Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1991-274-2

The Surrender of Poundmaker to Major-General Middleton at Battleford, Saskatchewan, on 26 May 1885, by Robert William Rutherford.

The Second Métis War of 1885: A Case Study of Non-Commissioned Member Training and the Intermediate Leadership Program

by Robert-Falcon Ouellette

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Robert-Falcon Ouellette, CD, PhD, a Cree (Red Pheasant-First Nation), is currently a Program Director for the Aboriginal Focus Programs (University of Manitoba). He has degrees in music, education, and anthropology, and works on issues related to university entrance programs, Indian residential schools, the military, and music. After 15 years of service in various units ranging from combat arms, medical, and musical military organizations, he retired from the military as the Sergeant-at-Arms of the 5th Field Ambulance, based in Valcartier, Quebec.

I say we have an interest, as a part of the great Empire––as sharers in its prosperity, as sharers in its shame; we have an interest in everything which will tend to develop the strength and the unity of that Empire; we have an interest in every great and important question affecting the general constitution and organization of the Empire at large.

~Edward Blake, House of Commons Debates, 20 April 1882


The manner in which the Canadian state and Aboriginal peoples see military history is very different. They just have different ontologies or world-views. As an Aboriginal military member of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), I have had the privilege of taking various training courses on Canadian military history and the opportunity to study that history from multiple world-views. This is not due to the CAF training I received, but to my own unique life’s experiences. The idea of world-view needs to be addressed in greater detail. For the Indigenous Eskimo anthropologist Oscar Kawagley (Yupiq), it is closely related to definitions of culture and a cognitive map. “A worldview consists of the principles we acquire to make sense of the world round us. Young people learn these values, traditions and customs from myths, legends, stories, family, community and examples set by community leaders. The worldview (cognitive map) is a summation of coping devices that have worked in the past [but may not work in the now or future]… The worldview [allows a people who self-identify] to make sense of the world around them, make artifacts to fit their world, generate behavior and interpret their experiences.”2 This idea of world-view could equally apply to Indigenous peoples and members of a specific group.

The military has its own world-view that enables members to perceive the world around them, and to create a reality that they feel to be true.3 Indigenous peoples of Canada also have differing world-views, or ontologies. A fine example of the divergence of views is the Northwest Rebellion of 1885. There is orthodoxy in the manner the Northwest Rebellion is studied in military academies in Canada. The study of this conflict usually uses a linear model of analysis or an empiric-historic method, and it often ignores other perspectives which are also important in understanding the conduct of war, its outcomes, and its interpretations. For instance, the Canadian Forces Intermediate Leadership Program (ILP) course required participants to explain how the Canadian and British soldiers used the ten principles of war to defeat the Métis and Indians in 1885.4

The ILP, while very beneficial, is also very simplistic in the manner it presents Canadian history.5 It is this example of 1885 and Canadian military history which does not produce great reflection in the training of non-commissioned members (NCMs), but rather, an anti-intellectual linear thinking. In the reading for the ILP, it was highlighted that in all military conflicts, there are ten Principles of War that must be addressed in some manner, and when one of them is ignored, defeat is often the outcome.6

Principles of War

  1. Selection and maintenance of the aim;
  2. Maintenance of morale;
  3. Offensive action;
  4. Security;
  5. Surprise;
  6. Concentration of force;
  7. Economy of effort;
  8. Flexibility;
  9. Cooperation; and
  10. Administration and supply.

The presentation of these principles is very important, but it is their interplay within the confines of politics which makes them more interesting and valuable to members of the CAF to make reasoned decisions. Often during my ILP studies, I heard from other students and even professors about how the Canadian military, despite growing pains in the early years of Confederation, was able to use technology and overwhelming force to defeat the Indian and Métis on the battlefield. It was, as they say, ‘a foregone conclusion,’ or as we might say, civilization was ‘on the march,’ and the Indians were being relegated to the dustbins of history.7 There was an orthodox view during the studies that was difficult to challenge with respect to this important moment of Canadian history. Many were frankly against my view that, in fact, the strengths of the Aboriginal peoples almost led to their victory in 1885, while the Canadians and British almost lost, in spite of their supposed strengths. The course almost appeared to be a means to conduct nation building within the ILP cohort.

