The Amnesty

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The Amnesty

Memoir on the causes of the troubles in the Northwest
and the negotiations that brought about their amicable settlement
Bureau du Nouveau Monde, Montréal


Translation from French by Meir Avidor

Louis Riel, Secretary of the Métis National Committee, President of the Provisional Government

The Northwest Territories were only transferred to Canada on July 15, 1870. But in 1868-69 Canada had public works begun in its name in Rupert’s Land and the Northwest, without the authorization of the government of Hudson’s Bay.

The arrival of Canadian agents in the country were made manifest by the contempt they showed for the Company itself and its old colonists. They sought to take over the best properties of the Métis, especially at Pointe de Chenes, a parish established about 30 miles to the east of Fort Garry. They claimed to have purchased these properties from the Savages, and in order to strengthen themselves at the beginning of the fight against us, they sought an alliance with the Indians. And in order to earn their attachment they sold them, contrary to the law, inebriating liquors.

What is more, the superintendent of Canadian works at Pointe de Chenes, Mr. Snow, along with his subalterns, conducted themselves poorly; there were moments when they almost killed each other. One of the employees, Th. Scott, who was later executed, put a pistol in his master’s face, took hold of him and along with a band of madmen like himself, dragged him to the River to kill him.

Some Métis saved the superintendent from the hands of his employees, who in large part were from Ontario. It can be imagined that in acting this way these strangers gave the inhabitants of the country an unfavorable idea of themselves.

The authorities of the Hudson’s Bay Company were forced to clamp down on their disorders. And they protested against the Canadian government, less because of the poor conduct of its employees than because without their sanction they had undertaken public works on their territory. After Mr. Snow began the work in ’68 on the Dawson road between Lac de Bois and Pointe de Chenes in the name of Canada, in the summer of 1869 another intruder from the same group surveyed the public and private lands around Fort Garry in accordance with a new system of surveying, troubling without offering any explanation the established order, and unscrupulously disturbing the old colonists in the peaceful and legal possession of their lands.

The protests of the government of the Hudson’s Bay Company were soon followed by those of the colonists, who were resolutely opposed to such suspicious men opening public roads and carrying out surveys on their lands in the name of a foreign government and with so few guarantees.

At the same time, Mr. McDougall presented himself on the frontier at Pembina. Everyone said he had been sent by Canada to govern us. In reality, he brought with him a Council entirely composed of men we didn’t know. But as their main title to our respect they had a considerable lot of carbines following close behind them.

William McDougall, member of Dominion Parliament, Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories

The Métis, alarmed by this, formed themselves in a national committee and advanced before Mr. McDougall, sending him couriers to tell him not to enter their country in this way. Mr. McDougall responded insultingly and disdainfully. Many adventurers who had attached themselves to the tails of Mr. Snow and Colonel Dennis - at the time the so-called Surveyor General - and who had all compromised themselves along with him either at Pointe de Chenes in opening a Canadian road, or in the rest of the country by beginning the surveying of lands, had already proclaimed that they had come from Ontario in advance of Mr. McDougall as soldiers to lend him a hand against us. They were all determined to have Mr. McDougall enter and be established as their governor, by force if necessary. And Mr. McDougall had no sooner arrived in Pembina than these adventurers openly spoke of taking over Fort Garry, the seat of our public affairs.

Neither the English government nor the government of the Hudson’s Bay Company had announced any change to us. Neither the one nor the other spoke to us of Mr. McDougall or of his council. Mr. McDougall was thus an invader. We repelled him on November 1, 1869, and on the 3rd we entered Fort Garry and set ourselves to guard it against the surprises threatening it.

Only then did the government retreat before the agitation caused by its usurpations and the misdeeds of its employees. It asked England to delay the moment of transfer, alleging that the Hudson’s Bay Company had not acted loyally, since in selling its charter rights to Canada it hadn’t warned it of the troubles agitating the territory.

But Lord Granville had noted the premature role that the Canadian government had begun to play in the Northwest. In a dispatch of November 30, 1869, he said to the Governor General that the troubles that had broken out in these territories were due to the conduct of the Canadian government.

Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville, Secretary of State for the Colonies

As a consequence of all these facts, and since the Imperial authorities judged it appropriate to thus reprimand the cabinet in Ottawa, it has always appeared strange to the people of Assiniboia to hear, in both official and unofficial Canadian documents, the population qualified as rebellious and wayward, it being alleged that we didn’t wish to submit ourselves to the arbitrary proceedings of the Canadian government.

On November 17, 1869 and the days following the so-called friends of Canada in Winnipeg wrote to Mr. McDougall, who was staying in Pembina, in order to have him proclaim without delay the transfer of the Northwest Territories to the Canadian government. They were not in the least concerned whether the Queen carried out this transfer or not: what they wanted was the earliest overthrow of the power of the Hudson’s Bay Company government and the establishing by whatever means of that of Mr. McDougall.

On November 16 the national committee of Métis had gathered in the courthouse of Fort Garry a convention of 24 deputies from all parts of the country, twelve of whom spoke English and twelve French. The goal of this convention was to come to an agreement on the measures to be taken to safeguard the interests of the colonists at Assiniboia against the dangers of the situation. It met November 16 and 17. But the 18th, being a day marked by the Hudson’s Bay Company government to hold its quarterly sessions of the general court, the convention, showing its respect for authority, adjourned until the court closed its proceedings.

In the meanwhile the national committee of Métis took precautions so that our public affairs would not fall through ruse to the mercy of a so-called Canadian Lieutenant-Governor, who only took his friends and advice from those whose conduct was openly hostile to the interests of the Métis and the old colonists.

On November 24 the national committee wanted to protect the public books and money against the plot cooked up by the friends of Mr. McDougall, who wanted to take hold of them on December 1. They surrounded these books and money with a strong guard.

John Christian Schultz, medical practitioner, businessman, editor of the Nor'Wester, Member of Parliament, Senator and lieutenant-governor of Manitoba (1888 to 1895)

Mr. McDougall allowed himself to be won over. And on December 1, 1869 he arrogated to himself the right to proclaim the annexation of Rupert’s Land and the Northwest to Canada.

Mr. McDougall also arrogated to himself the right to proclaim the removal our Hudson’s Bay Company Government, already so weakened by the violence of the yearlong struggle against it of the outlandish friends of Canada and its employees. He proclaimed himself governor. And he added to all these false proclamations a proclamation of open war against us.

Colonel Dennis, now Surveyor-General, received from Mr. McDougal, with his commission to make war, the titles of Lieutenant and preserver of the peace. These men attacked us unjustly, illegally in the name of the Canadian government. They breathed nothing but war...

Did we make war for war?

Dr. Schultz, with fifty armed men, found himself blockaded in his house by the national committee of Métis, which had 800 men at its orders. Schultz and most of his fifty partisans had for some time been regarded by our authorities as disturbers of public tranquility. And they had often spoken of the plan of chasing the Métis towards the Rocky Mountains in order to rid the area around Fort Garry of their presence. What did we do with these men when we had them at our mercy? The city of Winnipeg had the generosity to intercede in their favor. The national committee of Métis allowed the besieged to surrender and contented itself with imprisoning them after having granted all of them their lives. This was December 7.

And since we were without a government, exposed to anarchy, preoccupied with seeing to the protection of our lives and property, on December 8 we proclaimed the formation and the authority of a provisional government, which immediately met with the approbation and support of a large part of the people. Because of the conjuncture that assured its birth, this government was legal.

Let us look at the place it occupied in public esteem.

A week after it was proclaimed, the Honorable Privy Council for Canada, judging the circumstances, said that the existence of this government was legal. We can verify the correctness of this assertion by reading the report of a committee of the Privy Council signed by Sir John A. MacDonald himself, dated December 16, 1869, and addressed to the Colonial Office in England.

