By: Abbey Mikha
When reading about the Métis of Red River in the area which is today called Manitoba Canada, it is very easy to compare their hardships to that of the highlander Assyrians of the Hakkari region (Assyrian mountains on the Turkish-Iraqi borders) during World War I and also of the modern Assyrians of today. The Métis people were the offspring of the fur trade, children of Native women from European, mainly French men. Although the Métis were a smaller nation in population, and prior and up to the time of confederation thought of themselves as a new nation, compared with the Assyrians who were and thought of themselves as a more ancient nation, they still each do have similar but also unique individual history, like every nation has a story. Time will unmask whether the Métis and the modern Assyrians also have similar destinies.
After centuries of persecution by its Muslim surroundings, the destiny of the Assyrians of Hakkari was sealed when their leader the Nestorian Patriarch Mar Benyamin Shimun was cold bloodedly murdered by a Kurd named Ismael Agha Shikak or “Simko” as he is referred to. Mar Benyamin Shimun was the leader of the Assyrian nation and although a peaceful and religious man he and some peoples of the various Assyrian tribes took part in the desperate decision to “declare war” on the Ottoman Empire, mainly because an unfair and dark war had been declared on them, because they were very different from the peoples around them and especially because they were Assyrians.
Louis Riel was the leader of the Métis people and he can be likened to a Métis Ashurbanipal, the last great King of Assyria. Although there have been many Métis leaders none sacrificed and were as passionate about their nation as Louis Riel. When the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal boasted that he can read the language from before the great flood that may have indicated the origins of the Assyrian people. Louis Riel however made different kinds of proclamations.
It is imperative for anyone interested in indigenous rights to read about the Métis and their struggle to be recognized before the creation of the Dominion of Canada and after. It is important for modern Assyrians to know their own history and about their struggle to survive in a hostile world, but it would also be beneficial for Assyrians to know about the struggle of other oppressed nations like the Métis because all suffering peoples can learn from the events that took place in Red River. If we expect people to read about our own history we should also expect of ourselves to read about the history of others and of the world.
Many historians have called the Métis leader Louis Riel a crazy traitor that lead his people on a suicide mission, but no one can deny that he and his people showed a rare bravery during the Red River Resistance for which they will always be remembered and which can be compared to the Assyrian spirit during World War I.
The modern Assyrians want to live in peace with their neighbors. They are not likely to take up arms, but the future is not ours to predict and no one knows what may happen in a world where people seem to believe that our differences as human beings outnumber our similarities. Our differences are so highly valued in the world of today that it is not even considered cruel that the Métis and the Assyrians have almost disappeared off the face of the earth and are on the verge of extinction.
The Red River Resistance took place during 1869-1870 and Louis Riel the hero became a symbol for his people and of the cruelty of one of the most advanced nations of the world today. Likewise Mar Benyamin Shimun who tried to lead his people out of the mountains in Turkey, and into Urmia, and was hoping to find that “promised land” during 1914-1918 has become entrenched in the minds of his people, the Assyrians. Although there was about forty four years difference between the Red River Resistance and the start of World War I, Mar Benyamin Shimun and Louis Riel also had similar destinies since they were both murdered by their enemies.
To understand the struggle of any nation in a given season in time, the words of its pioneers must be given heed, since their proclamations can be likened to an echo of the cries of their people, whose suffering they only genuinely comprehend. When Louis Riel, the dignitary of the Métis, during the Red River Resistance stated, “Justice commands us to take up arms”[i] it indicated the extent to which the Métis felt they had been treated unjustly. “Our cause is that of liberty! God and the world know how we have been outraged”[ii] he inconsolably expressed.
