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Louis Riel: Father of Confederation
Transcript of Louis Riel: Father of Confederation
The Metis knew most white Canadians held them in low
regard. They also knew that if their land became flooded with these new settlers, their entire culture could be lost. They feared for their rights and the Canadians did little to nothing to rid of these fears. They moved hastily, sending men to survey the land before authority had been officially transferred to the Canadian government.
The Metis needed leverage to convince the Canadian
government they were serious. Fort Garry was understaffed and vulnerable: the Metis had their next target. Riel and 120 men entered, unharmed. Fort Garry was theirs for the taking.
In December 1869, Louis was proclaimed president of
the newly formed Provisional Government of Rupert's Land.
Was Louis A Founding Father?
Louis Riel brought Manitoba provincial status, which leads people to believe he is a Father of Confederation. He also came to Saskatchewan to help the Metis fight for the same rights he had won for Manitobans. Meanwhile, others see him as a traitor for fighting against his own country which leads some to believe he should not be considered a Father of Confederation. Regardless, Louis Riel is still known as one of the most complex and controversial figures in Canada's history.
The Beginning Years
Louis Riel was born in the Red River Colony, Rupert's
Land on October 22, 1844.
Louis was extremely intelligent. At the young age of 13,
Louis Riel was sent to the College of Montreal to study priesthood.
Months before his final exams, Louis learned his father
had passed away. Louis left college in 1865 without receiving his degree.
Return to Red River
Red River, Rupert's Land
The settlement was only a few decades old, but it had
always been a Metis homeland.
However, with the ongoing drought and depleted sources,
the Hudson Bay Company decided to sell Rupert's Land as it was no longer as profitable as it once had been.
In June 1869, the Hudson Bay Company sold Rupert's Land
to the Canadian government for $300,000. The Metis had received no consultation regarding the sale.
A New Leader
With the Canadians surveying the Metis farmlands, the
people of Red River realized they were in great need of someone to lead them. Louis Riel was a well-educated, polite, and powerful man who people would listen to. Riel's father had been a respected leader among them years before; it seemed almost as though Louis was born to lead the Metis.
The First Move
Louis and his co-conspirators (the "National Committee")
began to organize a movement against the Canadian invasion. Their first move would be to put the Canadian's work to a halt.
In October, the Metis greeted William McDougall, the
Canadian-appointed governor, with roadblocks and a proclamation that he not enter Canada without their permission.
In November, McDougall entered, neglecting the Metis, and was escorted out to Minnesota.
The Execution of Thomas Scott
Fort Garry was now being used to incarcerate
anyone who dared oppose the rebels. One of these prisoners was Thomas Scott. Scott was a large, loud, rowdy man who taunted and threatened his captors. Riel was angered by his remarks, resulting in the execution of Thomas Scott. On March 4, 1870 little did Riel know, he had just made the worst mistake of his political career.
A party of delegates was arranged to travel to Ottawa and
plead the Metis' case. They presented a List of Rights and a demand for provincial status. Manitoba would become a province soon - Riel had won.
Rumors of Thomas Scott's execution began to circulate.
Canadians wanted to avenge his death and bounties were placed on Riel. John A. Macdonald bribed Riel to leave the country. Riel agreed at first, but later found a way to stay home in Manitoba and be a free man. Riel believed one of the only ways to escape his arrest was to become a Member of Parliament - he would have immunity and then could fight for amnesty.
John A. Macdonald heard about Riel having a seat in the
Member of Parliament and became outraged - he claimed Riel would be granted amnesty after being exiled for five years.
The Men From Saskatchewan
In June 1884, Gabriel Dumont, Michel Dumas, James Isbister,
and Moise Ouellette set foot to Montana to find Louis Riel. The men met at his cabin to tell Riel of the Metis in Saskatchewan. They were facing the same problems that troubled the Manitobans 15 years ago. The men asked Louis Riel to lead them.
Riel would first send a carefully written letter to Ottawa. The
government replied they would address the issues in the future. Angered by the response, Riel decided it was time to take it a step further. He gathered a group of government officials and took them captive. The prisoners would be used as leverage to force the Canadian government into negotiations. The next step would be to take over Fort Carlton and demand the surrender of Superintendent Crozier of the North West Mounted Police.
The Battle of Batoche
The Metis stood 200 men strong; the Mounties, 800 men
strong. The Metis began to lose hope, some fled. 200 quickly turned into 130. The war carried on for four days, from May 9, 1885 - May 12, 1885. By the fourth day of war, the Metis had begun to run out of ammunition; lead was melted down to make bullets, scrap metal and small stones were used as well. Blankets replaced coffins, and food was scarce. White flags hung from every window in Batoche. On May 15, Riel decided it was time to surrender.
Louis Riel returned home to his family in Red River
Colony in 1868, poor and unemployed.
Red River was experiencing a drought when Riel had
returned. There were very few crops left ,and the ones that remained were destroyed by an infestation of grasshoppers. The Metis believed they were being punished for an unknown sin.
Hunting had always been very productive with the
Metis; however, with sport hunters coming from Canada, the United States and Europe the animals were over-hunted.
Louis Riel's Trial
Riel had no intention of pleading guilty. He had a good case; his visions, his prophecies and his incarceration in an asylum indicated long-term mental instability. The Crown charged Louis with treason against the Queen and the Dominion of Canada. He insisted on pleading not guilty. He never picked up a weapon, and he wasn't a Canadian citizen after his exile. The jury did not believe the inanity case however, Louis Riel was declared guilty. On November 16, 1885 he was hung in Regina.
In Louis' exile, he had turned to God to find comfort. He had a
dream that God told him he had a mission to fulfill. His piety had began to drive him insane. He would tear off his clothes and exclaim he was a prophet. Riel was incarcerated in an asylum for two years. When he was released the doctors advised him to give up the two things that made him mad: politics and religion.