Anger in the West|
Fury with Ottawa creates shaky alliances on the prairies
In the early 1880s, the seeds of rebellion were planted as frustration grew on the Canadian prairies.
|In June 1884, Chief Big Bear organized what was probably the largest gathering of Cree in history to try to force Ottawa to live up to its treaty promises. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
Natives were starving; the Métis were losing land; and settlers felt the Canadian government was indifferent to the farmers problems.
In desperation, some tried to form alliances to strengthen their voices.
In June 1884, Chief Big Bear organized what was probably the largest gathering of Cree in history - more than 2000 natives attended. Big Bear wanted the help of other chiefs to force the federal government to live up to its treaty promises.
Big Bears goals were political rather than military. At one point during the gathering, a troop of North West Mounted Police arrived to arrest two warriors. Big Bear prevented some angry Cree from attacking the police and even allowed the warriors to be taken into custody.
The troop commander Lieutenant Lief Crozier reported on the incident, "The chiefs, including Big Bear were doing all they could to have the man give up quietly. They said however if an attempt were made to arrest him forcibly they felt sure bloodshed would follow... What made me most anxious to avoid a collision was the fear that the first shot fired would be the signal for an Indian outbreak with all its attendant horrors."
In the end, Big Bears attempt to ally the Cree bands failed. But the NWMP incident got the governments attention back in Ottawa. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald feared the outbreak of an Indian war and sent more police to the West.
However Macdonald failed to see another threat - the continued unrest of the Métis and white settlers.
In the past, the Métis and white settlers had little to do with each other. But now both groups had a common grievance - the Canadian government.
The settlers felt they had no political clout and a heavy federal tax on cheap American farm equipment was threatening the survival of their farms. The Saskatchewan Métis watched as federal surveyors staked out land that they had already claimed.
Among the white settlers, William Jackson was one of the most vocal advocates for change. The former philosophy student spoke about the need to fight for political reforms. Jackson became secretary of a new Settlers' Union and invited the Métis leaders to join them in a united front.
Farmers and Métis met in a Prince Albert, Saskatchewan schoolhouse to draft resolutions outlining their common grievances and agreed they needed a strong decisive leader.
Métis Louis Goulet recalled Gabriel Dumonts announcement of the name of the man he knew the government would not ignore.
"He spoke for a long time about the miseries and injustices the Métis had endured ... then Dumont explained ... I want to tell you, theres one man who can do what I want to do and thats Louis Riel. Lets go and bring him back."
As with the natives, the alliance between the Métis and the settlers never took hold. The Métis were generally too militant for many of the settlers. But the brief western alliances had moved the west closer to rebellion.