CPR Telegraph Ledger - The Metis Perspective and Louis Riel

The Metis Perspective and Louis Riel

The telegrams in the ledger book provide a source of insight into the North-West Resistance. However, the ledger tells only one side of the story, that of the Canadian forces. To gain a better understanding of the context of the telegrams, it is essential to have some background knowledge of the Métis people living in the Canadian West, and the issues they faced at the time that fighting broke out. Métis history is a complex topic, and certainly more expansive than this exhibit. Please refer to the bibliography at the end of the exhibit for further reading.

The Métis people are a culture of mixed First Nations and European ancestry that grew out of the intermarriage between First Nations persons and European members of the fur trade. They are a distinct group whose heritage is evident in their language (i.e: Michif-Cree, which blends Cree and French), music and dance (in particular fiddle and jigging), and spirituality such as folk Catholicism.

Many Métis living in Saskatchewan during the 1880’s had come from the Red River region of Manitoba, where there had been a resistance from 1869 to 1870. The Red River Resistance culminated in the Manitoba Act of 1870, which established Manitoba as a province of Canada. Even though the Manitoba Act made commitments to the Métis in relation to land, language, and political control, these provisions were not properly implemented. Métis living in the Red River area faced increasingly discriminatory attitudes, leading many to move further west.

This move unfortunately did not resolve Métis’ grievances. Between 1870 and 1884, their work in the fur trade and involvement with the Hudson’s Bay Company was declining. Like First Nations groups, the Métis depended on bison, which no longer existed in large numbers. They also sought clarification of land titles and settlement issues from the Canadian government.

In June of 1884, Louis Riel was asked by a delegation of Métis to assist them in negotiating with the Canadian government. Born in 1844 in Saint-Boniface, in the Red River Settlement, Riel came from a political family. He excelled as a student, and spent time studying for the priesthood in Montréal. Articulate and educated, he had been the leader of the provisional government formed during the Red River Resistance. Today he is considered to be the founder of Manitoba. After the Red River Resistance, Riel was granted amnesty on February 12, 1875 by the federal government, conditional on a five year banishment from the country. When the Métis asked for his help in 1884, Riel was living in Montana as an American citizen, and was involved with politics and Métis issues. Riel agreed to help, and travelled north. 


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