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The North-West Rebellion
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We first heard some suspicious rumblings in 1884. My orderly room sergeant was on leave when he heard a Metis urging the Blackfoot to kill settlers' cattle. The country belonged to the Natives according to Louis Riel, and the whites should be sent away. We tracked the man down and sent him to jail for vagrancy, with the advice to stop making such suggestions. A while later, the same man returned to meet with Crowfoot, and the Blackfoot became hostile. We marched to Crowfoot's camp and arrested the Metis once again.

After that I busied myself at the railway camps, only hearing occasionally about the discontent among the Natives and the Metis. It wasn't hard to imagine: the Plains Indian depended upon the buffalo for their food, clothing, tipis and spiritual beliefs. The last buffalo disappeared just as the railway appeared in the heart of the hunting grounds. After years of drought, the starving Natives had eaten their dogs and their horses, and were turning to mice and gophers. At the same time, the government had adopted a policy not to provide any food to Natives who had not signed a treaty and were not on their reserves. But even for those who had, the rations were cut. The Indian Agents believed that the Natives should work for their rations, not get them free. This was totally against what had been promised with the treaties!

The Metis too saw their way of life changing. They had once again asked the government to meet them and negotiate their rights to the land upon which they had been living. They heard only lies and met delays. They asked Louis Riel to return to Canada and to lead them once more.

By 1884, from Winnipeg to Edmonton, the North West was in an uproar. The railway was the symbol of everything bad that had happened to the Cree, Sioux, Assiniboine, Blackfoot and Metis in the territory. Priests, settlers, the Metis and the Mounties - everyone tried to warn the government of what was coming, but the Prime Minister didn't understand, didn't care, or couldn't act for whatever reason.

We felt sorry for the people of the Plains and tried to help whenever we could. We gave them food out of our own stores. Inspector Denny at Fort Calgary began to slaughter cattle - 2000 pounds of meat a day were split among the Blackfoot, Stoneys and some Metis. Yet, at the same time, we had to uphold the laws being made in Ottawa, and I admit, they didn't often favour the Natives! We found that attitudes were changing, and it didn't make our job any easier.

The Natives were becoming more agitated. Our men were called to arrest a man who had hit the Indian Agent with an axe handle. It took Superintendent Crozier from Battleford, Inspector Antrobus, Sergeant Bagley and 25 men to make the arrest. Amid war-whoops and rifles shot into the air, the Superintendent and his men captured The-Man-Who-Speaks-Our-Languages. Our interpreter was captured and one of our men had his jacket, rifle and pistol taken away. When the Superintendent offered food to the mob, things quieted down. The interpreter was later released unharmed and everything returned.

For Crozier, this event was a warning. He reported to the Commissioner his fear that this was only the beginning, and worse was to come. He couldn't have been more right.

Crozier also felt that the Natives would join the Metis if they should start a rebellion. The Metis also expected the Natives to side with them and had already been speaking to some of the chiefs. Louis Riel was back and Gabriel Dumont was one of his captains.
Instigators of the North-West Rebellion.
Instigators of the North-West Rebellion.

Militia scouts in 1885.
Militia scouts in 1885.

Chipewyan chiefs holding a meeting.
Chipewyan chiefs holding a meeting.

Superintendent Lief Crozier
Superintendent Lief Crozier

 
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5. The Railroad and the Rebellion



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