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Red River: Uprising

Louis Riel leads the Red River Rebellion

More on the Red River:
Red River:
The Passageway to the prairies

Bison Hunters:
How the Métis dominated the bison hunt

Red River Colony:
A brave experiment in westward expansion

Dig at the Forks:
Unearthing Winnipeg's Human Heritage

Duff's Ditch:
A Drain for the flood plain

First Farmers:
Aboriginal people pioneered grain growing

Fish Tales:
Chasing catfish to track the river's health

Just Plains Folks:
Winnipeg welcomes the world

Trails to Rails:
Railways replace wagon routes

Prairie Sea:
The Great Flood of 1950

Economic exchanges among First Nations

Louis Riel leads the Red River Rebellion

Wagons West:
Red River carts tracked the grasslands

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 women.

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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