It is becoming less pertinent to be training NCMs for past linear wars. It seemed many students were unable to grasp the idea that one’s world-view will give one a different perspective, and they had a desire to quickly pass on to the next assignment in order to be expedient in their reasoning. It was the feeling that students were more interested in being celebratory of Canadian nationalism than in actively reflecting upon different views concerning this important conflict. It did not help that supplementary material provided by the ILP did not present a variety of views, but only an orthodoxy that had been long-established. This presents great dangers for the CAF, for as NCMs who have higher education levels are asked to fulfill important leadership roles, they must have an understanding of warfare, not in a linear concept, but as a holistic model of warfare that allows various points of view. Soldiers must be able to situate themselves geo-politically in multiple complex situations so they serve the best interests of the Canadian government and the Canadian public.

I would like to conduct the same analysis using these ten principles, but from an Indigenous perspective, or, the opposite of what is often termed the ‘victor’s history,’ which, while of great interest to the public, often has little to offer with respect to deeper insights into warfare. I hope to demonstrate that the level of subjectivity that is often used to highlight national histories prevents long-term understanding of an issue, and is not currently serving NCMs and the CAF well.

17 Wing Publishing, Winnipeg

Click to enlarge image

This map of the Selkirk Grant, while pre-dating the 1885 campaign, provides a useful depiction of significant portions of the territory over which the campaign was waged.


My purpose here is not to enter into the many facts surrounding the 2nd Métis War (AKA the Resistance of 1885), but simply to present a view that calls into question today’s Canadian military and political orthodoxy. The Resistance of 1885 was, and still is seen as the first Canadian military action and victory with a major force being deployed. However, there should be greater consideration given to the terms ‘Rebellion’ and ‘War.’8 The use of the word Rebellion presupposes that a group was waging a form of armed conflict against a central or legitimate power. The Oxford Dictionary defines Rebellion as “…an act of armed resistance to an established government or leader.” 9 Many Métis writers, such as Louis Barkwell 10 and Auguste-Henri de Trémaudan, 11 believe that while the Canadian government had declared their authority over the Northwest, they did not have sufficient forces on the ground to establish their authority. In fact, many Indigenous groups maintained their own governments and legal systems independent of the central Canadian government, and many continue to do so today.12

Many Western governments based their claims to lands taken from Indigenous populations upon the concept of terra nullius.13 This is the idea of empty wastelands that Aboriginal peoples were not appropriately and efficiently using, and that allowed European powers to take possession of them. By taking possession of tribal lands, Western governments have broken the covenant between specific Aboriginal nations and the lands, destroying both power and place. In Australia, in 1992, this idea was overturned by the Mabo ruling of the High Court of Australia. The court ruled that there are surviving principles of cultural, territorial, and legal configurations that originated in forms of human understanding and organization predating the jurisdiction of European imperialism,14 and it rejected as unfounded that Aboriginal peoples did not have pre-existing ownership prior to Australian sovereignty. While this is case from Australia, it also has repercussions here in Canada because of the shared legal system that once existed between Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain.

In 1870, the entry of Manitoba under the Manitoba coalition government (a government formed of all peoples residing in Manitoba) and the people of Rupert’s Land into Confederation could be seen as a legitimization of the Canadian government’s power. It is the subsequent reneging by the Canadian government of the negotiated conditions that could entail the idea that the covenant had never been fully implemented. A lack of full implementation created a condition whereby the Canadian government did not establish its authority, and the subsequent war with the Indigenous peoples of Saskatchewan constituted a War of Conquest.

While I recognize that, after 1870, Manitoba had been effectively occupied, it is important to note that a campaign of terror by Canadian military forces had begun almost immediately against the Indigenous inhabitants that included murder, rape, and destruction of property, commencing in 1870.15 It is these acts and the subsequent ignoring of the bilingual nature of Manitoba which could allow the nullity of the authority of Canada. If the French, Catholic, Métis Indigenous peoples, and the Canadian government could not meet the requirements of their entry into Confederation, and the Indigenous peoples continued to maintain a separate authority in parallel using Indigenous title, their actions in 1885 were not rebellion, but rather, resistance against an occupying force conducting a War of Conquest.

