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Louis Riel and the Métis

During the summer of 1869, the Canadian government sent John Stoughton Dennis to Red River to survey the land. He was so badly received by the Métis that he started surveying at Oak Point rather than Fort Garry. To add to the Métis' anxiety, the survey was being carried out in accordance with the Ontario style of survey, in squares, instead of the system of long, narrow lots with river frontage used by the Métis. The new system cut across properties already in existence. Moreover, surveying had begun before the land had been officially transferred to Canada. When Dennis arrived in Fort Garry, opposition broke out. On October 11, 1869, proclaiming that the Canadian government had no right to act without permission, sixteen Métis led by Louis Riel stopped a crew of surveyors on the property of Louis' cousin André Nault. This was a very important incident, first of all, because it was the first act of resistance to the transfer of the Settlement to Canada and secondly, because it established Louis Riel as the champion of the Métis.

In October, William McDougall, who had been appointed Lieutenant Governor of Rupert's Land, set out for Red River to take possession of the North-West Territory for Canada, accompanied by a ready-made government and armed with 300 rifles. When news of this reached the Métis, they decided to organize their resistance. On October 16, Riel was elected secretary of the Métis "National Committee" and John Bruce was elected president. Five days later, the Committee sent a warning to McDougall advising him not to enter the country without special permission from the Committee. To strengthen their position, the Métis erected a barricade where the trail from Pembina crossed the La Salle River, a place McDougall had to pass.

Riel's initiative raised opposition from the conservative wing in the Settlement and those in administrative positions. As a result of pressure exerted by them Riel was summoned to appear before the Council of Assiniboia, chaired by Judge Black. The latter was replacing the ailing out-going Governor Mactavish.

Riel let it be known that he was opposed to McDougall's arrival and invited the English group to join him. He stressed that he remained faithful to the British Crown but that he objected to the unlawful entry into the West of the Canadian government. He believed that the West should have the right to negotiate the terms of its entry into Confederation. On October 30, McDougall, Cameron and Joseph-Alfred Norbert Provencher, the nephew of Bishop Provencher, arrived in Pembina where they read the Committee's note. However, they refused to heed this warning and the next day, Cameron and Provencher proceeded to St. Norbert where they were stopped and conducted back to the American border escorted by 30 Métis. On November 2, McDougall met with the same fate. Riel and the Métis thus succeeded in cutting McDougall off from the group in Winnipeg which favoured Canadian annexation. That same day, the Métis took possession of Fort Garry, thereby establishing their control over the surrounding area. However, their power was quite precarious as they could only rely on the support of the French Catholic population. Riel was aware that he would need the backing of all elements in the Settlement to negotiate with the Canadian government. A series of meetings was held to endeavour to foster this support, but without the hoped-for success. Several people objected to the way McDougall had been treated. However, agreement was reached on the preparation of a list of rights.


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