Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Metis Fighters from the North-West Resistance

Many friends from away may not know that in 1885 Canada witnessed an armed struggle in Saskatchewan which saw government forces pitted against Indigenous and Metis communities in what was known the North-West Rebellion, or more recently the North-West Resistance (also referred to as the Riel Rebellion or Riel Resistance).

The conflict mainly stemmed from Indigenous and Metis people feeling that Canada was not protecting their rights, their land, and their survival as a distinct people. They felt that the onrush of white settlers threatened their lands and their traditional way of life. Conversely, the Canadian government was under pressure by recent American expansion to aggressively push west from Mantoba to better establish sovereignty across what is now know as Saskatchewan, Alberta and into British Columbia.

The political leader of the Metis people, Louis Riel, led the movement in protest. After receiving what was felt was an unsatisfactory response from the federal government, he decided to escalate to active armed resistance.

Louis Riel

He had a hard core allegiance of about 300 armed Métis, a smaller number of other Indigenous warriors, and at least one white man. Despite some notable early victories at Duck Lake, Fish Creek, and Cut Knife, the conflict was quashed when overwhelming government forces and a critical shortage of supplies brought about the Métis' defeat in the four-day Battle of Batoche (located in northern Saskatchewan where I was raised).

The Battle of Batoche includes several examples of some of the first live combat photography.

The Metis' remaining Indigenous allies were scattered. Several chiefs were captured, and some served prison time. Eight men were hanged in Canada's largest mass hanging, for murders performed outside the military conflict.

Batoche as it is seen today.

The military leader of the Metis was Gabriel Dumont, who was a tremendously charismatic and colourful character.

Dumont led his fellow Metis in a skilful though hopeless campaign against government forces, foiling their attempts in achieving a quick victory. After running out of ammunition he realized that all was lost. His parting words to his wife Madeleine were, “If the enemy captures you and blames you for my actions, you tell them that since the government couldn’t manage me, it wasn’t easy for you to do so.” Dumont eventually escaped to the United States where he travelled with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, being billed as a desperado and a crack shot. Dumont was later granted amnesty by the Government and he returned to Batoche where he died in 1906.

My mom was a Grade 4 teacher and almost every year she took her class to Batoche to tour the site and learn more about the conflict. As a small boy I travelled with her several times on these class excursions and have very fond memories of those school trips.

These four figures are from Empress Miniatures. While not actually designed as Metis (they are in fact Boers from their Anglo-Zulu range) their clothes and irregular demeanour fit close to my vision of Dumont's fighters.

As the Metis were civilians, I kept the colours irregular, and shaved away some military gear to give them a closer proximity to how they would have looked at the time.


- Curt


  1. Nicely done, Curt! RAFM does a dedicated line of Riel's Rebellion figures if you're interested.

    1. Thanks Bill. Yes, I actually have some of the RAFM castings but feel that they haven't aged well in comparisons to modern sculpts.

  2. Not a conflict one sees on the table very often.
    Perfect for small skirmish games though.

    1. Definitely. I know there are several rule sets out there that could be used.

  3. Really interesting post, not a conflict I have ever heard of and one I must do a bit of research on, Dumont seemed a proper character! Nice work on the miniatures they have turned out really well.

    1. Thanks Donnie. Yes, it's a little known affair, which is a shame as it has had an outsized effect on how the Metis are perceived in our society today. Dumont is a fascinating character who lived a very rich and varied life. Definitely worth a read, if you have the time.


Thanks for your comment! As long as you're not a spam droid I'll have it up on the blog soon. :)