RIEL'S SECOND REBELLION
The half-breeds comprising these communities select the banks of the larger rivers and apportion off for themselves farms with but a few chains frontage on the river, making up their area by running them two miles deep, out on to the prairie. This is done that their houses may be built close to one another, and that they may have the benefit of the river water for their cattle, and thus save themselves the labour of digging wells. Besides this, the quantities of fish to be got in these rivers are a great help towards the family's subsistence.
Between the north and south branches of the Saskatchewan river, and adjacent to the English community of Prince Albert, which comprises some six thousand souls, is situated the mission of St. Laurent, containing a population of twelve or fifteen hundred people. Both these settlements have made great progress during the last few years. Their means of communication with the outer world is however necessarily imperfect, and the cost of freighting is heavy, as they are distant about two hundred and fifty miles north of the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway. But, like the settlements planted by Lord Selkirk on the banks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, in the early part of the present century, they have struggled, grown, and prospered; yet, owing to their great distance and isolation from the civilized world, their voice has been but faintly heard, and their complaints indifferently listened to.
The Canadian Government during these years was busy surveying the country, endeavouring to keep pace with the rapidly advancing settlements, and connecting the territory by base and meridian lines from east to west and from north to south. In consequence of the previous growth of the settlements in and around Prince Albert, surveying parties had been early sent forward to locate townships and divide them into lots. The prevailing system of surveys is by townships six miles square, subdivided into sections one mile square, separated by road allowances one chain and a-half wide. When the surveyors came into the settlement of St. Laurent, they were at once met with the difficulty of the locations, made by the half-breeds, which we have before described. Having no instructions, they continued their surveys upon the recognized principle, leaving, however, any lands occupied by squatters intact. The surveyors in due course made their returns to Ottawa, and a land agent was appointed. For some time, however, the land office was not opened for business, and the settlers were unable, to make entries for their lands or to obtain their patents.
A good deal of confusion arose during the early settlement of this district, owing to the numbers who sought to obtain the most eligible locations, having no guide to go by, or survey to direct them. They clung on, however, to the locations they had first taken up, irrespective of the closeness of neighbours. The settlement of these claims, and the policy of permitting the half-breeds to maintain their own surveys, was no doubt the cause of the great and apparently unnecessary delay in satisfying the settlers, who were anxious to know what land their titles covered. In addition, these half-breeds contended that they should be allotted the scrip for two hundred and forty acres of land, the same as their brethren in the province of Manitoba, a policy that had always been contemplated by the country but was held in abeyance. Many of them had already received scrip in that province, but without question they nevertheless hoped to get it again. This had been petitioned for frequently, but apparently no attention had been paid to them.
The reason given by the Government, in the debate upon the alleged grievances, was that Archbishop Tachè and other friends of the half-breeds represented that until the half-breeds had become more acquainted with the civilization that was surrounding them, and better able to hold their own, it would be wiser not to accede to their demands. Archbishop Tachè wanted reserves made for the half-breeds, to be held in trust for them for three generations. Lieut.-Governor Laird, and the North-West Council recommended that ten years should elapse before the half-breeds should have the power to part with their privileges. These were all sensible recommendations, but the people themselves wanted to secure the few dollars the issue of scrip would give them. Their friends, moreover, felt that if patents were granted them and their scrip distributed, a repetition of the exodus that had taken place from the settlements around Winnipeg would ensue, and that these settlements, which were now contented and happy, would be broken up and the people would migrate further west into the Peace River and other isolated districts. It is a benefit to the country to have pioneers like these forming outposts for the advancing tide of immigration; and looking at it from that standpoint, it was a mistake postponing the issue of their scrip. But the Government inclined to take a paternal view of their circumstances, and yielding no doubt to the suggestions of their friends, delayed the appointment of the Commission to award the scrip to those entitled to it.
The Commission, however, was appointed in January, 1885, previous to the outbreak of disturbance; and before the campaign was over it had completed its task; allotting scrip to those who were entitled to receive it. Speculators accompanied the Commission to the various settlements and purchased from the half-breeds the valuable rights and privileges whch were thus granted. It is perhaps well to give here the result of their labours and enquiries, to show that their friends were right in postponing as long as they could the realization of these valuable privileges.
The Commission appointed to inquire into the half-breed claims and to make the award to those entitled to the scrip granted altogether about nineteen hundred to heads of families and their children. So just and liberal were the awards that, included in this nineteen hundred, were a number of half-breeds who had been drawing treaty all the time but resigned it and took scrip, and about three hundred who had died of small-pox some years previously, during an epidemic that had visited the district near Edmonton. The latter had become entitled to the scrip by virtue of their residence in the territory in 1870, the date of the transfer, and their scrip was awarded to their heirs. It is also worthy of note that in thc parish of St. Laurent, where Riel made his headquarters, and which was the scene cf the rebellion, only sixty souls were entitled to the scrip. The remainder belonged to families who had emigrated from the province of Manitoba and had already received the benefit of the half-breed grant. Eighty seven were entitled to it in the Prince Albert district. The scrip they received, in the case of heads of families, granted the right to locate one hundred and sixty acres of land, or one hundred and sixty dollars in scrip, good to purchase Dominion lands at the current price. In the case of minors, it conveyed the right to locate two hundred and forty acres of land, or two hundred and forty dollars in scrip. Of those who obtained their scrip, nearly ninety per cent. elected to take the money valUe in preference to the land, which they parted with in many cases for about thirty-five cents on the dollar. A half-breed with any Indian blood can take treaty as an Indian, and can resign it at his pleasure for scrip.
