Red River Resistance, Manitoba Act of 1870 and Reign of Terror


The Manitoba Act was passed at the closing of the Red River Resistance in 1870, which provided for the province of Manitoba and allowed the Red River settlement to enter Confederation as Canada's fifth province. Prime Minister J.A. MacDonald stated that he would compensate the Metis in the new province in order to settle the west peacefully, although the provincial land would be owned publicly. There were also provisions in the Act which protected the French language and Roman Catholic religion. Section 31 of the Act provided land for the children of Metis heads of families, which amounted to 1.4 million acres, to be divided into tracts and allotted to Métis families by Lieutenant-Governor Adam Archibald. Section 32 guaranteed all previous settlers possession of the lots they occupied before 15 July 1870, as well as hay rights in the outer two miles of various river lots. An amendment to section 32 in 1874 provided $160 scrip redeemable by Métis heads of families. The 1874 amendment also stated that improvements needed to be made to the land in order to obtain the title. Following the creation of the Manitoba Act, Prime Minister MacDonald refused to distribute the land legally owed to Metis people. The plan of Lieutenant Governor Archibald was to allow the Metis to maintain the river lot system of farming and distribute the 1.4 million acres over a period of approximately one year. Distribution of land in fulfillment of section 31 took over a decade, however, causing many frustrated Metis people to migrate west into Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as the United States. As well, government officials changed their minds about the 1.4 million acres, stating that the claimed land was now required to be outside the province of Manitoba. They also changed the date of proof of occupation to a date when most Metis would be away from their farms hunting buffalo. Shortly after the Act was passed, MacDonald sent 1200 troops to Fort Garry (now known as Winnipeg), to surveil and control the new province. The troops, as well as the influx of settlers, terrorized the Metis residents. Many Metis individuals were murdered, beaten, and raped. Metis landholders were frequently harassed in non-physical ways as well.



The above summary of events demonstrates that there were several federal tactics employed to make it exceedingly difficult for the Metis to obtain their land title after scrip had been issued.  Prime Minister MacDonald actively vetoed the plans of Lieutenant Governor Archibald, in the hopes that delaying the distribution of land to the Metis would allow white settlers to outnumber the Metis, forcing them to leave.  These federal delay tactics were effective, as many Metis migrated, although they continued to petition the government in Ottawa to settle their outstanding claims.  As well, the Metis were still involved in the buffalo economy.  The government was aware that many Metis families left their farms for extended periods of time while on the hunt, during which they allowed non-Aboriginal settlers to occupy and steal Metis farm lots .  As a result of these federal tactics, approximately 65 percent of Metis people lost their land to non-Aboriginal homesteaders in Manitoba.

The efforts of MacDonald to send a large number of troops into the newly formed province demonstrate a retaliatory effort to keep the region under tight state control.  The permissive attitude of the government towards methods of psychological and physical intimidation including murder, physical beatings and rape of an already oppressed people would have served to severely fracture the sense of community safety and family cohesion.  The psychological trauma caused by rape in particular is known to have long-term and even intergenerational consequences for emotional and mental health if appropriate or sufficient social supports are not available.  These tactics of physical and psychological violence were used to keep the Metis in a position of political subordination.  The researcher notes that in the era of the modern state, criteria provided by the United Nations in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court would classify the actions of the government as war crimes (extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly) and crimes against humanity (murder, rape, persecution based on ethnicity). 


  • An Act to amend and continue the Act 32 and 33 Victoria, chapter 3 ; and to establish and provide for the Government of the Province of Manitoba, S.C. 1870, c. 3