Father Reverend Jean-Baptiste Thibault
John A. MacDonald, Prime Minister of the federal Dominion of Canada

In January 1870 the Canadian commissioners, the Rev. Mr. J.B. Thibault and Colonel de Salaberry officially recognized our provisional government: they addressed themselves directly to it to explain to the people the good intentions the Canadian government had charged them to make known in Rupert’s Land and the Northwest. Mr. D.A. Smith managed, thanks to a slow and difficult labor, to obtain a few days later a mass assembly of the inhabitants of the country at Fort Garry. Given the turmoil of the various political opinions, so general a meeting at that moment offered many dangers. But since Mr. D.A. Smith insisted on holding this assembly in order to himself explain to the public what he had to communicate on the part of the Canadian government, the Provisional Government prepared itself to respond to the demands of the situation, and the President of the government fixed the day and the hour when the people could gather to hear Mr. Smith.

The assembly took place January 18 and continued for two days.

Civil War was ready to break out several times in the excited crowd.

But each time, thank God, the precautionary measures adopted by the Provisional Government succeeded in quelling any disorder.

Mr. D.A. Smith was heard. And this is a summary of what he announced to us in his quality as Special Commissioner: “In the Confederation,” he said, “all the religious and civil rights of the old colonists will be respected. What is more, by her express will the Queen has asked the Governor-General in Canada, when peace is re-established, to cover by a general pardon all troubles in the Northwest Territories which have unfortunately manifested themselves in that part of her Empire. Consequently, the Governor-General of Canada formulated a formula in this sense for the inhabitants of the Northwest. But noting that this proclamation had not been made known to the country Mr. Smith, the Special Commissioner, told us that he had been authorized to make us aware of its contents.

Donald Smith, 1st Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal
Charles-René-Léonidas d'Irumberry de Salaberry, Colonel in the Canadian Army

At the end of this important assembly the President of the Provisional Government asked the people to order a convention of 40 delegates, representing the entire country and charged with considering what Mr. D.A. Smith had just told us and taking a public decision on the situation, in conformity with our best interests. The people so entirely approved the request of the president of the Provisional Government that January 25, the day fixed for this, the 40 delegates, after having been elected by the people, gathered at the Fort Garry courthouse to fulfill their mission.

The President of the Provisional Government named a Chairman of this convention. For fifteen days it discussed the conditions for our entry into the Confederation. It invited Reverend J.B. Thibault, Colonel de Salaberry, and Mr. D.A. Smith to attend one of the sessions so as to officially receive the communication of the Canadian government via these three gentlemen. All three attended. Messrs. Thibault and de Salberry said they were commissioned to assure us on the part of the Canadian government that its government had only one design: that of governing us by respecting all our rights and administering the affairs of the country for the greater prosperity of all its inhabitants. Mr. D.A. Smith reiterated what he had already said at the great assembly at Fort Garry.

Before leaving the convention, in the name of Canada the three gentlemen invited the people of Rupert’s Land and the Northwest to send delegates to Ottawa in order to arrive at an amicable accord. And in the name of their government they promised a cordial reception to our delegates.

The invitation thus made to the people was accepted by the convention in the name of the people.

Having learned of this the President of the Provisional Government pointed out to the convention the perilous state the usurpations of Mr. McDougall had plunged us into. And in order to avoid anarchy he drew its attention to the need to strengthen the Provisional Government, which half the colonists had proclaimed December 8, 1869 but which the other half had not given its adherence to. And having observed that this government called for the support of the citizens, not only to effectively maintain the peace but also to appropriately deal with Canada, the convention consolidated the establishment if the Provisional Government with the unanimous consent of all the people it represented. And by a special vote more than thirty of its forty members confirmed in the position of President of the government he who, after Mr. John Bruce, had occupied that charge since December 27, 1869.

Joseph-Noël Ritchot, Roman Catholic priest and missionary of the parish of St Norbert

Mr. Judge Black had until that point presided over the convention’s deliberations. But immediately after this vote, at the wish of the convention itself, he gave his seat to the President of the Provisional Government, who immediately named Judge Black, Rev. Mr. Richot, and Alfred H. Scott delegates to Ottawa, congratulated the convention for its patriotism, dissolved it and dismissed it.

