Did Riel rebel in Saskatchewan? In order to rule on this question, this INQUIRY considered that it was most crucial to uncover its own evidence of events in 1885. What follows are the key finding of the INQUIRY into the Career of Louis Riel.
Following his surrender, after the fall of Batoche, Louis Riel’s papers were seized by Major-General Middleton and the Canadian authorities. Riel requested his papers while awaiting his trial but was denied, including his American Naturalization papers. None of his documents were provided the defence during his trial. Certain crucial documents seem to have disappeared. Included in the lost material are certain Crown Letters between Prime Minister Macdonald, Justice Minister Campbell, Manitoba Chief Justice Wallbridge, and Magistrate Hugh Richardson that fitted-up Riel’s trial. Significantly, this includes the documentation of the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan, 1885.
The following account, which we found in the Regina Leader (April 27, 1885) and traced to the original Toronto Mail (April 21, 1885), would seem to be the only record purporting to represent the establishment of the Provisional Government of the Saskatchewan, 1885. The information in the article is significant in that it clarifies several points which up to now have been “lost” or misconstrued in Canadian history.
The first point of significance is that the Provisional Government of the Saskatchewan, was established on March 6 – 7, 1885 with Riel as President. It has conventionally been believed the Provisional Government of the Saskatchewan was established on March 19, 1885:
It was on March 18th that Riel resolved to form a Provisional Government … On the following day, March 19th, the Métis met at St. Antotne (Batoche} … A Provisional Government was immediately proclaimed, (Stanley George F.G., The Birth of Western Canada, A History of the Riel Rebellions, 1936, p.316 -317.)
It is also important to note that the provisional government has been deliberately misconstrued as being synonymous with the Exovite, the religious assembly of the dis-communicated Roman Catholics under arms. The Provisional Government was the political arm of the movement for democracy in the Northwest, it had its own political program and agenda, as did the religious assembly, the Exovite. As Riel pointed out at his trial:
I wish to leave Rome aside, inasmuch as it is the cause of division between Catholics and Protestants. I did not wish to force my views. If I could have any influence in the new world it would be to help in that way, even if it takes 200 years to become practical … so my children’s children can shake hands with the protestants of the new world in a friendly manner. I do not wish those evils which exist in Europe to be continued, as much as I can influence it, among the Métis. I do not wish that to be.
The second point of significance in the article labeled “Riel’s Propaganda,” is the “lost” Revolutionary Bill of Rights of Saskatchewan, 1885. This Bill of Rights has been lost since March 1885, when Sir John A. Macdonald declared in the Dominion Parliament that no Northwest “Bill of Rights” had ever been “officially, or indeed in any way, promulgated so far as we know and transmitted to the Government.” (Debates of the House of Commons, Canada, 1885, p.693)
Thomas Flanagan, who along with Gorge F.G. Stanley was one of the editors of The Collected Writings of Louis Riel states:
The most interesting document to recover would be the Bill of Rights, but it was deliberately burnt shortly before the battle of Duck Lake. No one has stated why it was destroyed but perhaps Riel felt it to be incriminating. Flanagan T., Riel and the Rebellion, 1885 Reconsidered, Western Producer Press, 1983, p.97.
After failing to find the Saskatchewan Bill of Rights, 1885, in the Canadian or Saskatchewan Archives, this INQUIRY’s discovery of a secondary source (GLOBE & LEADER) is significant in that it identifies the content of the missing document, and clarifies the position of Riel, the Métis, and the discontented settlers of the Farmers and Settlers Union in their struggle against the Canadian Government for Indigenous, land, language and democratic rights.
The Revolutionary Bill of Rights of the Saskatchewan 1885
(The REGINA LEADER, April 27, 1885)
That the half-breeds of the Northwest Territories be given grants similar to those accorded to the half breeds of Manitoba by the Act of 1870. That patents be issued to all half breed and white settlers who have fairly earned the right of possession on their farms. That the Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan be forthwith organized with Legislatures of their own, so that the people may be no longer subject to the despotism of Mr. Dewdney. That in these new Provincial Legislatures, while representation according to population shall be the supreme principle the Métis shall have a fair and reasonable share of representation. That the offices of trust throughout these Provinces be given to residents of the country, as far as practicable, and that we denounce the appointment of disreputable outsiders, and repudiate their authority. That this region be administered for the benefit of the actual settlers and not for the advantage of the alien speculator. That better provision be made for the Indians, the Parliamentary grant to be increased and lands set apart as endowment for the establishment of hospitals and schools for the use of whites, half breeds and Indians, at such places as the Provincial Legislatures may determine. That all the lawful customs and usages which obtain among the Métis be respected. That the Land Department of the Dominion Government be administered as far as practicable from Winnipeg, so that settlers may not be compelled, as heretofore to go to Ottawa for the settlement of questions in dispute between them and the land commissioner. That the timber regulations be made more liberal, and that the settlers be treated as having rights in that country.
