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DUNCOMBE, CHARLES – Volume IX (1861-1870)

d. 1 Oct. 1867 at Hicksville, Calif.


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

Relations with First Nations and Métis
Original title:  Confederation & Treaty-Making in the West

Source: Link


Between October 1868 and April 1869, on behalf of the Canadian government, Sir George-Étienne CARTIER negotiated with British authorities and the Hudson's Bay Company to purchase Rupert’s Land and the North-West Territory. Excluded from the negotiations, natives, and particularly the Métis, opposed the government’s actions:

“The Canadian government had made a clumsy attempt to occupy the new territory and already in the autumn of 1869 had found itself up against resistance from the Métis and from a provisional government directed by Louis Riel [see John Ross; John Black]. It was Cartier who succeeded in negotiating a solution with Bishop Taché that satisfied most of the Métis’ requests, and that took concrete shape in May 1870 with the creation of a new province, Manitoba, which was given a political and administrative system analogous to that of Quebec (33 Vict., c.3). The Métis were guaranteed land; the rights of the two languages were recognized, and the schools of the religious minorities, whether they existed by virtue of law or of custom, were authorized.”


The following excerpt, taken from the biography of Alexandre-Antonin TACHÉ, bishop of Saint-Boniface, Man., describes his role as intermediary with Canada’s government, of which Cartier was a part, at the time of the rebellions by the Métis at the Red River in 1869–70:

“On 8 Dec. 1869 Pius IX opened the Vatican Council and, at Upper Fort Garry, Louis Riel* established a provisional government. Anxious at the turn of events, the federal government requested Taché to leave Rome. He was in Ottawa on 10 Feb. 1870. He met with the cabinet and then had private conversations with Governor General Sir John Young*, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, Cartier, and others. The mood was one of conciliation. The ministers revealed their intention to see that justice was done. Taché was handed a copy of Young’s proclamation of amnesty dated 6 Dec. 1869, which promised amnesty to the inhabitants of Red River who laid down their arms. In Taché’s eyes, amnesty for all the Métis leaders was crucial, for on it depended the pacification of the region. He obtained from Cartier the promise of a complete and general amnesty.”


Cartier’s promise to the Métis led them to believe that he wanted to defend their rights, as he did those of all French Canadians. In the context of negotiations that led to the creation of the province of Manitoba in 1870, however, historians have doubts about the real intentions of the federal government. The biography of Métis leader Louis RIEL sets out two interpretations:

“Provincial status was granted to Manitoba (the name favoured by Riel), although Macdonald and Cartier succeeded in limiting the size of the province to about 1,000 square miles and not the entire northwest. Provincial control of natural resources, including all lands, was denied, but after hard bargaining 1,400,000 acres in the northwest were set aside for the Métis as a compromise. Bilingualism was recognized in the proceedings of the courts, the legislature, and in government publications. Historians have argued over whether the act was a genuine commitment to the extension of bilingualism to the west or, as some have suggested, merely a surrender to Riel’s alleged dictatorship. A critical examination of the four lists of rights, which were the basis of the negotiations and the act, supports the former view.”


Thus, the Métis of Manitoba entered the Canadian confederation. Louis Riel returned to Red River after the rebellion without, however, obtaining the guarantee that he would benefit from the amnesty that had been negotiated between the delegates of Red River and the Canadian authorities in 1870:

“[Joseph] Dubuc and others now urged Riel to be a candidate for the riding of Provencher in the September 1872 federal general election. He agreed, despite warnings that he would be murdered if he set foot in Ottawa. But there was a new turn of events: Cartier was defeated in Montreal East early in September and Macdonald turned to Manitoba to find a seat for his Quebec lieutenant. Riel agreed to withdraw his candidature, as did his opponent Henry Joseph Clarke, in favour of Cartier, on condition that a settlement be reached on the guarantees made to the Métis regarding land. The question of amnesty he was prepared to leave to Cartier, whose sympathy on this point was a matter of record. On 14 September Cartier was elected by acclamation. …”


The protection of minority rights was the common goal for both Riel and Cartier, as this further excerpt from Riel’s biography notes:

“For the next few months Riel was inactive. In Ottawa a renewed effort was made to secure the promised amnesty, but Macdonald was adamant; his political position was too weak after the election. The kaleidoscope of politics changed once again when Cartier died on 20 May 1873 in London. The champion of French rights in Manitoba, and the chief proponent in cabinet of an amnesty for Riel, was gone.”


In the end, the Métis’ hope of thriving in the new Canada diminished. As for the First Nations, their leaders were disillusioned and became concerned only with conserving what they had gained, as recounted in this excerpt from the biography of Stoney chief John CHINIQUAY:

“The 1870s were critical years for the nations of the prairies and foothills. The Canadian government was eager to establish its authority and extinguish aboriginal title to the land, while native leaders were anxious to secure what they could for their people’s future. As historian J. R. Miller has remarked, ‘In large part because the two sides approached the negotiations with different purposes and assumptions, their understanding of them was different at the time and has remained unhappily so to this day.’”


To learn more about native peoples and the Métis at the time of Cartier and the Red River rebellion, read the biographies in the following lists:

First Nations and Métis
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