The next day, February 12, the Secretary of State of the Provisional Government wrote to the reverend priest of St Norbert the following official letter:

Fort-Garry, February 12, 1870

Reverend J. N. Ritchot, at St. Norbert

Reverend Sir:

I am charged with informing you that you have been named by the President of the Northwest Territories as co-commissioner, along with John Black and Alfred H. Scott, Esq. to negotiate with the government of the Dominion of Canada the terms of entry into the Confederation.

I am, Reverend Sir,
Your humble servant,
Thos. Bunn, Secretary.

Barely had we begun to breathe in peace, twice 24 hours had not yet passed, when the partisans of Dr. Schultz and Mr. McDougall caused the outbreak of an uprising of from 700-800 men.

We know that Dr. Schultz had been imprisoned December 7, 1869. But on January 22, during the election of the 40 representatives to the convention, he had escaped. When he saw that he couldn’t influence any of the convention’s decisions, he worked to destroy its labors by pushing the people to overthrow the Provisional Government that it had established. Its adherents gathered at St. Andre, a place situated on the Red River about ten miles north of Fort Garry. From February 14-16 they remained gathered there together with 200-300 savages, preparing to march on Fort Garry. Two murders were committed in this confused assembly of savages and whites: that of the unfortunate Sutherland, who had never taken part in any of our troubles, and that of Parisien, one of the fieriest partisans of Dr. Schultz and Mr. McDougall. The camp of the friends of Dr. Schultz had hastened to send couriers around the countryside bearing the order to begin the war at several points at once so as to force the Métis soldiers to abandon Fort Garry in order to provide aid to their families, hoping in this way to take possession of the most imposing place in the country.

The Provisional Government arrested several of these couriers. When the nature of the dispatches these men had taken charge of became known to the Métis soldiers the latter, indignant, demanded - both officers and soldiers - that the guiltiest, William Goddy, who was the bearer of these orders in his own country, be executed immediately. He was taken to one of the bastions of the fort to be executed.

This attitude of the Métis, the good council of many important and peaceful citizens, and a warning the President of the Provisional Government himself addressed to the rebels managed to calm and disperse a great number around the evening of February 16.

Ambroise-Dydime Lépine, military officer and Adjutant General

Let us return to William Goddy. Everyone believed him dead but he was full of life, thanks to the general officers A.D. Lépine and Elzéar Goulet, who had saved him from public anger by having him pass for dead in his dark bastion. Here is how noble hearts are dealt with with impunity by their enemies, those like A.D. Lépine, now a political prisoner in Manitoba, and Elzéar Goulet, who was murdered in broad daylight in the middle of the city of Winnipeg a short while after the arrival of Colonel Wolseley and the Canadian Lieutenant Governor.

On the morning of February 17 a troop of 48 armed men appeared in the open countryside with, at their head, several of the principal conspirators, friends of Dr. Schultz.

Lépine, Adjutant General, took with him 30 cavalrymen and 30 infantrymen. Instead of thrashing this handful of enemies he marched dead at them, had them surrender their arms, and brought them within the walls as captives. This seems to me to have been a generous way of exercising the rights of war. The life of Major Boulton alone, the head of the band, was to pay for all the others when Mr. D.A. Smith asked that the President of the Provisional Government pardon him. The President responded that in spite of everything Boulton would be pardoned on condition that all localities in rebellion against the Convention recognize and support the Provisional Government.

At the suggestion of the President himself, one of whose primary ambitions was to reestablish the peace without any bloodshed, Mr. D.A. Smith went to all the rebel locales. Thanks to his influence as a man of the Hudson’s Bay Company and special commissioner of the Provisional Government, Boulton was saved. As we can see, not only did Mr. D.A. Smith, employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company and Canada recognize our Provisional Government, but he also worked at having it recognized and supported by the entire country, without any distinctions.

