RIEL’S second rebellion -- a more formidable one by far than his first -- is now a matter of history, and, as such, can he viewed with a calmness impossible when the din of war was resounding throughout the land. No student of Canadian history who is familiar with the causes which led to the Red River Rebellion in 1869, and who has witnessed the results which followed that rebellion, will deny that so far as the North-West is concerned the outbreak of '69 secured to this country and its inhabitants what could probably not have been attained by a decade of constitutional agitation. It required such an event as an appeal to arms to draw the attention of foreign powers, as well as the attention even of Canadians, to a country the area of which was but dimly comprehended by most Canadians, and the resources of which were purposely concealed by the Hudson Bay Company, for reasons which I deem it superfluous to explain. The Company did its utmost to perpetuate the impression that, somehow, had gone abroad in the earlier portion of the century, and in fact long anterior to that, and which was doubtless started by the corporation named, that this “land of promise,” as it has justly been called, consisted of a vast region unfit for agricultural purposes, productive only of fur, and useful but as a hunting ground for the aboriginal tribes of North America, who roamed its icebound prairies.
In the manner thus indicated public attention was drawn to the country, its resources were made known, and while the disabilities under which the Half-breed settlers laboured, and for the removal of which they were finally obliged to resort to arms, were removed, a degree of prominence was secured to this country, which has been followed by immigration, settlement, colonization, investment, and all the other great forces of development and civilization. He must indeed be a dull student who cannot divine that a rebellion of the proportions of that just closed will exert an influence upon the destiny of our country relative, in proportion to its magnitude, to that of 1869. While many will view the rebellion merely as a disaster, in so far as it entailed the sacrifice of much treasure and scores of precious lives, and while some will regard “the affair” merely as the outcome of an agitation begun and carried on by the recreant Riel, with the sole object of obtaining the notoriety he is known to covet so eagerly, the majority, especially of the thoughtful, cannot fail to consider the causes which led to the outbreak, and reckon upon the consequences which are sure to follow. With the causes which led to the rebellion Canadians generally must be familiar; if they are not, their ignorance is to be deplored. Canadians must be conversant with the history of the Métis who have attained so large a degree of prominence recently, and who always occupied a prominent part, especially in connection with the North-West. The redress by the Dominion Government of the grievances for which the Half- breeds took up arms in 1869 was an acknowledgment that their claims were just; and, therefore, the more strange in the light of their experience of 1869 that the Dominion Government suffered the grievances of the Saskatchewan Half-breeds, so persistently urged, to go unredressed. It will be of interest to know that a very large proportion of the Saskatchewan Half-breeds who participated in the rebellion just ended were located along the Red River in 1869, and took part with Riel in his first rising of that date. They view with alarm advancing civilization; they abhor municipal organization, statute labour and taxes: and so it was that they readily disposed of the land or scrip which they secured after their appeal to arms, and betook themselves to the distant valley of the Saskatchewan, where they could live in primeval peace, tilling sufficient land to supply the daily bread they required, hunting the buffalo which then abounded on the Western prairies, and pursuing any vocation they chose, untrammelled by the enactments of legal and municipal institutions. But the buffalo, their greatest source of food and revenue, disappeared. Civilization in its onward march again overtook them; and once more, when the land which belonged to them as original owners was being cut up by Government surveyors, when the concessions accorded to other settlers were withheld from them, and when to their mind their landed rights were being interfered with, they rebelled. But they did not rebel before resorting to constitutional means to secure a redress of the grievances complained. They sent delegates to Ottawa; they made representations by letter; they passed resolutions; they held meetings, and at last, with heart-sickness begotten of hope deferred, they resorted to arms. That such action was precipitated by Louis Riel, who had been sent for to Montana by the Half-breeds to aid them in securing the rights demanded, will scarcely be denied; but, before urging the resort to arms, Riel, as is well known, spent months in constitutional agitation, and a perusal of the Bill of Rights which he framed cannot fail to convince one of the genuineness of their grievances and the justice of their claims. That Riel himself had nothing at stake seems to me beside the question. Even admitting that he was a mere adventurer trading upon the grievances of his brethren to secure a money bribe from the Government to leave the country, it does not lessen the magnitude of those grievances, but goes far to establish their genuineness, as -— admitting that the leader was an impostor -— the grievances themselves must have been substantial to induce men of integrity and known honesty to sacrifice their lives, their freedom, their all, to secure redress. If additional proof of the existence of grievances and neglect of redressal is wanted, it should only be necessary to call attention to the last appointment of the Dominion Government: of a commission to investigate the claims of the Half-breeds, and the further fact that about $200,000 worth of scrip, besides a very large amount of land, was distributed amongst them by that commission. The testimony of the commissioners in regard to the character of the Half-breeds is such that were the integrity of the commissioners not known, their expressions touching the Half-breeds might be regarded as flattery. Mr. Street told me himself that the Half-breeds did not know how to deceive. So thoroughly honest were they that but one case out of the entire number dealt with sought to secure what he was not justly entitled to. In all cases where Half-breeds participated in the rebellion, they frankly acknowledged it to the commissioners without questioning, and resignedly submitted to the consequences, which meant exclusion from any share in the advantages accorded to the loyal ones. This testimony from gentlemen, who, had they any leaning, it would likely be in a direction favourable to the Government, might also be regarded as additional evidence that the Half-breeds would not rebel unless they had some substantial reason for so doing.
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