Thursday, May 13, 2010 Saskatoon, Saskatchewan TheStarPhoenix.com
It was history in the making
By Jason Warick
Senior ReporterThe StarPhoenix
ATOCHE — Jackie Gaudet walksacross the eld once armed by hergreat-great grandparents, Margueriteand Jean Caron, as she discusses their centralrole in the Northwest Resistance 125 yearsago.Gaudet, a 42-year-old Metis mother o three who lives in the Batoche area 70kilometres northeast o Saskatoon, is hopeulthe events taking place across Saskatchewanthis year will serve as a “turning point” orrelations among First Nations, Metis and theprovince’s more recent arrivals.“What does the 125th anniversary mean tome?” she said. “It means reedom — reedomrom the negative eelings I’ve had or years.”In May o 1885, Canadian governmentorces, led by Maj.-Gen. Frederick Middle-ton, arrived in the Batoche area to conrontLouis Riel and his supporters. Middletonsought an open, elevated section o land toestablish a base.The Caron homestead, located just outsidethe village o Batoche on river lot No. 52,was commandeered.The Caron house was leveled and their live-stock butchered to eed the 900 governmentsoldiers. Caron, Dumas and their children fedbehind Metis lines.“Our amily lost everything,” said Gaudet.Caron and his three eldest sons ought inthe Battle o Batoche, a bloody, desperateand eventually losing attempt to assert Metisrights in the area.“It is our region’s Plains o Abraham,” saidDarren Preontaine o the Saskatoon-basedGabriel Dumont Institute, reerring to theamous 1759 British victory over the Frenchnear Quebec City.While the Battle o Batoche remains a keyevent o 1885, there’s much more to the story.It was a year o child starvation, guerillawarare and the largest mass execution inCanadian history — all on the soil o pres-ent-day Saskatchewan. From Duck Lake toBattleord to Cut Knie Hill, 1885 shaped theCanadian prairies.“It is a painul story to tell,” said Saskatche-wan Premier Brad Wall. “But it must be told.”
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Until recent years, the 1885 narrativeseemed straightorward.A rebellion led by Louis Riel and abettedby chies such as Poundmaker was deeatedby the government orces o Maj.-Gen.Middleton. The story was written by thevictors. Metis and First Nations voices werelargely absent.Today, or many reasons, a more nuancedview is possible. New perspectives have beenrevealed as aboriginal leaders, academicsand the descendants o the combatants, asserttheir versions.For example, the events o 1885 weretraditionally described as a rebellion. Thatterm has rapidly been overtaken by the word“resistance.”“The change has come rom a re-evaluationo history,” said Preontaine, the curriculumdevelopment ocer or the Gabiel DumontInstitute.“Canadian history is maturing.”The Canadian government webpage o theBatoche national historic site now includesboth terms — rebellion and resistance.Premier Brad Wall said last month theSaskatchewan government uses the wordsinterchangably, but he preers “resistance.”A plaque on the Gabriel Dumont statue indowntown Saskatoon describes the “resis-tance.”“We were not rebels,” said Jackie Gaudet.Also, the events o 1885 — while momen-tous — were erroneously depicted as a uni-ed, mass uprising o Metis and First Nationspeople. In reality, the issues raised and battlesought by First Nations at Cut Knie Hill andother locations were largely seperate romthose o the Metis.And the decision to ght was ar romunanimous. Even at Batoche, only 200 Metisand a ew dozen First Nations people withamily ties agreed to ght with Riel. Themajority o First Nations, as well as Metis inother parts o the region, declined.
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The armed conficts o 1885 were years inthe making.In 1870, Riel successully pressured theederal government to recognize Metis claimsin the Red River region, leading to the cre-ation o the province o Manitoba.However, with the arrival o hundreds o Canadian government troops and Europeansettlers, aspirations or a true Metis homelandwould not be realized.Many o these “Red River” Metis movedwest and in 1872 established a settlement onthe bank o the South Saskatchewan River. Itwas named Batoche, ater prominent residentXavier Letendre dit Batoche.Riel was orced into exile in the U.S.During Riel’s time in Red River, he’d over-seen the execution o a prominent opponentin Manitoba, Irish-Canadian Thomas Scott.Riel also had two stays in asylums.Around this time, tens o millions o bualohad been wiped rom the prairie landscape,eliminating the main source o ood or FirstNations and many Metis.First Nations chies entered into treatieswith the Crown. But by the early 1880s, thechies saw the ederal government had nointention o honouring the terms.Federal Indian agents acting under govern-ment orders decreased the promised oodrations to reserves, resulting in mass hungerand starvation. Discontent threatened to eruptin violence across the region.In 1884, in present-day southeast Saskatch-ewan near the town o Grenell, 30 armedwarriors rom the Sakimay band, led by chie Yellow Cal, occupied a ederal warehousein an attempt to secure ood. Violence wasaverted ater extensive negotiation by Chie Louis O’Soup.In the Battleord region, chies petitionedederal ocials at the decrease in ood rationsand the ailure o the government to providethe promised medicine, agricultural tools andother items.