This simple narration of the principal occurrences during our troubles from fall of 1868 to the end of February 1870, along with the testimony of Lord Granville proves:

  1. That the Canadian government provoked the troubles that broke out in the Northwest Territories concerning the transfer of these territories to the Dominion; consequently the responsibility for these troubles are its alone;
  2. That it is the employees of Canada who by little by little doing away in 1869 with the government of the Hudson’s Bay Company forced the inhabitants of these territories to grant themselves a Provisional Government whose legality is all the more certain 1- Because it grows out of the Law of nations; 2- Because it was admitted by the Honorable Privy Council for Canada in an official document dated December 10,1869; 3- Because the Provisional Government itself received the support of the whole country, of which it had become, after the Crown, and through extraordinary circumstances, the principal safeguard; 4- Because this same Provisional Government enjoyed the official recognition of the three Canadian Commissioners I have the honor of having mentioned: Messrs. D.A. Smith, Rev. J.B. Thibault, and Colonel de Salberry; 5- Because this Provisional Government was officially invited by Canada to negotiate with its government in order to amicably decide upon the conditions for our entry into the Confederation.

Mr. D.A. Smith, in his quality as special commissioner, agreed with the President of the Provisional Government at Fort Garry that all the public expenses caused the Provisional Government by the sending of delegates to Ottawa would be paid out of Canadian funds. And this was done.

Strong in all these guarantees, and especially in our continual allegiance to the Crown, the Provisional Government was preparing to send its delegates to Ottawa around the end of February when new disorders absorbed its attention.

Dr. Schultz had not for one second ceased pushing the savages to war against us. A large number of inhabitants of Portage Laprairie backed him in this work.

Portage Laprairie is an establishment on the Assiniboine River about 60 miles to the west of Fort Garry, most of whose population is composed of émigrés from Ontario.

In the last days of February these men, along with the savages of the country, took so threatening an attitude that the Métis, in ranks along the Assiniboine River between Fort Garry and Portage Laprairie, fearing for their families – who their enemies at Portage openly spoke of massacring – and their goods - which they threatened to burn in a nighttime raid - demanded immediate protection from the Provisional Government. Their fears seemed all the more well founded because during the pacification visit that Mr. D. A, Smith had had the generosity to make to the inhabitants of Portage these men, as devoted to Dr. Schultz as hostile to the old colonists, had written to the President of the Provisional Government that in order to obtain pardon for Boulton they would submit, but that they would certainly rise up again at the first occasion. For the security of the citizens two detachments of Métis soldiers were stationed on the Assiniboine River, one at the fort of Mr. Layne, 24 miles from Fort Garry, and the other at Bay St. Paul, ten miles further away.

During this time the daring of our enemies, encouraged by our patience, had become extreme. It broke out even among the prisoners of war we had taken on February 17 within the very walls of Fort Garry. An end had to be put to all this. A punishment was necessary in order to impress the conspirators and the frenzied mob.

After McDougall declared war on us, at the beginning of December 1869, Th. Scott had been imprisoned at Fort Garry as one of the most dangerous partisans of Dr. Schultz, McDougall and Dennis. A short time later Scott escaped from us and took refuge at Portage Laprairie. In the month of February 1870, at the very moment when the convention of the 40 delegates consolidated the Provisional Government in the name of the entire people, Thomas Scott set out from Portage with a band of men armed for revolt. Over a distance of about forty miles he forced a number of peaceful citizens to take up arms against their will and follow him.

After having thus recruited a hundred men as far as the parish of Headingley, which is situated 15 or 20 miles to the west of Fort Garry on the Assiniboine River, they continued their march along the Assiniboine as far as Fort Garry. Twice 24 hours had not yet passed since the assembled representatives of the entire country had definitively established the Provisional Government than Scott, in rebellion against that authority, entered Winnipeg in war apparel. At the head of his troops he sought to grab the President of the Government, surrounding a house where the latter could usually be found.

But not having surprised him there they went to St. Andre to join the tumultuous gathering of savages and whites that were at the orders of Dr. Schultz.

It is there and by the people in this assembly that the unfortunate Sutherland and Parisien were murdered.

On February 17, when Boulton was taken with his 47 men, arms in hand, under the walls of Fort Garry, Scott was still among them.

