About 150 years ago, buffalo were still roaming freely across the Western Canadian prairie, an area which was known at the time as the North-West. The Metis loved to travel across the prairie and hunt buffalo. The buffalo provided the Metis with most of what they needed in order to maintain their way of life.
The Metis are a unique people who had their beginnings about 200 years ago. Some of the White fur traders married Indian women, and they had children who grew up learning the ways of both the White man and the Indian. Over time, their descendants developed their own culture and became known as Metis.
This factual story is about the French Metis and two of their leaders: Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont. Riel and Dumont were two different kinds of men. They were an odd pair with contrasting backgrounds.
Gabriel Dumont was raised in a family that traveled across the plains and hunted buffalo. As Dumont got older, he became the best at shooting, racing horses, hunting buffalo, and providing leadership. At the age of 25, he was elected to lead the buffalo hunt.
Later on, when the Metis formed a government, Dumont became their president. It was when Dumont was president that Louis Riel joined him, and together they led the Metis in battles against the Canadian Government.
Louis Riel was not like Dumont. Riel was raised in the Red River settlement in a Catholic family that was deeply religious. As Riel grew up, he was sent to religious schools. He did well, so at the age of 14, he was selected to go to Montreal to become a priest.
However, after years of study he fell in love. Riel left his studies and found work in a law office, but his girl-friend's parents refused to give permission for them to marry. Riel returned to his home in the Red River settlement in the North-West.
Riel Works to Create a New Province:
At home there had been many changes. The Indian, White man, and Metis had all been hunting the highly valued buffalo. Most of the buffalo herds had disappeared, so the Metis were forced to find other ways to make a living. Many of them turned to farming.
In 1869, the government of the North-West was being handed over from the Hudson's Bay Company to the Canadian government in Eastern Canada. The French Metis were not happy with this because the Canadian government was far away and tended to make decisions to suit their own needs. Louis Riel, who was now 25 years of age, became the main leader of the Metis.
After experiencing a few bad decisions, 120 Metis went to the main fort in the settlement where the Governor lived. The fort was almost empty, so they were able to enter and take control without any violence.
However, many of the White settlers who had come west from Canada disagreed with the actions of the Metis. Forty-eight Canadian settlers gathered in a warehouse and prepared to fight a battle. However, two hundred armed Metis arrived, surrounded the warehouse, and pointed two cannons at it. They demanded that the Canadians surrender within fifteen minutes. The Canadian settlers understood their predicament, so they gave up and marched off to jail. Nobody was hurt.
Louis Riel began to organize a new government. He drew up a "List of Rights" and sent it to the Canadian government.
Soon, however, Riel was faced with a momentous decision. One White settler named Thomas Scott, a stubborn and racist trouble-maker, had been put in jail for taking up arms against the Metis twice. While in jail, Scott had attacked the Metis guards and repeatedly insulted them. When he was put on trial, the Metis court sentenced him to be shot.
Riel could have prevented the execution, but he needed to maintain order in the settlement, and he wanted to change the attitude of the Canadian government. Riel said, "We must make Canada respect us."
Thomas Scott was shot by a Metis firing squad. This became the biggest mistake that Riel made in his entire life.
The English in Ontario were upset over the shooting of Scott. Politicians organized public meetings to protest the shooting of Scott, and thousands of people showed up. English-Canadian newspapers published verbal attacks against the Catholic Church and French Canada, and the reaction of the French Canadian newspapers was just as bad. The spirit of cooperation between the French and English in Canada was wiped away.
The Canadian government responded. They accepted the Metis "List of Rights" and also turned the Red River settlement into a new province which they named Manitoba. Riel and the Metis had been amazingly successful. However, the Canadian government also sent 1200 soldiers to the newly created province.
Before the soldiers arrived, Riel found out that many of the soldiers were angry and out to get revenge for the shooting of Scott. Riel feared for his life, so he fled to safety in the United States.
There were many fights between the soldiers and the Metis in the settlement. At this time the new Governor wrote the Prime Minister saying, "There is a small but noisy section of our people [who] really talk and seem to feel as if the French half-breeds should be wiped off the face of the globe." Four Metis were killed. Nobody was arrested. The Metis were not in a position to do anything about this.
As time passed more White settlers arrived, and the main way of life of the new province became that of the English-speaking White people. However, the French-speaking Metis had their own way of life. They were again seriously mistreated. Some Metis had difficulty gaining legal title to their land, and some lost their farms.
Many of them responded by moving further west and settling near the village of Batoche in what is present day North Central Saskatchewan.
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