Glenbow Archives NA-2631-2

Louis Riel

For many historians, Louis Riel is a personality who is difficult to understand. He went from pursuing a legal and moderate political position of asking the federal government to respect the Manitoba Act (1870), to eventually proclaiming a new religion with Monsignor Ignace Bourget (Bishop of Montreal) as the new pope,16 and establishing a separate government based in Batoche. Even today, for most Métis people, Riel represents a larger-than-life figure who was only seeking to help the Métis create a sense of national Métis identity by fighting ‘perceived’ violations of their individual and collective rights.17

After the Red River Rebellion of 1870 and his exile to Montana, Louis Riel was not interested in returning to Canada. He changed his mind only after a group of Métis men18 went to Montana and requested that he return to the Northwest Territories in order to fight for their natural rights. These rights had been enshrined in the 1870 Manitoba Act, but were now being trampled upon by the new government of the territories and the Canadian federal government.19 The federal Conservative government under John A. Macdonald eventually decided that armed conflict was the only logical political solution that would bend and break the Métis20 and end any resistance to further Canadian control and settling of the territories. One can opine that if the Métis and Indians had been allowed to continue in their grievances without being checked by the Canadian government, they would have been calling into question the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon way of life, and, in essence, the Canadian rule of law in the Northwest Territories.

Glenbow Archives NA-293-2

Sir John A. Macdonald

Very few actually believed in the ability of the Métis to win in the final outcome, and this included some Métis, but not all their leadership, including Riel’s military field commander, Gabriel Dumont. Most realized that, with the railway, the ability of the federal government to bring troops to the territories would be far easier than was the case in 1870. In much of the literature, it is noted that the Métis were always hoping to negotiate a settlement, and even up until the final Battle of Batoche, they were still hoping that British field force commander Major-General Frederick Middleton, and especially, Prime Minister Macdonald, would negotiate. On 9 May 1885, Gabriel Dumont was “…realistic enough to know that they would not beat the British, but believed they could still negotiate.”21 I believe that the Métis were more surprised by the fact that when the Macdonald government did negotiate, it was in such bad faith. For instance, a number of Métis demands were met, but they were delivered in such a manner as to be insulting to the entire movement.22

Glenbow Archives NA-1063-1

Gabriel Dumont, Red River, Alberta

How do Indigenous nations, with crude, musket-style weapons, defend themselves against a far larger and better-equipped force? The Métis numbered only 250 participants in the Battle of Batoche, ranging in ages from 13 to 93.23 Middleton had over 800 men directly under his command at the principal Battle of Batoche, as well as adequate logistical support, and he was also in possession of a boat, cannons, and Gatling guns. When one considers the use of a Gatling gun on a battlefield against Métis men, women, and children, even by the standards of the time, this would have been considered dishonorable.24 In the entire Northwest Territories, there were 8000 troops available to fight and support the federal government. The Aboriginal forces were able to muster only a maximum of 500 men including Indians, and at Batoche, many fewer warriors were available to fight. Riel was even opposed to taking enemy lives.25 This brings into hypothetical question what the consequences are when one side readies for total war, while the other seeks a negotiated peace.26

It was obviously very difficult for Riel to be engaged in war. He was attempting to create a new nation (Aboriginal) out in the prairies. One might offer that it was possibly his religious beliefs that impeded him, and subsequently his troops, from engaging in far more offensive actions against Middleton. He would often hold a cross and pray in the open while the battles were raging around him.27 Riel’s nephew, Auguste Vermette,28 recounts that Riel was a gentle, incorruptible leader who would often restrain his troops and Gabriel Dumont from attacking and killing Canadian troops, but was ready to give his life for the Métis cause.29 If Riel had allowed the Métis to conduct ‘total war’ in this instance, would this have been a precursor to the Boar War and the guerilla tactics conducted therein?