Captured for the second time Scott distinguished himself by the violence of his conduct, which became even worse on March 1. That day Th. Scott and M. McLeod forced the doors of their prison and fell upon the guards, inviting their companions to do the same. The Métis, who had always treated their prisoners with much consideration, were so incensed by the sight of these outrages that they dragged Scott outside the establishment and were going to sacrifice him when one of their representatives pulled him from their blows. All demanded that Scott be brought before a court martial. And was Scott immediately turned over to the court martial? The President of the Provisional Government sought to avoid this extreme measure by having Scott brought before him. He invited him to realize his position, asking him, whatever his convictions, to remain silent and peaceful in his prison so that, as the President said: I have this reason to prevent you from being brought before the Adjutant General’s council, as was loudly demanded by the Métis soldiers.

Scott disdained all and continued in his evil conduct.

Every hour we expected to see new troubles break out. These troubles were to put at risk the lives of citizens; they hindered the departure of our delegates. They couldn’t fail but to be favorable to Dr. Schultz who, no longer being able to remain at the Red River, went to Ontario in order to raise up the masses against the Provisional Government, to prevent our delegates from being officially received by the Canadian Government and to attempt to have a delegation from the Northwest of their choosing prevail in Ottawa.

The third of the same month we had Scott appear before a court martial. He was examined under sworn testimony, was convicted and condemned to death.

The next day, March 4, 1870, the governmental authority that had been provisionally granted us for the salvation of an English colony, and which after three months of bitter struggle we had used only to disarm our enemies, was finally exercised in all its severity. Scott was executed because this was necessary for the triumph order and the fulfilling our obligations by having our authority respected.

And now, not only does Canada have no legal concern with this execution, but it is not reasonable that it have fall on the shoulders of an individual what was the act of a government, and that it treat as vile adventurers the members and officers of a government whose legality is certain, and with which it openly negotiated during almost an entire parliamentary session.

Four days after Scott’s execution His Grace Mgr. Taché arrived among us.

Sent by Rome, among others by the Canadian government, Monsignor returned to the Northwest charged by Canada to work for a true accord between the two countries.

His Grace thus reiterated to the president of the Provisional Government the Canadian Government’s invitation to send delegates to Ottawa.

The country became calm again. March 22 the Provisional Government sent its delegates to the Canadian capitol.

Each delegate received the following official letter:


The president of the Provisional Government of Assiniboine, in council, you, Mr. ....... in company with Messrs. ....... in order to send you to Ottawa, in Canada, and that there you will place before the Canadian government the list containing the conditions and proposals under which the people of Assiniboia will consent to enter into a confederation with the other Canadian provinces.

Signed this 22nd day of March, the year of our lord 1870.

By order

THOMAS BUNN, Secretary

Seat of Government, Winnipeg Assinboia

Upon the arrival of our delegates in Ottawa we saw how Schultz, Mair, Lynch and other attempted to bring them down by inciting racial and religious prejudices against them. Dr. Lynch was pushed forward as the true delegate from the Northwest. But in reality the execution of Scott, by re-establishing peace, had deprived these men of the support that they had until then had during our troubles. And it had nullified their influence in Ottawa. In addition, Dr Lynch was not recognized as delegate from the Northwest.

Joseph Howe, Premier of Nova Scotia, Secretary of State for the Provinces of the Dominion

In compensation for the ruin of their plans they strove to make Scott’s execution fatal to us; to this end they never ceased to lend it horrible circumstances and unjust motives in the eyes of the public. They undertook to destroy the moral force of the government by passing its members and supporters off as rebels and usurpers, etc, by representing Scott’s death as a simple execrable murder. Our delegates were unjustly arrested and dragged before tribunals.

The promise that the Canadian commissioners had given us in their government’s name to properly receive them was trampled under foot. The Provisional Government and its delegates made heard their just demands.

England expressed the discontent they felt at the arrest of our delegates to the Canadian government.

What is more, Mgr. Taché spared no effort in making known to all the benevolent intentions of the Crown towards the inhabitants of the Northwest.

During all our troubles we had been filled with the hope that if our humble demands reached Her Majesty’s throne she would not allow us to be crushed. And so with confidence we had the British flag fly over our heads. England’s generous conduct toward us had its effect on us, and the respectful assurances our Archbishop gave us concerning the arrangements we’d make with Canada led us, despite the insult to our delegates, not to change our commitment to negotiate with the Canadian government.