Withholding the patents and the scrip, and the system of surveys, were the chief causes which excited the people and enabled Riel to stir up an armed rebellion in the country for his own glory and personal advantage. Although, according to Père Andrè's evidence, a telegram came on the 4th of March to say that the Government had acceded to the issue of scrip and patents and river surveys, no word had come in regard to Riel's compensation, and so he went on with the rebellion.
This is how the half-breeds reasoned. Riel, in the year 1869, had been successful in his stand against the Hon. William Macdougall and the Hudson's Bay Company, where for six months he had served out the stores of the Company to pay his people for their services to him and to feed them, and had also obtained for them scrip for two hundred and forty acres of land, each, and the recognition of their existing privileges and titles. Hence, they thought, he could not fail to accomplish similar great results for these new settlements, many of which were made up of those who migrated from the neighbourhood of Winnipeg, and had realized the temporary advantages and other gains of the previous rebellion.
Riel had spent most of his time, after his banishment, in the United States, where he became an American citizen, and in 1884 was teaching a small school of half- breeds in a settlement in the territory of Montana. The people of this settlement were imbued with the same sentiments and feelings, and inherited much of the same blood, as the half-breeds in Canada. While there Riel had on two or three occasions got himself into trouble with the American authorities, by interfering illegally in the politics of the country, showing that the spirit of agita- tion was still strong in him, and that he was there striving to use the influence of the half-breeds for his own ambitious ends.
The thoughts of the half-breeds of the Saskatchewan valley naturally turned to Riel, in their desire to secure their rights and privileges, which so far had received little attention from the Government. In the summer of 1884, four men, Gabriel Dumont, Dumais, Moise Ouillette, and James Isbister, went to. Montana, sought an interview with Riel, and persuaded him to come up to the Saskatchewan to assist them in their cause. Reil did not require much persuasion; in fact, it is stated, that he brought about this mission himself. As his answer to this delegation is of interest, I give it below:
"To Messrs. James Isbister, Gabriel Dumont, Moise Ouillette, and Michael Dumais -Riel accompanied the delegates on their return to the Saskatchewan, and took with him his wife and family. His crimes of 1869-70 had been condoned, though he was permanently deprived of his political rights. His term of banishment, however, had now expired, and he was once more entitled to return a free man.*
"ST. PETER'S MISSION, June 4th, 1884.
"GENTLEMEN,-You have travelled more than seven hundred miles, from the Saskatchewan country across the international line, to make me a visit. The communities in the midst of which you live have sent you as their delegates to ask my advice on various difficulties which have rendered the British North-West unhappy under the administration of the Ottawa Government. Moreover, you invite me to go and stay amongst you, your hope being that I, for one, could help to better in some respects your condition, and cordial and pressing is your invitation. You want me and my family to accompany you; I am at liberty to excuse myself and say no; yet you are waiting for me, so that I have only to get ready, and your letters of delegation assure me that a friendly welcome awaits me in the midst of those who sent you.
"Gentlemen, your personal visit does me honour, and causes me great pleasure, but on account of its representative character, your coming to me has the appearance of a remarkable circumstance, which I record as one of the gratifications of my lifeÄan event which my family will remember; and I pray to God that my assistance will prove so successful to you as to render this event a blessing among the many blessings, of this my fortieth year. To be frank is the shortest. I doubt whether my advice given to you on this soil, concerning affairs in Canadian territories, could cross the border and retain any influence. But there is another view of the matter. I am entitled, according to the 31st and 32nd clauses of the Manitoba treaty, to land, of which the Canadian Government have directly or indirectly deprived me, and my claim to which is valid, notwithstanding the fact that I have become an American citizen. Considering then, that my interests are identical with yours, I accept your very kind invitation, and will go and spend some months amongst you, in the hope that by petitioning the Government we will obtain the redress of our grievances.
Montana has a population, of which the native half- breed element constitutes a considerable portion, and if we include those white men, who through being connected by marriage, or in other ways, have a personal interest in their welfare, I believe it is safe to assert that this element is a pretty strong one. I am just getting acquainted with them, and I am one of those who would like to unite and direct its vote for the furtherance of their best interests. Moreover, I have made friends and acquaintances amongst whom I like to live. I go with you, but I will come back in September."I have the honour to be,
"Your humble servant,
A number of the Prince Albert settlers, who had grievances similar to the half breeds, were inclined to make common cause with them, and welcome Riel to their midst; but upon discovering the extreme measures he intended taking, they afterwards refused to have anything to do with him. He held meetings in the various parishes, and explained his policy, and commenced a constitutional agitation for the redress of the grievances of the people who had sent for him.
