Chronology of the Métis Resistances

Compiled by Isaac Robitaille

Resistance at Red River

1812: Foundation of the Red River Colony on the site of present-day Winnipeg.

1836: The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) controls the colony, which is inhabited mainly by Métis. The inhabitants and the colony’s administration are in constant conflict.

1850: Protestant settlers gradually arrive in the area and impose their culture and religion.

1869: The Canadian government sends surveyors to carry out surveys of the Métis’ lands without respecting their occupancy rights. In November, the HBC transfers its territory to the British Crown. The Métis National Committee (MNC) appoints Louis Riel as its spokesperson, and together with a group of militants, he takes over the management of the Red River Colony. The Métis communities support him, and together they try to prevent the government from appropriating their lands. The resistance takes control of Upper Fort Garry and attempts to negotiate. In December, the MNC becomes a provisional government headed by Louis Riel. After some discussion, the provisional government agrees to join Confederation if the Métis’ rights are respected and protected.

1870: Armed conflicts continue over the winter. One of the prisoners held by the rebels, Thomas Scott, an Orangeman soldier, is condemned and executed. This action leads the Canadian government to refuse to grant amnesty to the rebel leaders, including Louis Riel, despite the fact that negotiations are ongoing. The federal government and the provisional government reach an agreement, and on May 12, 1870, the Manitoba Act receives royal assent, establishing the Province of Manitoba and guaranteeing the Métis’ title to their lands. However, because of the inefficient scrip system, the government seriously mismanages the land transfer process, and the Métis, still disenfranchised, are forced to move further west.

North-West Resistance

1880: The chiefs of various Western Plains tribes (Nêhiyawak/Plains Cree, Siksika/Blackfoot, Kainai/Blood, Piikani/Peigan—these latter three forming the Blackfoot Confederacy) feel beleaguered, as the bison herds are rapidly disappearing and famine threatens their people. Moreover, they have been stripped of their traditional territories after signing treaties that are not respected by the government. The Métis continue to experience uncertainty concerning their lands, while White settlers demand the rapid construction of the railway.

1884: Gabriel Dumont leaves for Montana to ask Riel to come back with him and help the Métis and the Indigenous tribes in Saskatchewan to negotiate with the government for recognition of their land rights.

1885:

  • March: The Métis ask for permanent titles to their lands. They write a “Revolutionary Bill of Rights,” form a new provisional government, establish a headquarters in the church at Batoche, and appoint Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont president and military commander, respectively. The Métis make a strategic stand at Duck Lake (midway between Batoche and Fort Carlton, an HBC post that the Métis demand to control). The North-West Mounted Police (NWMP), commanded by Crozier, advance on Duck Lake. The battle is unavoidable and the Métis are victorious. The government in Ottawa decides to accelerate the mobilization of its troops.
  • April: The government mobilizes about 5,000 troops under the command of Major-General Frederick Middleton. The resisters engage in the siege of Fort Battleford. Most of the Plains chiefs sign treaties with Ottawa, which relocate them onto reserves. When Big Bear, a Cree chief, refuses to move his band onto a reserve, Ottawa cuts off its food rations. Starved, Big Bear and his men attack the Canadian army at Frog Lake. This violent encounter and the siege of Battleford oblige Middleton to divide his troops into three columns: one going to Batoche, one staying in Calgary, and one going to Battleford. Gabriel Dumont and his men decide to confront the battalion marching towards Batoche at Tourond’s Coulee, also known as Fish Creek. Despite being outnumbered 9 to 1, Dumont and his men emerge victorious from the Battle of Fish Creek.
  • May: Middleton’s third column is met on its way to Battleford by Assiniboine and Cree forces at Cut Knife Creek, and they defeat the Canadian troops (whose lives are saved by Chief Poundmaker’s decision to retreat with no further violence). Middleton waits for reinforcements and, on May 9, attacks Batoche. On the 12th, the Métis, short of ammunition, are defeated. Riel surrenders on the 15th, and Dumont flees to Montana. More Canadian forces arrive, and Poundmaker and many other tribes are defeated at Battleford. Poundmaker surrenders on the 26th.
  • June: The final battle takes place at Loon Lake. Almost all the chiefs surrender, except Big Bear, who manages to escape but surrenders in July.
  • September: Louis Riel’s trial for high treason opens in Regina. On the 18th, he is sentenced to be hanged. Big Bear and Poundmaker are sentenced to three years in prison.
  • November: On the 16th, Louis Riel is hanged in Regina. On the 27th, six Cree and two Assiniboine resisters—Wandering Spirit/Kah-Paypamhchukwao, Bad Arrow/Manchoose, Walking the Sky/Pahpah-Me-Kee-Sick, Miserable Man/Kit-Ahwah-Ke-Ni, Little Bear/A-Pis-Chas-Koos, Iron Body/Nahpase, Crooked Leg/Itka, and Man Without Blood/Waywahnitch—are hanged in Battleford. The children attending Battleford Industrial School, a residential school opened in 1883, are forced to watch the hangings. A general amnesty is declared for the other participants in the rebellion.

1885 Map, designed by Léo Larivière

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