Topley Studio/Library and Archives Canada PA-025509

Major-General Sir Frederick D. Middleton

However, the Canadian effort faced many difficulties. The campaign to destroy the Métis forces was a logistical nightmare from the beginning because the Canadian forces believed they possessed a comfortable superiority of power. Also, the Canadian minister responsible, Sir Adolphe Caron, made every effort to institute a logistics and transportation system that relied upon private enterprise. The Canadian military’s lack of preparation was apparently behind this solution, which eventually cost the government $4.5 million, an enormous amount for the late-19th Century.30 The military, medical, and supply services were cobbled together in just four days. The variety of weapons issued was not seen as a major concern. Men left for war with Snider, Winchester, and Martini-Henry carbines and rifles. Similarly, they carried three types of ammunition that had to be distributed to units that were often situated great distances apart. Some of this ammunition turned out to be unusable or non-existent. For example, Major-General Thomas Strange in command of the Alberta Field Force reached Frenchman’s Butte with only 22 artillery shells.31

Most likely, the British and Canadian forces suffered from overconfidence. They felt that there was no way they could lose this campaign. The only defeat of British Empire military forces in history by Indigenous peoples had been that orchestrated by the Zulus at the 1879 Battle of Isandlwana. This track record bolstered the feeling of invincibility of the military personal over the Indigenous peoples. It did not, however, make for actual superiority in the field, because when troops are overconfident and meet resistance, the effect can be doubly demoralizing. The Canadian leadership was extremely weak, but Middleton would ascribe his slowness and procrastination to the inexperience of his subordinates, in whom he had little confidence. It should be noted that the feeling was mutual. It was the general’s view that he had prevented the Batoche engagement from ending in failure, but others could not forget that he had been unable to use his mounted forces or manoeuvre his troops, or that his timid approach was the cause of the lack of fighting spirit in his men.32

The greatest mistake on the other side was the failure of the Aboriginal coalition33 to ensure an adequate supply of ammunition (logistics/principle of administration), and in not comprehending the political advantages that the revolt offered the government. The Aboriginal peoples at Batoche were supposedly firing rocks and nails near the end of the battle, due to a shortage of ammunition.34 They thus failed to adequately plan their future needs. The Métis and Indians were supplied almost exclusively by the Hudson’s Bay Company and other small outfitters for their weapons, but once the provisional government had been declared, this source of supply was extinguished. It is known that they did raid the Walters and Baker weapons store at Batoche, seizing a number of arms and ammunition, but this was evidently not enough to meet needs.35 It is not known what other measures were taken to acquire ammunition after the fighting had started, but it must be assumed that they were unsuccessful in obtaining any large quantities, because, in the two engagements at Frenchman’s Butte, the Aboriginal forces were unable to generate a decisive victory over the Canadian forces. And the lack of ammunition and the concentration of force by the enemy resulted in their defeat at Batoche.

Library and Archives Canada C-002425

The Battle of Fish Creek

From an Aboriginal viewpoint, the wonder should not be with respect to which principle of war was most decisive in Middleton’s victory over the Métis, but how the Métis and their Indian allies bested the Canadians and the British during the engagements at Duck Lake, Frog Lake, Fish Creek, Cut Knife, and initially, at Frenchman’s Butte.36 These five engagements, often downplayed in Canadian history as small skirmishes of little value, are viewed by Aboriginal peoples as important victories. These victories also affected the Canadians’ ability to maintain their war effort and therefore the principle of maintaining morale. One might suggest they are downplayed in Canadian history books because they cannot be seen to support the ideals of Canada as a forward nation, a nation of progress.37

Glenbow Archives NA-1039-1

Louis Riel and his associates

Even though Riel had very few troops on the ground (approximately 250, according to multiple sources), many were excellent horsemen, knew the terrain, and were more experienced than their adversaries with respect to combat and hunting. They also held many advantages over Middleton and his troops with respect to the principles of war, such as the maintenance of the aim, morale,38 offensive action, surprise, security, effort, and co-operation. They were, however, lacking in concentration of force, flexibility, and administration. These three elements turned out to be the deciding factors. For instance, Dumont was able at Batoche to ground the Canadian Steamboat Northcote (armed with a Gatling gun) and disable it, so that it could play no major part in the battle on 9 May.39 Dumont did have success in the early part of the battle, but was unable to maintain offensive (defensive) action, due to a lack of ammunition (administration).

