November 1885) was a Canadian politician, a founder of the province of Manitoba, and a political and spiritual leader of the Metis people of the Canadian prairies. He led two resistance movements/rebellions against the Canadian government and its first post-Confederation Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. Riel sought to preserve Métis rights and culture as their homelands in the Northwest came progressively under the Canadian sphere of influence. He is regarded today by some as a Canadian folk hero and as a traitor by others.
The first resistance/rebellion was the Red River Rebellion of 1869-1870.
- The Red River frontier was the area around present day Winnipeg.
- Red River was a cultural crossroads, it was a gateway to the west that included Natives, French, Americans and Scottish.
- 12,000 people lived there (more than in B.C.) The population was mainly Metis. Metis people were the heart of the Red River community, they made up half of the population.They were Buffalo hunters and relied heavily on the Buffalo.
- The HBC was planning on selling vast land holdings in the area.
- The Metis were furious about this.
- Led by Louis Riel the Metis rose up in opposition to the sale of the land by the HBC. A group of men led by Louis Riel confronted a team of land surveyors and told them they could go no further.Next they seized the HBC post at Upper Fort Gary and declared a provisional government.
- They U.S. encouraged Riel and his provisional government to join the U.S.
- “Canada firsters” were a group of nationalistic expansionist that called for a counterattack on the “half-breeds”.Thomas Scott, one of the groups leaders, was captured and executed by Riel and his men. This execution set the west ablaze.
- Louis Riel negotiated with John A. Macdonald. The Prime Minister had to accept the Metis / Riels’ demands the Manitoba Act was drawn up and Manitoba was born (it was originally much smaller than it is today). Manitoba covered the heart of the Red River valley. Manitoba became the 2ndFrench-Canadian stronghold in Canada although the French-Canadian stronghold eventually fizzled out.
- Louis Riel was the founder of Manitoba but he had to flee shortly after as he was also a wanted criminal as far as the Canadian Government was concerned. He would return before the Northwest Rebellion.
The Northwest Rebellion:
- The promises of the Manitoba Act and the idea that Manitoba would be a French Catholic homeland were already being dismantled and the Metis Peoples situation was deteriorating.
- Settlers were flooding in, pushing the Metis west into “Saskatchewan”
- The Buffalo were vanishing
- The Metis along with the Plains Indians were suffering and facing starvation.
- In 1884 a meeting of white and Metis settlers was called.
- Only one man could save them, Louis Riel.
- A group of Metis led by Gabriel Dumont go and try to find Reil who was in Montana. When the found him it is believed by some that he was beginning to lose his mind. Regardless, the men get Reil and brought him back to Manitoba.
- Riel and Macdonald once again squared off. Riel sent a petition asking for provincial status, an elected government, and control over natural resources Nothing came of it.
- Riel and the Metis became increasingly frustrated and declared a provisional government at Batoche. 1885 the Northwest Rebellion was about to explode.
- Battle of Duck Lake: The Metis won, sending the Mounties into retreat
- Poundmaker and Big Bear join the uprising: Leaders of Plains Indians.
- CPR to the rescue. The rebellion inspired the government of Canada to put out the extra money to finish the railway so they could send troops to squash the rebellion.
- Battle of Batoche: Fighting raged for four days, 21 Metis men died. Riel surrendered to the Canadian Army. Riel was captured and Macdonald ordered that he be executed.
- The juror recommended mercy and the French-Canadians supported Riel and declared that the execution of Riel would be considered a declaration of war against Quebec.
- Riel represents Western alienation, French-Canadian rights, and the Metis nations. He is all things to all people. A prophet, a traitor, a madman, a hero.
- Now you know, so what do you think? Remember to consider the different perspectives and ways of understanding who Louis Riel was and what he did.
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