By Nicole J
In 1873 the Metis formalized a list of laws, known as the “Laws of St. Laurent”. These laws covered all aspects of Metis life in the district. The laws established, created a system that would help the metis survive. Though many traditional principles remained unchanged as the laws were made by elected representatives in the metis community. The whole operation was executed in a fashion that allowed hunters to be governed by hunters and community members to be governed by members of the community who had a proven record of ability. The Laws of St. Laurent were made due to the rapidly decreasing number of buffalo in 1873. The Metis established a written system of enforceable guidelines for both the hunting and the preservation of the remaining buffalo herds. The Metis of St Laurence would have been unable to make Pemmican if the buffalo became extinct in that area. As Pemmican was their main source of food in the winter the metis needed to preserve the buffalo as the prospect of starvation hovered over the people of the North West. But the people became desperate and disobeyed the law. This was one of the first things that led to the Metis moving towards a rebellion.
The Indian Act was first established in 1876 in an attempt to consolidate all existing legislation that involving First Nations and their relationship to Canada. Although the first nations were entitled to land, they were forced to live on the land the government provided as title to the land still belonged to the Crown. This was a social injustice that allowed the Europeans to have settlements on the land that the Natives could no longer own. The theme throughout the new Act remained that of assimilation and the "civilizing" of the Indians. Their Aboriginal status was seen by the government as a temporary stage on a journey to a more civilized adjustment of culture. They were expected to settle down and learn to become farmers. When the act was established one of the requirements was for the children of Indian status to attend "Residential Schools". Restrictions ranged from rules of how they would elect leaders to how their estates would be dealt with after death. First Nations were allowed virtually no self-governing powers thus creating tension between the government and the First Nations.
On June 4th 1884 Louis Riel received a visit from four Métis, Gabriel Dumont, Moïse Ouellette, Michel Dumas and James Isbister. The four men had come to ask Louis to leave Montana and represent the metis community to the Canadian government as they were being threatened by the influx of settlers and immigrants. The metis borders were disappearing, their rights were no longer being respected, their lands were being taken and the government was not listening. After hearing of the situation Riel thought it necessary to go assist the metis and lead them once again. In July of 1884 Louis Riel left Montana and set out for Batoche with his wife and two children. On July 8th, about six days after his arrival, he addressed the Métis. Louis Riel, was then considered a leader of his people in their resistance against the Canadian government in the Canadian Northwest Rebellion.
On March 26th, 1885, the Northwest Rebellion began west of the settlement of Duck Lake on the old Carlton Trail where the first heated exchange between the NWMP and the Metis' happened. The exchange began in a civil manner when the Metis met with the NWMP in an attempt to negotiate. The battle began at about noon when a Cree emissary and a police interpreter scuffled during a parley. Many profane words were exchanged between the two sides at Duck Lake and two Metis delegates were shot. After that both sides opened fire and in a few minutes, twelve NWMP officers were dead and twenty-five were wounded. Crozier and the other NWMP then retreated to Fort Carlton as the NWMP were really outnumbered at the Battle of Duck Lake. Métis military commander Gabriel Dumont was wounded and his brother, Isidore, was the first to die. This whole ordeal was the first real violent outbreak in the Northwest rebellion.
The Frog Lake Massacre took place on April 2nd, 1885 as part of the North West Rebellion uprising. It was not a military engagement, though the incident proved to be one of the most influential events associated with the North-West Resistance. Driven by hunger and mistreatment rather than political motives, chief of the Plains Cree in the region, sought improved conditions for Treaty Indians through peaceful means and unity among the tribes. However, the food shortage that followed the prospect of extinction of the buffalo left his people near starvation and weakened his authority. A group of Cree led by the war chief took Thomas Quinn hostage in his home. The Cree then took more white settlers hostage and took control of the rest of the community. They gathered the Europeans settlers, including two priests and ordered the prisoners to move to their camp a couple of kilometers away. When Quinn stubbornly refused he was shot him in the head. In the short minutes of panic that followed, eight more prisoners were shot. This event created a lot of unease in the Canadian Government as the Rebellion yet again took a more violent turn.
