What Was The Red River Rebellion?

Statue of Metis leader Louis Riel in the gardens of the Manitoba Legislative Building. Editorial credit: Siriphoto87 / Shutterstock.com
Statue of Metis leader Louis Riel in the gardens of the Manitoba Legislative Building. Editorial credit: Siriphoto87 / Shutterstock.com

The Red River Rebellion is also known as the Red River Resistance, the First Riel Rebellion, or the Red River Uprising. The Red River Rebellion referrers to a series of happenings that ultimately contributed to the establishment of a provisional government in 1869. The government was established by Louis Riel, the Metis leader in what is now called Manitoba in Canada, previously known as the Red River Colony. The Red River Colony was also, for a time, known as Rupert’s Land under the control of the Hudson’s Bay Company.


In the later periods of the 1860s, the Red River Colony of Rupert’s Land was advancing rapidly because of the trade and other commercial activities. Some of the economic activities included fur trading, farming, trapping, and other activities.

The English and the Scots delved into the fur trade in the later periods of the 18th century. Most of the newcomers into the region were Christians who hated Roman Catholics and were generally insensitive to the cultures of the local populace. During this time, the land was not under the control of Canada. Most of these newcomers strongly advocated for the land to be adopted by Canada for many reasons including hopes that the locals would be forced to change religion to Christianity. In addition, some of the Americans who moved there wanted the land to be adopted by the United States.

All of these factors contributed to unstable times and political uncertainties. However, the British and Canadian governments quickly negotiated the transfer of the land from the ownership of Hudson’s Bay Company to the Canadian government. The Rupert's Land Act 1868 saw to it that the land was transferred to Canada on December 1, 1869. In anticipation of the transfer, William McDougall, who was instrumental in the negotiations, ordered surveys to be done inside the territory. The survey was done despite warnings by the local leaders that the survey would lead to unrest from the locals.

The Rebellion

As predicted, the surveys led to unrest from the locals because they feared that the Canadian government would kick them out since they did not have deeds of ownership to the land. Further, they were worried that they would be forced to give up their beloved French language and their Catholic religion. The Metis people, led by Riel, resisted the surveys and formed a provisional government in order to negotiate the official adoption of the region as a province of Canada called Manitoba. The Manitoba Act was passed in 1870 adopting the region as the province of Manitoba of Canada. The act also ensured that there were French schools for the Metis people and preservation of the Catholic religion.

Meanwhile, Riel’s supporters detained, tried, and executed people who resisted the provisional rule. Among the executed was a man named Thomas Scott. This execution drew a lot of outrage that led to calls for Riel’s arrest and execution. After the adoption of Manitoba, a military expedition was sent to the region to enforce the law and to arrest Riel. Riel got wind of his arrest and fled to the US thus ending the rebellion.


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