Equally, forty four years after Louis Riel’s statements the Assyrians of Hakkari highlands were struggling to survive and keep their last shreds of independence in spite of Turk, Persian, and Kurd alike. Mar Benyamin Shimun the Patriarch of the Assyrian people was a man of peace, but in such dangerous times as the Assyrians lived, he believed according to David Hay’s book called, No Through Road that, “He must protect the body to preserve the soul.”[iii] He thought it his duty to keep his little nation at peace and out of trouble. He did not want to take part in any war, but later he was forced into it because he had to react to the actions that were being taken against his people. Mar Benyamin Shimun said according to David Hay’s book No Through Road:
“We are too small to maintain any sort of adequate existence as a separate entity in the present unsettled state of the world. The vital thing is to close our own ranks and present a united front on all matters so that we continue to be treated as a nation and not as a number of scattered unruly villages that can be handed piecemeal to the nearest paramount Kurdish Agha. This Hakkiari country is our home. We came here nearly four thousand years ago when the world was very small and we were a young nation, stirring for the first time from the far north and seeking a place we could make part of ourselves—searching for a homeland. We came to the headwaters of the Tigris in the evening of the Sumerian civilization.”[iv]
The Métis are a lone people in history, like the Assyrians of Hakkari highlands and the Assyrians of today. These nations request of humanity, the telling of the truth of their struggle for recognition in a time when authority and culture were solely based on color, race, and religion. The correspondence by Robert Cunningham to the Globe on his reception by Louis Riel gives witness to Métis mannerism calling them, “A kindly race of people, courteous in the highest degree, and hospitable to a proverbial extent.”[v] Hospitality though had limits since knocking on the doors of the people of Red River before entrance could be granted would have implied neighborliness and the leaders of Canada at the time never knocked. Similarly today the Assyrians are struggling against those who are claiming that the ancient Assyrian homeland has become a figment of the imagination, which seems to have converted into an illegitimate reality called “Kurdistan”. Reality is defined in Merriam Webster’s dictionary as, “The quality or state of being real” and this realness does not discriminate against minorities, nor does it adhere to majority rule, rather the real reality is the truth, and the historical truth is that the North of Iraq was and still is Assyria.
This essay will argue that Louis Riel and the Métis resisted Canadian imperialism in their quest for the right to individual identity at Red River. It will also compare these events to the Assyrians of Hakkari highlands and the modern Assyrian struggle in their homeland today. Canadian occupation of Red River can be likened to the Kurdish occupation of the Assyrian homeland. The Métis wanted the ethos of equality instituted before choosing to enter into Confederation with Canada. Métis patriotism ignited when learning of the sale of their homeland to Canada and from the marrow of this partisan act all the inevitable events unraveled.
In the case of the Métis people a Multiculturalism Policy could have been negotiated and instituted upon the Métis entering confederation and this would have been part of a solution for the Métis, but Canada unfortunately never gave them such hope. Today Canada has a very interesting National Multicultural Policy, which was announced in 1971 by Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Similarly the Assyrians could benefit from such a Multiculturalism Policy and it should be negotiated and instituted into Iraqi law for the protection of indigenous peoples and all minorities in Iraq. This though would of course only be a first step in a thousand mile walking journey towards humanitarianism in Iraq.
Multiculturalism should be a part of any good person’s vision for a just society, but multiculturalism cannot be created by the stroke of a pen on paper, because this sentiment must exist in the minds and hearts of a society, which believes in equality for all and justice for all. The strongest nations throughout history have been those who were made of different peoples from different races and cultures. Canada has learned these lessons after many years of debate and struggle. The Middle East should follow suit and learn to respect the rights of the Assyrians and all human beings.
Sale of the Métis Homeland and the Occupation of the Assyrian Homeland
The indigenous people of Red River like the Assyrians did not have records of ancient treaties nor books handed down to them by their ancestors to instruct them on how to proceed in regards to their land and their future. White man hence found it easy to exploit Red River using superior education and knowledge of policy and ownership of land. Such peoples also have had a hand in creating the country, which is called Iraq today, and also the Kurdo-Islamic constitution of Iraq, which as many people have written has not been created for the benefit of the Assyrian people.
There were such Anglophone settlers in Red River which were also insensitive to Métis culture, as the culture of the indigenous people of Assyria are not welcomed in most of their homeland. During the Red River Resistance there were many advocates for Canadian expansionism, and in Iraq today there are numerous advocates for Kurdish expansionism. The Métis were worried about their future in the area since they also knew of European ideology that labeled them as degenerate half-breeds similar to how the majority of Muslims viewed the Assyrians of Hakkari highlands and how the Assyrians are viewed in their homeland today.
“French Métis resented that they had not been consulted over sale of their homeland.”[vi] Homeland is an integral part of identity, as land becomes part of customs and the soul of the people. The people of Red River had supported and upheld the Hudson’s Bay Company. They felt betrayed when their land was sold to Canada, a foreign power, and peoples who had not resided on the land for generations. The lands of Assyria are in similar hazard because they have been handed out freely to whomever the powerful nations have considered “worthy” and have been occupied by whomever has been strong enough to steal a piece of the pie. No care or concern by Canada for the future of the indigenous peoples of Red River was given. Therefore the Métis like the Hakkari Assyrians wanted to fight for their nation, religion, and for their right to exist and live as free men and women.
