THE BIEL REBELLION.
TWO articles in the magazines of the present month, one by Mr. Mackray in Macmillan, and another by Lord Melgund in the Nineteenth Century, give a clearer and more intelligible account than we have yet seen of the origin and meaning of the recent rebellion in North-West Canada. We learn from them how little serious it was, and how very serious it might easily have been. We see how negligence, prompted by no ill-intention, prepared the way for it ; with how little forethought the actual outbreak might have been prevented ; and what is the nature of the difficulty which stands in the way of preventing a more serious outbreak hereafter. We recognise that the object of real alarm in the future is moral rather than political, not so much the safety of the Dominion, as its ability to deal justly by its Red subjects.
At no time was Riel's force formidable, either in numbers or in quality. At Fish Creek they fought General Middleton for a whole day, but they had the advantage of an excellent position, in a deep hollow, where they lay entrenched in rifle- pits, from which it was impossible to dislodge them without a loss of life which General Middleton determined was not worth incurring. But as soon as night fell the rebels retreated to the Batoches ; and when this was carried by a bayonet charge, all was over. Biel surrendered four days later, and "Pound- maker," his chief Indian ally, a fortnight afterwards. "It is doubtful," says Lord Melgund, "if the force with Rid ever numbered 700 men, Indians and ' Breeds ' combined." "Though good shots at short ranges, in other points they were contemptible. They never attacked a convoy, they never cut the wire behind us ; and though Indians and 'Breeds' are born mounted infantry who can shoot as well from their horses as on foot, they never harassed us on the march." But behind this contemptible enemy stood the terrible possibility of an Indian rising. Had this happened, the Canadian Government would in the and have suppressed it as completely as it suppressed Riel. But the victory would have followed upon a very different contest. The North-West Territory is in- habited by families of isolated settlers scattered among a population of 30,000 Indians, and had the Indians risen, scarcely one of these would have been left alive. Happily, this danger came to nothing. The Blackfeet, the Bloods, and the Piegans loyally stood by the Dominion, and only a fraction of the Crees, though they are the hereditary enemies of the Blackfeet, and closely allied by marriage to the French Half-breeds, joined Riel.
The origin of the rebellion must be sought in the circum- stances under which a similar outbreak in Manitoba had been suppressed sixteen years before. In 1869 the Dominion Government was believed by the Manitoba Hall-breeds to be about to deal with the territory newly transferred to it from the Hudson's Bay Company in a manner inconsistent with their rights. They insisted not only that the land they actually occupied should be confirmed to them, but that more land should be given them by way of compensation for the claims which had descended to them from their Indian ancestors. The Canadian Govern- ment say that the Half-breeds would have got all that they asked for in 1869, without a rebellion ; but the Half- breeds were naturally more impressed by the fact that they got it after a rebellion. In 1885, the demands of the Half- breeds of the Saskatchewan seem to be identical with those made in 1869 by the Half-breeds of the Red River. They asked for the same amount of land-240 acres each—for patents for their holdings, and for a local legislature. The Government was not without some good reasons for not grant- ing these demands. As to the last, the establishment of a local legislature, the district is not yet, it is said, sufficiently rich or sufficiently populated to bear the expense. As to the claim for land, many of the Saskatchewan Half-breeds are not old settlers at all, but merely Red River Half-breeds who have disposed of the land given them by the Government after 1869, and moved westward to seek a fresh fortune. If there had been a proper machinery on the spot for
determining between claim and claim, all might have been well. The Half-breed who had never received any compensa- tion would not have been confounded with the Half-breed who had, already received it, and there would have been no conse- quent sense of injustice. Moreover, in that case, the old settlers who are not Half-breeds would not have been irritated
by the delay in granting them patents. This delay seems to have arisen from no design on the part of the- Government to withhold the patents, but simply from the slowness of the land department. The patents, it was said, could not be granted, because only a few of the holdings had been surveyed. Had the old settlers only wished to occupy their holdings, this would have been of little consequence. But "two or three years ago," Mr. Mackray tells us, "there was a violent ' boom ' in land and property throughout the whole North-West of Canada," and many of the old settlers wanted to sell their holdings. With- out patents there could be no dear titles, and without clear titles there could be no valid sales. Thus the absence of the patents involved a heavy money loss to the holder. He saw lands being disposed of all around him, and felt that he was prevented by the delays of the Government from making his hay in the sunshine. " Booms " do not last for ever, and by the time that the patent came this particular boom would be over and gone. The result was not that the old settlers joined Rid— for none of them did—but that they swelled the general murmurs of discontent which encouraged Biel to think that a rising might be successful. All this might have been pre- vented by giving the local council authority to deal with land settlement instead of reserving that question for the Cabinet at Ottawa, or by sending out years ago the Commission which was sent out in hot haste when first it seemed likely that the Half-breeds were about to break out in rebellion a second time.
The real danger in the future, however, is not the Half- breeds. They have now been pacified, as they were pacified after the rebellion of 1869; and the evidence which has been afforded of the strength of the Dominion Government, of the excellence„of the military material at its disposal, and of the speed with which an army can be brought into the field, will not dispose them to try conclusions with it a third time. The next difficulty will not be the Half-breeds, but the Indians, and this is a difficulty which up to this time has nowhere been met. The Indian is a hunter, and so long as he can live by hunting he is contented. But as settlement advances, hunting dies out. "In 1883," says Lord Melgund," 150,000 buffalo robes were sold in St. Paul, and in 1881, 300." With hunting made impossible by the disappearance of game, the Indians are left dependent on the Reserves set apart for them. A family of four has 160 acres allotted to it. "Some attempts have been made," says Mr. Mitokray, "to instruct the Indians in the cultivation of their Reserves, and farm implements, cattle, and seed have been furnished them. Men have been sent out to teach them how to farm, but their efforts have not been particularly success- ful." It is often said that the agents who manage the Reserves cheat the Indians ; but this Mr. Mackray does not think true. Their "cry against the paternal Government is that they are not able to live on the allowance made them, and that their Reserves are insufficient, not that they do not receive what was promised them." But whatever be the cause, the fact that they are miserably poor seems to be established. So far as they were tempted to join Riel it was by hunger, and the despair that hunger brings with it is the enemy that the Dominion Government may one day have to reckon with. Yet formidable as this enemy must be if he is not conciliated, it ought not to be beyond the power of Canada to conciliate him. It is something that there is no race- hostility to be quieted, that the one thing, seemingly, which the Indian needs to make him a good subject is enough to eat. This much, at least, the Canadians owe him. He- has been disestablished and disendowed for their benefit, and they are bound in common honesty to respect his vested interest in the means of subsistence.