It is a wonder that Riel would again venture to head a violent and treasonable agitation of the half-breeds. He had narrowly escaped the consequences of his acts of 1869-70, through the sympathetic interference of Arch-bishop Tachè. He had put the Canadian Government and the Imperial authorities to a large expense, in sending troops into the country, and he had taken the life of a fellow-countryman, without rhyme or reason, which had stirred the hearts of the Canadian people to the depths. On the other hand, however, there was a chance of personal profit, and he no doubt came with the intention of pushing his agitation to extremes until that profit should come. Sir John Macdonald declared in Parliament that Riel had made an offer to the Government to leave the country for five thousand dollars, which offer was more moderate than the amount stated by Riel himself, in his speech to the jury, during his trial in Regina. In this speech he claimed that there was a balance of thirty-five thousand dollars due him since the time he was at the head of the provisional government in 1870.
As in 1869, Riel prepared a "Bill of Rights," which con tained extensive provisions for the half-breeds and the Indians. In 1869 the half-breed grant was computed by apportioning one-seventh of the lands of the Province of Manitoba to their use and that of their children. Riel wished a similar principle to be carried out with regard to the North-West Territories. I do not think this principle of one-seventh was ever formulated before the Government, but I believe this was the inducement he held out to the half-breeds and the Indians ; and to further every interest on his behalf he made promises of liberal grants of land, etc. The "Bill of Rights," which was adopted at the, meetings held in the various settlements, contained liberal provisions for the half-breeds and their children, as well as for the Indians.
Riel continued his agitation through the winter and held meetings in the English settlements, which were attended by many sympathizers, who thought some good might come of the agitation, although open rebellion was never hinted at or contemplated by the sympathizers. But the latter were playing with fire in having anything to do with Riel, for he had personal ends to serve, and was using them merely as his tools.
In order to get some sort of. authority for the proceedings he now determined to take, he formed a provisional government upon the same basis as that formed by him in the year 1869. The ostensible reason he gave for the formation of this government, was that the "Bill of Rights" which they had prepared, and which had been so long neglected, would have to be demanded, It is a wonder that he did not see danger in his proceedings, or in his assuming this leadership; for having been deprived of his political rights, he could not claim, as a new settler, the same status or the same justification as those could claim whom he was leading. It was urged as an injustice, that the white settlers had the privilege of entering second homesteads, after having performed settlement duties on the first, while the half-breeds who had come west were not entitled to, or could not receive, their scrip a second time.
This was a specious argument, but the difference lies in this, that in the one case the Government gives a free grant of land, and in return obtains a settler whose industry will add to the wealth and prosperity of the country; in the other case, the Government gives a transferable right to two hundred and forty acres of land, which is reserved to meet that obligation. This right passes into the hands of a speculator at a low price, and the land lies fallow for years to come, to the detriment of the country, to the detriment of the neighbourhood, and to the detriment of every one except the holder. But more than that, the half-breed who chooses to go to the land-office and say: "I want to take up a homestead under the conditions of the Land Act," is perfectly free to do so, whether or not he has obtained the patent for his land in the old Red River settlement of 1869, and his half-breed scrip in addition. And after he has pertbrmed the settlement duties of that homestead, he is still at liberty, under the land regulations, to take up another homestead, the same as his fellow citizen from Ontario, Quebec, or anywhere else. Nothing could be more liberal; nothing should so little justify the armed rebellion which these men instituted.
While I am on the subject of scrip, I would here point out the wisdom of the system the Government has adopted in the issuing of land-grants to the soldiers who were engaged in the late rebellion. The Government recognized the sacrifice that had necessarily to be made by the citizen soldiers, in turning out and leaving their employments to take up arms in defence of their country's laws. For this, it made each a free grant of three hundred and twenty acres of land, without fees, provided he performed the settlement duties required by the Homestead Act, or found a substitute to take his place. Failing that, in lieu of the land grant, each soldier may accept scrip, which entitles him to purchase eighty dollars' worth of Dominion lands, or to assign the same to anyone who wishes to do so. By this system the Government secures a settler, whose whole means can be applied to the stocking and cultivating the land, for which he obtains his title at the end of three years. If he elects to take his scrip, the Government secures an individual who puts his capital into the country, by the purchase of Dominion lands at the current price, and who has a pecuniary interest in the development of the territory. It is unfor- tunate that the scrip lately granted to the half-breeds could not have been put under the same system, although this difficulty has been obviated by the fact that nearly ninety per cent of those entitled to the scrip elected to take the money value.
"My DEAR MR. RIEL,-The opinion here is so pronounced in your favour and longs for you so ardently that it would be a great disappointment to the people of Prince Albert if you did not come. So you see you absolutely must come. You are the most popular man of the country, and with the exception of four or five persons all the world impatiently expects you. I have only this to say-Come. Come quickly. With kind remembrances,"I am, A. ANDRÈ.Chapter IX