In spite of their multiple successes, more Aboriginal peoples did not join Riel in his crusade. They had little logistical support in terms of weapons and ammunition. Also, the large numbers of women and children located at Batoche kept the Métis fighters from being able to move swiftly across the prairies.40 This showed that the principle of flexibility was also violated. Other principles were thus constrained, and the fighters had to make a stand at a specific location, thereby bringing about their one and only decisive defeat. At the Battle of Batoche, which lasted four days, the Métis held off a larger and better equipped force. At one point, the Canadians were even preparing to fall back and concede defeat. Only a last-minute decision by an officer to charge the Métis lines against orders showed how truly weak the supply issues of the Métis had become. There are many Métis authors and some leaders who have called to account the official Canadian version of history. The influential 20th Century Métis academic and activist Howard Adams41 writes that Canadian history presents the Aboriginal peoples in such a manner as to make them seem simple yet honest people who were doomed to defeat and to be swallowed up by history, as all Indians were to disappear into the dustbin of history. Adams protested until his death against this continuing neo-colonialist affront to all Indigenous peoples of Canada.42

Time Line of Events43

24 March 1884
South Branch Métis hold a meeting in Batoche to discuss grievances. The 30 representatives vote to invite Louis Riel back to act as political advisor and leader.
6 May 1884
At a joint meeting, the South Branch Métis and English half-breeds pass several resolutions specifying grievances and adopt a motion to seek Louis Riel’s assistance.
18 May 1884
Métis delegation leaves Batoche for Montana to solicit Louis Riel’s aid.
16 December 1884
Louis Riel sends a petition to the Secretary of State outlining Métis grievances and demands.
28 January 1885
John A. Macdonald’s cabinet authorizes the creation of a three-person commission to review and settle Métis and half-breed claims in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories.
5 March 1885
Louis Riel and a group of prominent Métis hold a secret meeting. They sign an oath to “save our country from a wicked government by taking up arms if necessary.”
18 March 1885
Métis seize control of St. Anthony’s Church: they take hostages and cut the telegraph lines at Clarke’s Crossing.
19 March 1885
Métis form the ministry and the army of the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan.
21 March 1885
The Provisional Government demands the North-West Mounted Police surrender Fort Carlton.
22 March 1885
The Winnipeg Militia is ordered to a state of readiness and Major-General Frederick Dobson Middleton is given command of the troops.
26 March 1885
Métis force under Gabriel Dumont engage in an unplanned skirmish with Superintendent L.F. Crozier’s Mounted Police and volunteers at Duck Lake. The police are routed.

The Fight at Duck Lake

Library and Archives Canada C-033058

27 March 1885
The North-West Mounted Police abandon Fort Carlton (accidentally burning it as they leave) and retreat to Prince Albert.
28 March 1885
News of Duck Lake hits eastern Canada. The Federal Government raises a Canadian Militia Force. Within two weeks, three columns of the Northwest Field Force are in motion.
29 March 1885
Assiniboine warrior Ikteh kills farm instructor Payne on the Mosquito reserve.
30 March 1885
The ‘Siege of Battleford’ begins. Pitikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker) arrives at Fort Battleford. The Indian Agent refuses to meet with him. The combined Battleford bands loot the town.
2 April 1885
The Frog Lake Massacre. Members of Mistahimaskwa’s Cree Nation led by Ayimisis and Kapapamahchakwew (Wandering Spirit) kill Indian Agent Quinn and eight other whites.
3 April 1885
Cree of the Little Hunter and Blue Quill bands raid government store house at Saddle Lake (130 km northeast of Edmonton).
17 April 1885
Fort Pitt is taken by warriors of Mistahimaskwa’s band. Mistahimaskwa negotiates the evacuation of the fort by the North West Mounted Police.
24 April 1885
Gabriel Dumont ambushes Middleton’s column at Fish Creek.
24 April 1885
Lieutenant-Colonel William Otter relieves the ‹siege› of the Fort Battleford without a battle. The Battleford bands have left the area and established a camp at Cutknife Hill.
26 April 1885
Indians raid HBC post at Lac La Biche, Alberta.
2 May 1885
Colonel Otter’s column attacks Pitikwahahnapiwiyin’s camp at Cut Knife Hill. Otter is forced to retreat to Battleford. Pitikwahahnapiwiyin prevents Indians from attacking retreating troops.

