John A. Macdonald's Response
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The Mtis Resistance
John A. Macdonald's Response
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John A. Macdonald's Response

The Red River Resistance, led by a young Métis named Louis Riel, presented an early test to the leadership of Canadian Prime Minister John A. Macdonald.
William McDougall was designated the first lieutenant governor of the North-West territories in 1869. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
William McDougall was designated the first lieutenant governor of the North-West territories in 1869. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

Riel's uprising, which began in the fall of 1869, was triggered by the sale of the vast prairie territory to the Canadian government earlier that year. Before the land transfer was finalized, Riel wanted to ensure that language, religious and land rights were guaranteed for prairie residents, especially the Catholic French-speaking Métis - the offspring of white fur-traders and natives.

By October 1869, Riel's uprising was in its early stages. Riel had turned away a Canadian land survey team and consolidated his support - mostly among the 6,000 French-speaking Métis.

Macdonald now sent out William McDougall as the first Canadian lieutenant governor of the North-West Territories.

"McDougall goes with a large party," Macdonald told colleague George Brown. "I anticipate that he will have a good deal of trouble, and it will require considerable management to keep those wild people quiet."

Despite his stern words, Macdonald advised McDougall to assume no authority in the region. The Prime Minister knew that Canada did not yet own Rupert's Land and he did not want Canada to be drawn into trouble.

McDougall and his large entourage arrived at the territorial boundary and were promptly turned away by a group of Métis.

McDougall was furious. Without any authority to claim the land for Canada, he crossed the border at night and read his proclamation aloud - to no one.

"Her Majesty the Queen... has been graciously pleased to... appoint me... for the admission of Rupert's Land into the Union or Dominion of Canada, to be lieutenant Governor... during her Majesty's pleasure... "

For his part, Macdonald continued to try to placate Riel. When Riel formed a provisional government for the region in December 1869, Macdonald sent Donald Alexander Smith as an emissary. Smith offered amnesty, money and employment to Métis leaders, and assured them that the Canadian government would respect land titles. Riel agreed to send a delegation to Ottawa to negotiate terms for entry of the prairie territory into Confederation.

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