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The Batoche Metis were angry.Upon arriving rom Manitoba, they estab-lished arms along the South Saskatchewanusing the Quebec-style river-lot system.Long, narrow plots ensured riverbank access.However, Metis attempts to obtain landtitles proved unsuccessul. Federal workerssoon arrived and began surveying accordingto the English-Canadian square townshipsystem. The Metis eared loss o their land.White armers in the area were angry at thelack o assistance rom the ederal govern-ment and the decision to build the trans-con-tinental railroad several hundred kilometressouth o them.When peaceul protests and petitionsaccomplished nothing, a council o Metisand disgruntled European armers decided itneeded Riel’s help.In 1884, Gabriel Dumont and three othermen travelled to Montana. They convincedRiel, now a ather o two and a U.S. citizen,to come to Batoche.At rst, Riel enjoyed broad support as hepetitioned the ederal government on behal o area residents. The ederal governmento John A. Macdonald appointed a commis-sion to study the issue, but declined to makeimmediate decisions.On March 19, the Batoche Metis estab-lished a provisional government, with Riel asthe political leader and Dumont its militaryhead. Riel lost most o his European allies ashe took several hostages and began preparingor war.
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The rst conrontation occurred one week later — on March 26 — in a eld near Duck Lake. A Dumont and Riel-led party clashedwith dozens o North West Mounted Policeand volunteers.An apparent misunderstanding led to therst shot red by “Gentelman” Joe McKay,a railroad engineer working as an interpreteror the North West Mounted Police, said ama-teur historian and area native Dennis Fisher.The dead included 12 police and volunteers,ve Metis and one First Nations man.In the Battleords region, First Nationspeople aced rampant starvation and disease.On March 30, Chie Poundmaker led adelegation to Battleord to ask or assistance.To his surprise, the town was deserted.Hundreds o residents had heard aboutthe Duck Lake battle, as well as the murdero another white man, and eared a generaluprising. They sought reuge in nearby FortBattleord.Poundmaker requested a meeting with ed-eral ocials, but none came out or severaldays. In the interim, some in the party raidedBattleord homes, stealing ood and otheritems.Negotiators eventually emerged andater discussions Poundmaker and his menreturned to their reserve several kilometres tothe west. Although no one was injured andno ghting occurred, it earned the historicdesignation o the “Siege o Battleord.”Poundmaker’s intentions and actions havebeen widely misrepresented, said his great-great grand-nephew, Tyrone Tootoosis. Therewas no “siege” o the town o Battleord, hesaid.“I there was a ‘seige mentality’ amongstthe 500 rightened occupants o Fort Bat-tleord, it was due to an irrational distrust andear o the Cree,” said Tootoosis, who servedas researcher and played the lead role in theNational FIlm Board documentary, The Trialo Poundmaker.“Poundmaker had absolutely no interestin joining the Metis Rebellion. He went toBattleord to rearm his loyalty to the Queenand in so doing hoped that his people wouldbe rewarded with extra rations. Upon arrivingthe Cree did not surround Fort Battleord nordid they cut o supplies.”Not all First Nations people were content tonegotiate.On April 2, just across the present dayborder o Saskatchewan and Alberta, ninepeople, including an Indian agent and twopriests, were murdered in the Frog Lakemassacre. Chie Big Bear apparently tried invain to stop his starving and embittered bandmembers, but was later jailed or treason.Tensions rose across Canada as word o thekillings spread. But even beore the incidentsat Frog Lake and even Duck Lake, Middle-ton and his troops had begun the trek romOntario out west.
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On April 6, Middleton and his 900-strongorce got o the train at Qu’Appelle andbegan the 300-kilometre march north toconront Riel.There were hundreds o other soldiers aswell, but Middleton was orced to send themurther down the rail line to Swit Currentand Calgary, where they walked north toquell what they eared to be a ull-scale warwith Big Bear, Poundmaker and others.From Qu’Appelle, Middleton and his mencovered more than 30 kilometres a day, arriv-ing at Clark’s Crossing 50 kilometres south o Batoche.Ater several days o rest and planning,Middleton began what he likely believedwould be an uneventul advance on Batoche,positioning hal o his orces on each side o the river.One o the scouts or Middleton wasJerome Henry, recalled Henry’s great-grand-son Bob McLeod. But Henry, who McLeoddescribed as a light-skinned Metis, was work-ing as a double agent. Henry secretly spiedor Dumont. He drew maps o Middleton’scamp at Clark’s Crossing and Middleton’sexpected marching route and had it smuggledback behind Metis lines, said McLeod, aSaskatoon man who serves as a director orthe Metis Nation-Saskatchewan.On the morning o April 24, Middleton andhis troops marched along a trail 20 kilometressouth o Batoche at Tourond’s Coulee, alsoknown as Fish Creek.As government troops approached, theywere ambushed by Dumont’s men, whoopened re rom the cover o brush and deepravines.Henry “led Middleton right into FishCreek,” McLeod said.The Metis inficted heavy damage beoreboth sides retreated later that day.The other hal o Middleton’s orceremained helpless on the river’s west bank,getting across on a makeshit erry only aterghting ceased.At least six government soldiers were killedand dozens wounded, while our Metis died.Henry fed Middleton’s camp around thistime. He took reuge behind Metis lines, joining his aher, Joseph Vermette. Bothather and son were wounded in the FishCreek battle. While Henry survived, his atherdied o his injuries several days later, saidMcLeod.The Metis dug rife pits and trenchesaround the town o Batoche, preparing orMiddleton’s inevitable assault.
Many events in 1885 led to this momentous event
Please see History/
—SP Photo by Peter Wilson
The largest mass hanging in Canadian history took place in Novem-ber, 1885 when eight First Nations men were tried for murder duringthe Northwest Resistance. They were executed within the wall of thestockade at Battleford. The bodies were buried in a common grave site(above) close to the fort.
—SP Photo by Gord Waldner
FSIN Vice-Chief Morley Watson signs an elk skin at the Trails 1885 historicalproclamation occasion signing last month