Glenbow Archives NA-827-1

Lieutenant Colonel William Dillon Otter

9–12 May 1885
Battle of Batoche. Middleton defeats the Métis force in a four day battle.
14 May 1885
At Eagle Hills, Battleford Indian bands capture wagon train carrying supplies for Colonel Otter’s column. Twenty-one teamsters are taken prisoner.
15 May 1885
Louis Riel surrenders and is transported to Regina for trial.
26 May 1885
Pitikwahanapiwiyn surrenders to General Middleton at Fort Battleford.
28 May 1885
Mistahimaskwa’s band and Major-General T.B. Strange clash at Frenchman’s Butte.
3 June 1885
Steele’s and Mistahimaskwa’s forces engage in a skirmish at Loon Lake.
2 July 1885
Mistahimaskwa surrenders to North-West Mounted Police at Fort Pitt.
6 July 1885
Riel is formally charged with high treason.
20 July–
1 August 1885
Riel is tried and found guilty of treason. Judge Hugh Richardson sentences Riel to hang 18 September.
24 July 1885
William Henry Jackson is found not guilty by reason of insanity. Jackson is sent to a lunatic asylum in Manitoba.
5 August 1885
Sir John A. Macdonald requests that murder charges be laid against the Indians involved at Frog Lake and in the killing of Payne.
13 August 1885
Kapeyakwaskonam (One Arrow) tried on the charge of treason-felony, is found guilty and sentenced to three years imprisonment.
14 August 1885
A number of Métis involved in the rebellion plead guilty to treason-felony and receive prison sentences ranging from one-to-seven years.
17-19 August 1885
Pitikwahanapiwiyin is tried on the charge of treason-felony, found guilty and sentenced to three years imprisonment.
9 September
The Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench rejects Riel’s appeal.
11 September 1885
Mistahimaskwa is tried on the charge of treason-felony, found guilty and sentenced to three years imprisonment.
25 September 1885
Kapapamahchakwew (Wandering Spirit) is tried at Battleford and sentenced to hang.
5 October 1885
Ikteh and Man Without Blood are tried, found guilty and sentenced to hang for killing Payne.
10 October 1885
Five Indians are tried in Battleford for involvement at Frog Lake, are found guilty and sentenced to hang.
22 October 1885
Judicial Committee of the Privy Council rules against Riel’s appeal.
9 November 1885
The Medical Commission, created to examine Riel’s mental condition, submits its report to the Prime Minister. The Commission is divided on the question of Riel’s sanity. Cabinet decides to proceed with death penalty.
16 November 1885
Riel is hanged in Regina.
27 November 1885
Kapapamahchakwew and seven other Indians are hanged at Battleford.


I hope that I have been able to offer a more Indigenous perspective concerning the 2nd Métis War of 1885. From this viewpoint, it was a war of conquest and a total war against peoples who only wished to have justice. The Canadian government had not established its legitimate authority because it had not fulfilled the treaty requirements concerning the Indigenous peoples of the prairies. If Middleton had had the flexibility and willingness to negotiate, would many of today’s issues, court cases, and treaty land entitlement negotiations still be in play here in Canada? Chief Warrant Officer André Normandin spoke about the need for CAF soldiers to have an understanding of the overall mission and the long term interests of Canada when engaged in warfare.44 In order to do so, we must not study with hubris, but with the ability to self-criticize and to analyze why and when Canada has won or lost in an honest, forthright manner, and if we have fulfilled the longer-term needs of our nation in given situations. While many may say that the military must simply and blindly follow orders, I believe this to be both false and dangerous. In the case discussed herein, instead of a partnership that could have been established over one hundred year ago, many Aboriginal peoples exist in poverty today with multiple social ills that could be traced back to how the war of conquest was conducted by Canadian forces. We can only imagine what life would be like if the military had had the foresight and courage to speak to their political masters concerning durable options for Canada. While many may ask why NCMs should have such training, the reality is that it better situates and prepares for any debate, informs the chain of command, and aids in the completion of any given mission. Soldiers are also citizens with rights and responsibilities within Canadian society.

[Trans] I have been criticized for referring to Louis Riel as “my brother.” I would rather call Louis Riel “my brother” than do as some men do and call the Orangemen their brothers. I would rather be related to a Métis than to certain politicians who seek to crush our race and destroy our religion. I have never been ashamed of a hanged man who hanged for the love of his country. I have never been ashamed of a De Lorimier, a Duquet or a Chénier; I have never been ashamed of my father, who was imprisoned in 1837 because he loved his country.

