If one could interview General Sir Frederick Dobson Middleton regarding his command of Canadian forces against the Northwest Resistance, what questions would one ask, and what answers would one likely receive?
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One can't turn back the clock and undo the damage to native or aboriginal peoples whose lives and cultures were trampled under the weight of colonialism, but one can certainly speculate regarding actions that might have been taken differently, or not taken at all. As with the battles against native tribes in the United States, Canadian expansion across upper North America was met with instances of armed resistance that would ultimately prove futile. Such was the case with the North-West Rebellion in the region of Saskatchewan in 1885.
Frustrated by their treatment by British Canadians, the Metis nation rebelled against the Canadian government. The Metis' grievances, beyond the irreparable damage to their ancestral homes and culture by invading Europeans, included assertions that the government had reneged on promises regarding respect for Metis rights and land and for their unique identity. In the meantime, a similar rebellion was being carried out the Cree in roughly the same region. After several months of armed resistance, the rebellions were put down by the Canadian Army and, in the case of the minor battle at Duck Lake, by the Mounted Police.
The military response to the rebellion was led by British General Frederick Middleton, commander of the North-West Field Force of the Canadian Militia. The major battles of this effort wre at Fish Creek and Batoche, the latter ending in a victory for the government, the former ending without effective resolution.
If one could converse with Sir Middleton today regarding that campaign, one would likely inquire as to his strategy with respect to Fish Creek, in which his divided force -- always a gamble but especially so when one is uncertain about the strength and location of the enemy -- was picked off mercilessly by Metis snipers firing down on the poorly positioned militia. What would Middleton do differently with regard to the "battle" of Fish Creek? His answer, one could suppose, would involve basic military principles of not marching one's soldiers out in the open along the banks of a river where they would be easy targets for an ambush and be without adequate cover from the surroundings.
Middleton and enough of his men survived that encounter and proceeded to Batoche where they were better prepared for battle and equipped with heavier weaponry than the Metis could ever have hoped to acquire, including Gatling guns (the precursor of the machine gun) and a cannon. Enjoying numerical superiority in addition to possessing superior fire power, Middleton's forces succeeded in putting down the rebellion. From Batoche, Middleton led his forces to the area around Battleford to assist other Canadian units fighting a desperate battle against the Cree. Working in consort with other Canadian forces, Middleton and his colleagues succeeded in defeating this revolt. The struggle against the Cree was noticeably more difficult than that against the Metis.
The Cree rebellion would be fertile ground for discussions with Middleton, especially given the far greater skills of the Cree relative to the Metis. What did Middleton know about the Cree's strength with regard to numbers and armaments? What tactical maneuvers would he employ with the benefit of hindsight? How did he view Big Bear, leader of the Cree revolt? One could also be tempted to ask whether Middleton harbored any regrets regarding his role in enforcing policies that led to the demise of a people.
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