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Saskatchewan River: Last Stand

The Northwest Rebellion ends Métis autonomy

More on the Saskatchewan River:
Saskatchewan River:
From glaciers to grasslands

Early Bird:
Beaked dinosaur is missing link to birds

Dry Bones:
Dinosours abound in Alberta’s badlands

Plains Speaking:
Pioneer in the fight for women’s rights

Last Stand:
The Northwest Rebellions ends Métis autonomy

End of Steel:
Canada's northernmost metropolis

Dirty Thirties:
Prairie life in the era of the Bennett Buggy

Unwild West:
Mounties keep order on the Prairies

Dream of Wheat:
Prosperous farmers feed the world

Wonder City:
Saskatoon sprouts from the Prairie

As European immigrants began pouring into the Prairies, the more Métis and aboriginal groups became frustrated with the Canadian government's treatment of them. Their festering anger exploded in the Northwest Rebellion of 1885.

Aboriginals — especially the Cree — believed that the federal government had broken its treaty promises to provide food in times of scarcity. The aboriginal people also had little say in what lands would be set aside as reserves for them.

Many Métis had moved west after the Red River uprising of 1869 and the government's refusal to recognize their claims to land in Manitoba. Both Métis and aboriginal leaders worried, with reason, that the influx of Europeans threatened their ways of life.

The Métis called on Louis Riel, their proven hero who had led their uprising in Manitoba, to lead them in yet another campaign of resistance against the government in Ottawa. But Louis Riel was now a changed person, and perhaps mentally unwell.

At first, Riel and his followers peacefully petitioned Ottawa to express their grievances. But the government did not respond to their entreaties and the Métis and their aboriginal allies prepared for war.

Gabriel Dumont, Riel's second in command, defeated the North-West Mounted Police at Duck Lake. Chief Poundmaker and his Cree warriors surrounded Battleford. But conditions on the Prairies were very different from those of the Red River in 1869. Thousands of European settlers lived in the region and, most important, a new railway linked central Canada to the West.

Ottawa rushed 3,000 troops and 2,000 volunteer militia to the Saskatchewan River by train in order to join the North-West Mounted Police. A number of skirmishes culminated in a decisive battle at Batoche.

Riel's fighters ran out of ammunition after three days and retreated. Louis Riel surrendered while his adjutant-general, Gabriel Dumont, and others fled to the United States.

The federal government prosecuted the rebels severely. Some Native leaders were hanged publicly in Canada's largest mass execution. Chief Poundmaker of the Cree and Big Bear were both imprisoned.

Some people argued that Louis Riel was not sane enough to be legally tried. Nonetheless, he was convicted of treason and hanged in Regina in 1885. The trial aroused fierce passions and split the country along French and English lines.

In death, Louis Riel became an even greater hero to many Métis and French Canadians than he was in life.

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