In the eyes of this INQUIRY, Canadian historical development is no longer a question of speculation. The Saskatchewan Bill of Rights is the culmination of Louis Riel’s democratic program. It is not only a continuation of the constitutional work done in Manitoba in 1869-70, establishing the Canadian province of Manitoba, it goes beyond, as it is a revolutionary program that repudiates Canadian authority and announces a program for a democratic Northwest, the current of which still needs fulfillment. Louis Riel sought a modem Canada, a mature and wise Canada. He strove to introduce democratic content to the forms which had historically evolved. He worked at modernizing the forms themselves and creating new forms, as he expressed at the conclusion of his trial: … responsible government, and the same concessions that had been given to the Manitoba half-breeds; the immediate issue of patents; the setting aside of two million acres of land to provide funds for the relief of distress and for the purchase of machinery and seed grain for the metis; that works and contracts of the Government of the North-West be
given as far as practicable, to residents therein, in order to encourage them as they
deserve and to increase circulation of cash in the Territories.
Louis Riel knew that sovereignty and power must be passed on to the citizens of the country. He also knew that when the government is insane, irresponsible and paralyzed, or when it attacks the people, it must be opposed. The culmination of the constitutional campaign of 1884, after the Métis were attacked by the North-West Mounted Police in 1885, was the Revolutionary Bill of Rights of the Saskatchewan. It is our opinion that it is for this reason this document has been hidden from the people along with certain other government documents and Riel’s papers. These documents need to see the light of day to fulfill Canada’s destiny and empower the people.
On November 10, 1985 the INQUIRY into the Career of Louis Riel released the following information from its discovery of The Regina LEADER, Tuesday Evening, April 21, 1885:
On March 6 – 7, a large meeting of half-breed delegates were held at St. Laurent. Three white delegates were present purporting to speak for the discontented white settlers of the Prince Albert district. Riel submitted the following “Revolutionary Bill of Rights, which the meeting adopted, most of the points having been discussed at many public meetings during the fall and winter.
The Provisional Government worked out the strategy and tactics of the movement for democratic rights. The report on the meeting stated:
moved that, as the Government had for fifteen years, neglected to settle the half-breed claims, though it had repeatedly (an more especially by providing for their adjustment in the dominion Land Act of 1883) confessed their justice, the meeting should assume that the Government had abdicated its functions through such neglect; and should proceed to establish a provisional government, based upon the principles involved in the bill of rights. This was agreed to, and a government was there and then formed with Riel as president. He announced that no hostile movement would be made unless word were received from Ottawa refusing to grant the demands in the bill of rights. If however. the Government should appoint a commission to deal with the half-breed claims and pledge itself to deal with the questions affecting white settlers, then the Provisional Government on obtaining reasonable guarantees that this would be done would disband. Bloodshed was to be avoided, unless the provocation amounted to life and death for the revolted settlers. In the meantime, the authority of the Dominion would be repudiated, and supplies collected to provide against the emergency of war.
Immediately after the meeting Alexander Fisher, Lavallee and Lépine, who had charge of supplies began to levy on the freighters and settlers. Riel, Dumont, and others turned their attention to the Indians, with whom they had had talks during the winter; and tobacco men sent out in all directions informing chiefs and head men what had been done.
It is the finding of this INQUIRY that Louis Riel achieved remarkable success in the early stages of the campaign. Once again the democratic forces had rallied around him. Successful meetings were held with al1 sections of the local population. A petition calling for him to come and speak in Prince Albert was signed by all but four of the male inhabitants. Included in those four were Riel’s old enemies, the “Canadian poet” Charles Mair, the Hudson’s Bay Agent Laurence Clarke, the police spy Tom Mckay, and a Dr. Sproatt. Riel spoke in many of the communities around the country. As well he and Will Jackson held a meeting with Big Bear in Prince Albert.
Our investigation shows that the Canadian Government refused to acknowledge local grievances, refused to acknowledge the Bill of Rights and attempted to undermine Riel as leader. Our conclusion is that the Canadian government was not looking for solutions, it was looking for war.