Rebellion Or Resistance? Did All The Metis Agree & Who is William Dease?

Rebellion Or Resistance? Did All The Metis Agree & Who is William Dease?

When studying the Metis people and their involvement in the North-West Rebellion, it is important to consider that not all of them agreed with the resistance. While some saw it as a way to protect their land and culture, others looked at it as a rebel against the Dominion of Canada. Considering the different perspectives of the Metis people can help us better understand why they ultimately chose to fight. Did all of them agree with Louis Riel? Or were there dissenting voices within their community? Let's take a closer look.

In 1869-1870, Louis Riel led the Red River Resistance against the Canadian government's plans to annex Rupert's Land. Although Riel is often seen as the figurehead of the metis people, not all metis agreed with his actions. Some saw the resistance as a rebellion and were opposed to it, while others supported it wholeheartedly. What factors influenced which side each metis took? And what did their decisions mean for the future of Canada?

 In his work "Prologue to the Red River Resistance: Preliminary Politics and the Triumph of Riel," historian Gerhard Ens discusses Dease's political activity in depth. Canadian Historical Association Journal, Vol. 5, 1994, pp. 111-123. 

Metis scholars may feel uneasy after reading this piece. Ens states that William Dease led the Metis battle prior to the events of October 1869, which culminated in Louis Riel's leadership of the resistance. If William Dease and his supporters had been allowed to lead the Resistance, Ens believes that an Aboriginal rights agenda would have been promoted. Dease, a Metis of francophone and anglophone ancestry, may have been the perfect Red River Metis leader since he knew all of the region's First Nation languages. Furthermore, he contended that the whole transfer of Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company to the Dominion of Canada was invalid since Peguis' 1817 deal with Lord Selkirk was questionable because the Saulteaux chief was a newcomer to the Red River area. Instead, the Metis might claim that they are direct blood ancestors of the Cree, the region's most long-term settlers. Ens believed that this would have been a preferable path for the Metis to adopt since it would have avoided bringing the English-French conflict to the area from Central Canada (which the Riel-led agitation did). Furthermore, Dease wanted to build a coalition that would unify both the French and English Metis by downplaying religious distinctions, while Riel's organization emphasized them. Riel, on the other hand, formed an alliance with the Roman Catholic Church and aligned himself with Père Ritchot. They branded Dease and his supporters as Canadian Party puppets and tried to establish a French-Canadian province in the North West. In the process, Riel lost the support of the English Metis, who found his intimate affiliation with the Catholic Church repugnant. Ens contends that Louis Riel's leadership of the Metis cause at Red River in 1869-70 was ultimately detrimental to the Metis people because he championed a French/Roman Catholic agenda rather than an Aboriginal one.

Ens illustrates that the 1869-70 Resistance is a difficult event to comprehend.
While his thesis might be a little shaky at times, he is true in stating that Red River Metis civilization was fragmented along several fault lines.


The Metis people have a complex history that is still being studied today. When looking at the North-West Rebellion, it is important to consider not just the actions of Louis Riel and his followers, but also the perspectives of the other Metis people. Some may have agreed with Riel’s goals, while others may have disagreed with the methods he chose to achieve them. It is only by considering all sides of this story that we can begin to understand why the Metis ultimately decided to fight. What do you think?

Who Was William Dease
He was a well-known Francophone Roman Catholic mixed-blood with Anglophone links. He resided at Pointe Coupée, near Ste. Agathe now. As a member of the Council of Assiniboia, he was one of Louis Riel's main Métis opponents in 1869-1870. On July 29, he was the driving force behind a rally outside Winnipeg's courts demanding Canadian acknowledgment of Aboriginal rights, and he advocated the use of force if necessary. The Francophone Métis felt Dease was a henchman for John Christian Schultz, and he was never well-liked in the community. During the perplexing events of February 1870, Riel attempted to arrest Dease, who was in contact with the Portage la Prairie rebels. Dease decided to take an oath of fealty after fleeing via a window in his residence. He ran unsuccessfully in the March 1871 by-election that elected Manitoba's first Members of Parliament, and he was defeated again in the 1874 general election. He spent his senior years in Grafton, North Dakota.
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