With this, the Provisional Government obtained the advantage of being recognized on the whole of Rupert’s Land and the Northwest by the Hudson’s Bay Company itself.

Upon arriving in Ottawa our delegates, despite all the obstacles in their path, wrote the following to the Secretary of State for the Provinces, the Hon. Joseph Howe.

Ottawa, April 23, 1870

To the Honorable Secretary of State, etc, Joseph Howe,


The undersigned, delegates of the Northwest, desirous of delaying as little as possible the affairs of their mission, have the honor of asking you to please inform His Excellency’s government that they wish to be heard as soon as possible.

Alfred H. Scott
John Black
J.N. Ritchot

April 26 the Honorable Joseph Howe, Secretary of State, etc, responded to our delegates as follows:

Ottawa, April 26, 1870


I acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 22nd of this month, announcing that as delegates of the Northwest to the government of the Dominion of Canada you wish to have a audience with the government as soon as possible. In response I inform you that the Hon. Sir John A. MacDonald and the Hon. Sir George Etienne Cartier have been authorized to negotiate with you on the subject of your mission and will be ready to receive you at 11:00.

I have the honor of being, sirs

Your obedient servant,

Joseph Howe

To Rev. J.N. Ritchot, John Black, Esq., A.H. Scott, Esq.

The negotiations opened at the hour dictated between the delegates of the Canadian government and those of the Provisional Government.

The first condition of the treaty proposed by the delegates of the Northwest was that “after the arrangements were made a general amnesty would have to be proclaimed in the Northwest before Canada takes possession of these territories.” I don’t know if Canada ever seriously considered that this condition of amnesty was posed by our delegates and accepted by the Canadian delegates as a condition sine qua non.

It is true that our devotion to the Confederation itself dispensed it from paying attention to this. But let me be allowed to say that justice demands that it see to this.

I said that the delegates of the Canadian government accepted the condition of amnesty. In fact, Sir John A. and Sir George Etienne responded to our delegates that it was in the very nature of the amicable arrangement between our two countries that this amnesty be proclaimed as they requested. They added that though the proclamation of this amnesty was a royal prerogative, they were nevertheless able to assure the delegates of the Northwest that it would certainly be proclaimed.

The Very Honorable Sir John Young later Lord Lisgar, and Sir Clinton Murdoch, delegated to Ottawa by the Crown to make known its wishes on the subject of the difficulties in the Northwest, also peremptorily gave our delegates the assurance that this amnesty would be proclaimed, to the satisfaction of the inhabitants of the Northwest.

Even so, our delegates remarked to His Excellency that they would be happy to have this promise of an amnesty in writing. His Excellency replied that there was no difficulty in this and that this would be done as soon as parliament were to sanction the rest of the arrangements.

The delegates of the Canadian government and those of the Provisional Government together wrote the Manitoba bill.

During this period the Imperial government judged it appropriate to send regular troops to its Northwest Territories. This was its right and its duty. And we were content to finally see arrive troops from the metropolis to assume governmental functions.

But imagine our surprise upon seeing Canada arrogate to itself the right to also send a military expedition during its difficulties with us without having concluded any arrangement with us.

The President of the Provisional Government complained to His Grace Mgr. Taché of the injustice of the conduct and pretensions of Canada towards us. And he declared to His Grace that since as the Wolseley expedition was Canadian it would see the gates of the country closed as long as an amicable agreement was not definitively concluded between the Canadian government and the Provisional Government, and as long as we didn’t have the guarantee of a general amnesty.

Monsignor condemned our attitude with all his authority. But upon our remarking to His Grace that we defended ourselves with justice Monsignor, invoking his power as Canadian commissioner, told us: “Don’t do this. I give you my word of honor that a general amnesty will be proclaimed before the installation here of any Canadian Lieutenant-Governor.”

In addition, the Imperial government had ordered Canada not to send any of its militias to the Northwest before the delegates of this country were satisfied.

The House in Ottawa having passed the Manitoba Act our delegates insisted to the Canadian government that it have in writing the agreement already made on the subject of the amnesty. His Excellency the Governor-General answered that he didn’t believe there was anything in the world more certain than the word of a representative of Her Majesty; that this word had committed him in favor of amnesty; that the inhabitants of the Northwest would have this amnesty and that it would be rendered in the Northwest before the delegates.

