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The History of the Metis
The Metis were partly french and partly indian. Their leader was called
Louis riel. Following the Union of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North
West Company in 1821, trading had been reorganized in order to reduce
expenses. Since there was no longer competition in the fur trade, it was
unnecessary to have two or more posts serving a single trading district.
For this reason, some posts had been closed and the number of brigades
reduced. This reorganization had led to some unemployment amoung Metis who
for years had been working in the fur trade. The Hudson Bay Company had
attempted to assist these these men by encouraging them to engage in
farming in what is now South Manitoba. A few families take to agriculture,
but most of the metis found it difficult. To them, the excitement and the
adventure of the buffalo hunt held more appeal than farming. Hundreds of
Metis were content to earn a living by hunting buffalo, making pemmican or
finding employment as freight drivers.
After a while Canada bought Rupertsland from Hudson Bay Company. When the
Metis heard this they were alarmed. They feared their religion,their
language, their lands and their old, free way of* life. They had known for
some time that Canada was busy constructing a colonists highway from Lake
Superior to the Red River. The situation became tense surveyors were sent
into the flow of settlers, and it was considered a wise move to have the
surveying well under way before settlement began in earnest. It was decided
to use a system or land survey similar to that used in the western part of
the United States. Townships were to be divided into thirty-six sections,
each containing one square mile or 640 acres. The sections were then to be
divided into, the quarter-section was thought to be enough land for each
family settling in the North West. (An interesting aspect of the survey
system was the plan of the setting asside two sections in each township for
the future support of education. The idea to sell these sections at a later
date and use the money for the construction of schools.) When th survey
began, friction occured in those areas where the french specking Metis had
settled along the river, occupying long narrow strips in the manner common
in New France. Attempts were made by the surveyors to avoid disturbing the
pattern, but in some cases the survey lines crossed the narrow holdings,
leading the Metis to believe the their land was being taken away from them.
Louis Riel
Louis Riel was the leader of the Metis. He was a black-bearded, handsome
young man, the son of the leader of a minor Metis revolt in 1849 against
the Hudson’s Bay Company. Born in the red River region in 1944, Riel had
been chosen as a possible candidate for the priesthood and had studied at
the Jesuit College de Montreal. However, he failed to complete his
religious studies and returned to the Red River in 1868, looking for
employment. His powers of eloquence and his hot-tempered nature soon made
him an outspoken defenter of the Metis.