~ Honoré Mercier, 7 May 1886

Library and Archives Canada C-002424

The Capture of Batoche


  1. Hansard (House of Commons Debates), 4thParliament, 4th Session, vol. 1, 1882, p.1042, taken from a speech by Edward Blake. Quoted by Honoré Mercier, leader of the Parti National and former leader of the Opposition Liberals, to the Legislative Assembly of Quebec on 7 May 1886.
  2. A. Oscar Kawagley, A Yupiaq Worldview: A Pathway to Ecology and Spirit, (Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, Inc., 1995), p. 8.
  3. David W. Grebstad, “Rowboat Diplomacy: The Dominion of Canada’s Whole Government Approach to the Red River Rebellion,” in Canadian Military Journal, Vol. 13, No. 3, Summer 2013, pp. 57-66. This article is a prime example of Canadian world-view about the lack of consideration of the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples in Canada and Turtle Island. While the author is sympathetic, saying the Métis wanted to protect their way of life, he also points out that the Hudson Bay Company administered this territory. I am sure that the Indigenous peoples did not see the Hudson Bay as a government, but as just another player within their own efforts of controlling their traditional territory. The author uses terms of “Whole” government, including Diplomacy, Development, and Defence. In 1869, Macdonald lied to the people of Red River about the exact nature of their joining with Canada. Even the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that government did use fair dealing when further negotiating the rights of all peoples in the Red River. Also, the use of the term Defence in Whole government is misleading, because, in this author’s opinion, this was not a defensive act by the Canadian government, but a war of conquest.
  4. I was enrolled in the DL ILP training in 2008-2009 and the residential component in 2012.
  5. I have heard the comment made during by staff that the ILP course is not about learning and challenging individuals, but about networking, building up a list of contacts across the CAF that will help NCMs further the objectives of the organization (personal communication 2012). I believe that there should be a larger debate with respect to the type of education that we expect for our NCMs, and what the final outcomes should be. Maxime Rondeau & Lisa Tanguay, “What Education Should Non-Commissioned Members Receive?” in Canadian Military Journal, Vol. 13, No. 3, Summer 2013, pp. 49-58.
  6. Intermediate Leadership Qualification. Distance Learning Division NCM Professional Development Centre. ILP version 8.08. 2006.
  7. Anthony J. Hall, The American Empire and the Fourth World: The Bowl with One Spoon: Volume One, (Montréal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003).
  8. In 1886, when Battle Honours were being bestowed, all Canadian regiments that participated in the ‘Rebellion’ received them. The victory of Canada over the Métis and Indians in 1885 is seen as justified because it maintained Canadian law in Western Canada and confirmed the superiority of the British way of life over that of ‘inferior’ races. The Voltigeurs de Quebec have, for their Battle honours: the Nord-Ouest du Canada, 1885 (this date was incorporated into the regiment’s cap badge from 1928 to 1984), Mont-Sorrel, Cote 70, Somme, 1916, Ypres, 1917, Arras, 1917, and Amiens. I suspect they removed the term ‘Rebellion’ in 1984, when it was no longer politically correct to still use it.
  9. Oxford Dictionary. Accessed on 11 November 2013 at: definition/english/rebellion
  10. Lawrence J. Barkwell, The Reign of Terror against the Métis of Red River, (Winnipeg, MB: Louis Riel Institute, 2008).
  11. Auguste-Henri De Trémaudan, Histoire de la Nation Métisse dans l’Ouest Canadien, (Montréal: Éditions Albert Lévesque, 1935).
  12. Ghislan Otis, L’adoption coutumière autochtone et les défis du pluralisme juridique, (Québec, PQ: Presses de l’Université Laval, 2013).
  13. Hall, p. 31.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Barkwell.
  16. Bernard Saint-Aubin, Louis Riel: Un destin tragique, (Montréal: Les Éditions la Presse Ltée, 1985), pp. 214-247.
  17. Jennifer Reid, Louis Riel and the Creation of Modern Canada: Mythic Discourse and the Postcolonial State, (Winnipeg, MB: University of Manitoba Press, 2012).