Our delegates returned to Fort Garry June 17, 1870. The 24th of the same month the Provisional Government, having gathered together the people’s representatives, made known at a public session the arrangements made with Canada by our delegates.

The treaty was composed of two very distinct things: 1- The political constituting of a considerable portion of the Northwest Territories as a province independent of the Confederation; this was the Manitoba Act; and 2- The definitive settling of all past difficulties by the rapid passing of the proclamation of the general amnesty that had been guaranteed to our delegation, as I have just made known.

The arrangement we made with the Canadian government was so favorable that the Chambers of Representatives of the Northwest voted without any opposition for our consent to entry into the Confederation. And the Provisional Government, via its Secretary of State Thomas Bunn, notified the Hon. Joseph Howe, Secretary of State for the Provinces, of this fact. The document stated that we consented to confederate with Canada because in the Manitoba Act we had the principles we had fought for and because an amnesty there would not be long in being proclaimed.

His Grace Mgr. Taché carried this important official piece to the authorities in Ottawa.

It must be noted here that the Governor General had already failed to carry out the assurance he had given our delegates that the amnesty would precede their arrival in the Northwest.

Nevertheless, on July 15, 1870 the transfer of Rupert’s Land and the Northwest Territories to the Canadian government was carried out.

George-Étienne Cartier, lawyer, Member of Parliament

In order to terminate the arrangement our delegates had informed the delegates of the Canadian government to make known to their government that the members and officers of the Provisional Government wanted to be relieved of the responsibility of governing as soon as the transfer was carried out. But in this regard the Honorable Minister of the Militia and Defense, Sir George Etienne Cartier had insisted to our delegates, saying: Let Riel and his Council continue to maintain the peace in Manitoba and the Northwest after the transfer until the arrival of the Lieutenant-Governor. We devoted ourselves to this task. From July 15 to the following August 24 we governed in the interests of Canada, its province of Manitoba, and its Northwest territories. This period having passed, Colonel Wolsely arrived at Fort Garry. Instead of presenting himself amicably, as the rights of the people obliged him, his arrival was that of an enemy. The Vice President of the Provisional Government, Mr. F.X Pagée and Mr. Pierre Poitras, two of the people’s representatives who, the previous June 24, had amicably voted in favor of our entry into the Confederation, were peacefully on their way home. Wolsley had them violently arrested and dragged to prison. One of them, P. Poitras, an old man, was so mistreated by Col. Wolsley’s soldiers as to receive serious wounds.

After having thus taken possession of Fort Garry - which we had left free before Her Majesty’s representative - Wolsley, in a public speech, congratulated himself and his troops for having set Riel’s bandits in flight. These are the expressions he used to describe the President of the Provisional Government and his supporters.

A few days later the Canadian Lieutenant-Governor arrived. But he only took the reins of government in our country in order to complete the act of signal perfidy by which Canada victimized us. He installed himself without fulfilling the condition sine qua non of the amnesty.

And so, from the beginning the Canadian government broke the solemn pact it made with the Provisional Government.

In addition, the Canadian government made us friendly proposals via the Vicar General, the Rev. J.B. Thibault and Col. de Salaberry, and when we accepted its amnesty it mocked us.

It mocked the public, formal, and spontaneous proposals of amnesty it gave us in January 1870 from the lips of Mr. D. A. Smith, currently the Superintendent of the Honorable Hudson’s Bay Company in Manitoba and the Northwest.

It mocked of the word of honor it spontaneously gave us in favor of an amnesty in May 1870 from the lips of His Grace, the devoted Archbishop of St. Boniface.

For Manitoba and the Northwest the Confederation is thus a fraud.

This state of affairs has lasted three and a half years. But the old inhabitants of Rupert’s Land and the Northwest have never ceased claiming that which belongs to them, that which the Canadian government owes them for so many reasons. And today more than ever they forcefully make this claim. What we are demanding is amnesty, is the loyal execution of the Manitoba Act. Nothing more, but nothing less.


January 1874

See also

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