RAILWAY NOVEL: 1st Mission for Railway: Armed Rebellion
One hundred and thirty years ago, in March 1885, the North West Rebellion broke out as Metis and Aboriginal people living mostly in what is now Saskatchewan took up arms against the Canadian government.
The bison had been driven to extinction, so Aboriginal people faced hunger and poverty, despite signing their lands over to Ottawa by treaty. The Metis had received no guarantees about their land titles. The rebel leaders included Louis Riel and Cree chief Big Bear.
Eighteen men were killed during the Battle of Duck Lake, which marked the start of warfare on March 26. In just nine days, the Candian Pacific Railway transported 3000 troops from central Canada to the affected region. In the Red River Rebellion of 1869, it had taken three months to move the troops. The combined government forces of 5000 took four months to defeat the rebels.
Prior to the rebellion, the C.P.R. faced big money troubles. But, once the railway proved its use to Ottawa in moving soldiers, it received political support. Public funding then helped complete the line.
The winners were the federal government, the C.P.R., and settlers whose dreams of nationhood, a completed railway, and access to free land were realized. The Aboriginal people lost the freedom of their nomadic way of life, and were moved onto reservations in the face of white settlement.
Many Chinese Canadians celebrate how Chinese workers helped build the C.P.R. because this ties them to Canada's great nation-building exercise. But we Chinese Canadians should also realize that not everyone benefited from it.
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