The Riel Rebellions

In 1869, Louis Riel and the Metis of the Red River Colony (modern-day Manitoba), formed a provisional government to protest the sale of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company to Canada, and the surveying of a township system similar to that in Ontario. Although Riel’s government would negotiate an agreement for the colony to enter Confederation as the province of Manitoba in 1870, his execution of Thomas Scott, one of several local settlers who opposed the provisional government, would be seen as treason. A military expedition of British regulars and Canadian militia, under Colonel Garnet Wolseley was sent west to enforce federal authority. As the Wolseley Expedition approached the Red River in August 1870, Riel fled to the United States, ending what would be known as the Red River Rebellion.

Many Metis moved to Batoche on the South Saskatchewan River, but with the arrival of settlers from Manitoba and the demise of the buffalo, a chief source of food for the Metis, they asked Louis Riel to return from the United States and appeal to the government.  In 1884, Riel, along with Gabriel Dumont, Honore Jackson and others, set up the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan, in the hopes of influencing the federal government.

The second Riel Rebellion, or the North-West Rebellion, took place between March-June 1885, between Metis and Aboriginal warriors and local militia, North-West Mounted Police and Canadian troops le by Major General Frederick Middleton. The Metis and allies won several early victories, including at Duck Lake (March 26), Fort Pitt (April 15), Fish Creek (April 24) and Cut Knife (May 2).

However, on May 9, Middleton and his forces attacked and, after three days of siege, captured the Metis capital of Batoche. While Dumont and others escaped to the U.S., Riel surrendered on May 15. He was later hanged for his role in the rebellion and his execution of Thomas Scott.

Researched and written by John Milner.

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