Reacting to the news of the fighting at Duck Lake on March 26th, 1885 and the Frog Lake Massacre on April 2nd, 1885, the Canadian Government sent a military force under the command of Major-General Frederick Middleton to the North-West Territories. The North-West Field Force was sent with the task to restore order by extinguishing the growing resistance of the Métis and the Cree to government policies for the region. On the morning of April 24th, 1885 Middleton’s column reached the area of Fish Creek, a small stream flowing at right angles into the South Saskatchewan River. As Middleton’s column approached, his scouts found farmhouses that had been raided, and evidence of a recent Métis encampment. The battle began soon after their finding and lasted six and a half hours. When the battle drew to a close it ended with the withdrawal of all the Métis to Batoche. Middleton’s forces had suffered 10 deaths and 40 wounded. The Métis casualties were four dead, one wounded and over 50 horses lost. This event was significant due to the fact that this was government’s first real act in the rebellion and it showed their concern.
On May 2nd, 1885 the Cree and Assiniboine natives defeated 300 soldiers commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel William Otter in the Battle of Cut Knife. Using a limited number of men, war chief Fine Day theoretically surrounded and pinned down Otter's force on an exposed plain. After 6 hours of fighting, Otter retreated as Cree Chief Poundmaker held the warriors back. Eight of Otter's force died, and 5 or 6 natives were killed. The battle took place on the Poundmaker Reserve, about 40 km west of Battleford, Saskatchewan, just north of Cut Knife Hill, a feature named for a Sarcee warrior who died near there. This event was significant due to the fact that the Battle at Cut Knife Hill was carried by the clever guerrilla tactics of Cree war chief Fine Day, and marked the last time government forces were defeated during the North-West Rebellion.
The Battle of Batoche, occurred from May 9th 1885 to the 12th and was considered a very cataclysmic event. Louis Riel, armed with a crucifix, led his followers in the Northwest Rebellion. The small army consisted of less than 300 Métis and Aboriginal people, while faced the 800-strong North West Field Force, commanded by Major-General Frederick Middleton. The Métis and their allies, despite smaller numbers, offered remarkable resistance to the militia. Middleton initially planned a combined water-and-land attack though His plan was warped when the Métis disabled the riverboat by lowering a ferry cable across the river, taking down the boat's smokestacks. For three days the fighting continued and on May 12th, Middleton planned to draw the Métis toward a small force while assaulting with the majority from the north. The plan worked and in minutes, the fight was over. The Métis retreated. A few days after the Battle on May 15th, Riel surrendered, and Dumont and a few others escaped to the US. This was a significant point in the Northwest Rebellion because this battle led to the metis leader surrendering and initially ended the rebellion.
After being charged with high treason Louis Riel was sent to court. The trial opened on July 20th, and lasted four days with Riel pleading not guilty. The entire jury consisted of Anglo-Saxons and Protestants. Riel's lawyer wanted to give the judge and jury the impression that Riel was insane and not responsible for his actions. Riel was so against this strategy that his lawyers had the judge rule that he did not have permission to speak. The lawyers were not allowed to speak of the grievances and events which had led to the rebellion, as the judge claimed that it was Riel, not the Government of Canada, who was on trial. The witnesses' insisted that Riel had been mentally unstable before and during the rebellion. Towards the end of the trial, Riel was allowed to speak. After a moment of prayer, he reviewed the troubles in the North-West, beginning with the sufferings his people had endured and the government's inactivity. Riel insisted that he was not insane and remain dignified as he expressed that he did not want to be acquitted by reason of insanity. "I suppose that after having been condemned, I will cease to be called a fool and for me it is a great advantage. ...I have a mission, I cannot fulfill my mission as long as I am looked upon as an insane being ... If I am guilty of high treason I say that I am a prophet of the new world. “After Riels statement it took the jury less than four hours to reach a guilty verdict. The significance of this event it evident in the way Riel chose to defend the first nation and metis even if I t meant dying doing it, rather that living and allowing everyone to ignore the problem.
When the council was unable to pronounce Louis Riel insane, the date of execution was set for November 16th, 1885. Riel received a visit from his family and on November 6th, and he wrote his will. During his final night of life he wrote one last letter to his mother and received the last rites. The next morning at 8:00 a.m. he climbed the stairs to the scaffold for his execution. On November 19th, a funeral service took place at St. Mary's Church in Regina. On December 9, his body was returned to St. Vital where it stayed for 2 days in his mother's house. A requiem mass was preformed December 12th at St. Boniface Cathedral and his body was then buried in the churchyard. The significance of this event was it was the death of a man who was the defender of the rights of the Métis and of French Canadians. He was a very large part of the Northwest Rebellion.