Red River: Uprising
Louis Riel leads the Red River Rebellion
The British colonies of eastern North America united in 1867. They became
provinces of the new country of Canada. The new country's leaders immediately
prepared to take over the Hudson's Bay Company lands west of Ontario.
But when the Red River Métis learned that the government of Canada was not going
to let the Métis keep their property, they organized to fight the Canadian takeover.
A group of Métis met in their parish church in St. Norbert in 1869. They elected a
national Métis committee, with Louis Riel as its leader.
The Métis descended from the marriages of French-speaking fur traders and First Nations
Riel led a band of 500 Métis militia soldiers to invade the Hudson Bay Company's
Upper Fort Garry in Winnipeg. The Métis declared themselves to be a provisional government
for the territory. While Riel held the fort, keeping non-Métis people prisoner there,
St. Norbert's parish priest went to Ottawa to negotiate the entry of Manitoba into Confederation
— with a guarantee of Métis property and language rights.
The negotiations ended with the passage of the Manitoba Act in 1870. The Manitoba Act recognized
Métis rights. But, before the news could reach Manitoba, Riel ordered the execution
of an unruly English-speaking prisoner from Ontario. This act would be Riel's fatal error.
Following Thomas Scott's execution, Ottawa sent soldiers to take control from Riel's militia.
Public outrage in Ontario over the execution of the prisoner meant the government would not
agree to the Métis request for an amnesty from prosecution. As the Canadian troops
approached, Riel fled into exile in the United States.
Riel was elected to the new Canadian parliament by his Métis supporters three times.
But, because he was wanted for Scott's murder, he did not return to Canada to take his seat.
Without that killing, Riel might have become a respected statesmen, able to defend the rights
his people had won in the Manitoba Act.
Instead, those rights were ignored. Métis claims to land were denied. The official
status of their French language was revoked. The Métis declined in power and many
of them moved westward in search of greater freedom and prosperity.
Riel finally returned to Canada in 1884 to take charge of another Métis uprising
in Saskatchewan. This time, he was captured and hanged. His execution increased his stature
as a hero for many French-speaking Canadians across the country.
In 1992, the provincial government formally recognized Louis Riel as a founding father of
Manitoba. But the controversy continued over the statue raised to honour him. His supporters
protested that the statue of a partially-clothed Riel was an indignity. So, in 1996, a new
statue of Louis Riel, fully-clothed, was put in place.
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