Louis Riel expressed that the Hudson’s Bay Company, the same that sold their homeland, had also abused and kept down the Métis. They treated the Métis as if they were slaves, the same level as the occupiers of Assyria want to keep the Assyrian people. The Métis had resided in the Red River region for generations but had never thought about ownership of the country as our Assyrian forefathers did not foresee the loss of their land to nomadic peoples such as the Kurds. The notion of owning land was not part of their ideology. Red River had been a vibrant society prior and up to the time of the resistance “…civilized by every test except that of self-government…Red River was not a frontier but an island of civilization in the wilderness.”[vii] There was extreme poverty at Red River and there were also complains by the settlers of officials taking advantage of the tragic famine of the people making them work for inhumane wages, mocking the distress of the country and people driven by hunger.”[viii] This is the same situation the Assyrians of Iraq are facing today, as simple people are being exploited by Kurdish officials in the North of Iraq.
The Métis were expressing their concerns. They wanted to be treated as equals, free men, and not as slaves and they felt they been sold along with the land. When as a result of these actions the Métis sought to achieve equality, their human rights and nationhood, white men called it a crime, treason, just as many of the officials from Iraq call the aspirations of the Assyrians.
From a Memorandum by Sir John Macdonald on the necessity of delaying the transfer of Métis land to Canada, it said that any quick attempt by the Canadian Government to force their rule upon the Métis would probably result in armed resistance and bloodshed.[ix] Therefore, Canada was aware of Métis concerns and their willingness to fight for their ideals and human rights if those were not freely implemented, yet Métis land was still sold and their rights were still not guaranteed. The Assyrian people on the other hand do not want any unnecessary bloodshed in their ancestral homeland today. The Assyrian people remember all too well the many massacres, which befell their nation. Hundreds of thousands of Assyrians died in World War I, no one is sure of the exact number, but this genocide is called the Seypa Genocide. Assyrians from Europe call this genocide Seyfo. We must also not forget the Simele Massacre of August 1933 where thousands of innocent Assyrians were killed under the sword of the Iraqi government covered by the British mandate.
The Métis wanted to negotiate with the opposition but did not get the opportunity, so they arose and defended themselves and the place they called home. The Métis wanted the ethos of equality instituted before choosing to enter into Confederation with Canada, and Métis patriotism ignited when learning of the sale of their homeland to Canada, as a child is outraged and screams at the sight of an attack on his mother. The Métis took part in a small revolution and fought against the Canadian government. The Assyrians also fought in the days of Hakkari. When Mar Benyamin Shimun deciding to declare war on the Ottoman Empire he told his people, “We may perish in the wilderness but we shall perish as a free nation in command of its own destiny.”[x] In the last stanza of the Deacon Shamasha’s Ephraim’s war song it said:
“On the Tigris banks lies Nineveh the Holy;
Her old walls shall be as a diadem and crown
There alone, Assyrians, can our race be established.
Forth we go to battle in the name of Mar Shimun.”[xi]
The Assyrians of Hakkari like the Métis were fighting for the very existence of their wives and children and their future. History may not always be our friend but it is always a teacher. We can learn from all these events and through this we may carve out our own destiny now and today.
The Métis Provisional Government and the Election of an Assyrian Government
At a time of turmoil and very hazy national identity, tensions at Red River were high, predominately because of religious, linguistic, cultural, and geographic dissolution, just as life is stressful and unbalanced today in the land between the two rivers Tigris and Euphrates. The Métis provisional government was formed and led by Louis Riel. Such a government should also be elected and created to represent the Assyrian people in our homeland today. The Métis should be an example for all indigenous peoples who have been marginalized and all the ancient people of the world who are being exterminated. The Métis resisted Canadian imperialism because they wanted their individual identity rights guaranteed, including right to their French language, the right to their Roman Catholic religion, and right to their land claims. The Métis believed that a nation that had no government representing it was free to form its own government, rather than take on another that was not suitable for its needs, and this is a very interesting point for the modern Assyrian nationalists to think about logically. Although these events took place in the past that does not mean that they do not apply to a suffering and underrepresented people like the Assyrians in Iraq and in the world today. As the Assyrian nation and people become more organized they need to elect the new government of Assyria.