  18. I would like to mention that my ancestor, great-great-grandfather Moïse Ouellette, was part of that expedition, and that my family had the honour of hosting Riel in our home upon his return to the territories. Moïse was also a member of the 1885 provisional government.
  19. Macdonald also needed a reason to justify the bankrupt Canadian Pacific Railway that had cost millions, and he received needed funds from the Canadian Parliament. Ismène Toussaint, Louis Riel : Le bison de cristal. Hommage, (Montréal, PQ: Les Éditions internationales Alain Stanké, 2000).
  20. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, (London: Penguin Books, 1968), pp. 12-13.
  21. Saint-Aubin.
  22. Ibid.
  23. The father of Moïse Ouellette was Joseph Ouellette, who, at 93 years of age was killed on the last day of the four-day Battle of Batoche. After the Métis positions had been charged and almost overrun, he stayed behind, thus allowing his son to lead his wife and children to safety. Gabriel Dumont said later of the “old” Ouellette: “My companions and I fought our way to the hilltop between Fisher’s house and store, and held our position there. That was where old Ouellette was killed. I must say this: it was his courage that had sustained us all. Although he was ninety-three years old, he would not leave the battlefield. Several times I said, ‘Father, we must retire.’ And he answered, ‘Wait a minute. I only want to kill one more Englishman.’ ‘Okay’, I said. ‘Let us die here.’ When he was shot, I thanked him and he sent me away.”
  24. Julia Keller, Mr. Gatling’s Terrible Marvel: The Gun That Changed Everything and the Misunderstood Genius Who Invented It, (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2008).
  25. Saint-Aubin. At the Battle of Duck Lake, Major Crozier’s force of 100 men would have been annihilated had Riel not intervened to prevent a massacre and to allow Crozier to escape.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Riel’s nephew and a second-hand eyewitness.
  29. Marcien Ferland, Au temps de la Prairie : L’histoire des Métis de l’Ouest canadien racontée par Auguste Vermette, neveu de Louis Riel, (Saint- Boniface, MB: Les Éditions du Blé, 2006).
  30. This recalls the $ 300 million bill for the siege at Oka against the Mohawks in 1990 (Lubacon News). This was also a similar situation, where Indigenous and Human Rights have not been resolved through the use of military force. We have only seen a delay in a final conclusion with respect to issues concerning the Canadian state and Indigenous Rights. Bob Beal and Rod MacLeod, North-West Rebellion (2008), Accessed 1 August 2013, from The Canadian encyclopedia web site at:
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Barkwell. I use the term coalition because researcher Lawrence Barkwell has cataloged all the different Indigenous people involved in the War, and they came from many different backgrounds.
  34. Norman Lester, Le livre noir du Canada anglais. Tome 1 (Montréal: Les Éditions des Intouchables, 2001), pp. 146-167. Also, Toussaint.
  35. Saint-Aubin.
  36. Beal & Macleod.
  37. Hall.
  38. Middleton is said to have had very little confidence in the ability of the French Canadian troops and their loyalty to the ultimate aims of the campaign. For this reason, the carabinier and voltigeur regiments saw little if any action under fire, being primarily relegated to garrison duty. Pierre Vennat & Michel Litalien, Carabiniers et voltigeurs contre Louis Riel : histoire militaire et politique inconnue, (Montréal: Les Éditions du Méridien, 2003).
  39. Saint-Aubin.
  40. Ibid. Also, Toussaint.
  41. Adams is a former Métis leader who refused to accept federal funds to finance any organizing among the Métis people in the 1970s, and he wrote widely on the issue of neocolonialism and the use of federal funds to co-opt Aboriginal organizations.
  42. Howard Adams, Tortured people: The Politics of Colonization, revised edition, (Penticton, BC: Theytus Books, 1999).
  43. Taken from the Northwest Resistance Chronology of Events. Accessed on 8 November 2013 at:
  44. Speech given by Chief Warrant Officer Normandin on 7 November 2008 to the 5th Field Ambulance at Valcartier, Quebec.
  45. Taken from the speech by Honoré Mercier to the Legislative Assembly of Quebec on 7 May 1886.