In the Circular letter to the People of the North-West from Louis Schmidt, Assistant Secretary of State it states:
“You know how we stopped and sent back over the frontier a Governor that Canada – that other English colony- ignoring our aspirations and our existence as a people, forgetful of the law of nations and our rights as British subjects, wishes to impose on us, without consulting us and without even warning us. You know also that, having been abandoned by our own Government, which has sold its title to this country, we saw the need to meet in Council and to recognize the authority of a Provisional Government, which was proclaimed on November 24, 1869.[xii]
Peaceful negotiations were initiated by Louis Riel who invited the English-speaking parts of the community to send representatives to participate in a convention for the purpose of considering the political state of Red River. The Métis refused to honor the authority of Canada, which they felt was exploiting them and had no right to impose on them a form of government, which was against their interests. The Assyrian politicians of today should also not involve themselves in governments of peoples who obviously want to marginalize our people and dictate to our nation an uncertain future. Louis Riel’s Provisional Government would eventually negotiate the Manitoba Act with the Canadian government. So many people’s throughout history and all around the world consider themselves worthy of a better future for themselves and their children, while most of the people of Assyria are afraid to feel entitled and accept anything which is handed down to them. The Assyrian people need to regain their confidence and collectively reach out to the many humanitarian individuals and organizations in the world. We need to share with the world the history of our plight to survive and our struggle to resurrect again.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement made between the English and France shattered some Assyrian hopes for an independent state. The Assyrians of Hakkari had associations with the British. They were their smallest ally! At one point Mar Benyamin Shimun said according to David Hay’s book No Through Road:
”We can expect no Russian offensive in our direction this year, it is clear and next year will be too late. The British, our allies from the west have landed in Basrah on the Persian Gulf to protect their oil pipeline…”[xiii] The interests of the allies always came before the Assyrian nation and for the followers of Mar Benyamin Shimun it seemed like this small nation had been betrayed by the world, by friend and foe, near and far.
McDougal Enters Red River and the “Governors“ Adverse to the Assyrian Dream
In the summer of 1869, the Canadian Government, keen to confirm its authority over the Red River area, sent a surveying crew under John Stoughton Dennis to measure out the land into square-mile lots based on the Ontario system. The Métis led by Louis Riel prevented Canadian surveyors from running their lines in the Red River Settlement. In defense of these actions Louis Riel stated that the Canadian government had no right to make surveys without the permission of the people of Red River.[xiv]
One of the first acts the Métis Provisional Government was to draft a letter telling William McDougall, who was travelling to Red River, to take up his duties as lieutenant governor at Fort Garry, but that he could not enter Red River without their permission.
Despite the letter, McDougall decided to push on towards Red River. He brought with him a council entirely composed of men who the Métis knew nothing about. He was therefore forced to turn back by a Métis barricade. The Métis were not opposed to McDougall’s entrance but they would not let him enter unless their rights were guaranteed. Riel considered McDougall’s entrance an invasion and stated, “By laying down our arms, we open our doors altogether too wide to those whom we ought not to allow invading us.”[xv] The Assyrian people should take this example and also not accept any “governors” who are adverse to the Assyrian people’s future and the Assyrian Dream. To some the idea of dreams may be unrealistic but dreams are not unreachable, they are long term goals, which a nation must work hard for and eventually realize. We have all heard of the famous speech by Martin Luther King Jr. called, “I Have a Dream” where he expressed his desire for peoples of different races and ethnicities to coexist harmoniously. We should all embrace a dream and through it help our nation and the world. All indigenous nations need leaders such as Louis Riel and Mar Benyamin Shimun who were unselfish and willing to honorably work for the rights of their people’s dreams.
Fort Gary and the Indestructible Spirit of Louis Riel and Mar Benyamin Shimun
In an act of great national importance to the Métis, Riel assumed control of Fort Garry on November 2, 1869. The Métis heard about Canadian meetings and feared that they would want to try and take over Fort Garry from the Hudson Bay Company, and establish their own control over the Red River Settlement. Early one morning the Métis crossed the river and took over Fort Garry. “… In the Fort Riel convinced of the great danger which the people ran, sent everyone away during the night; he, however, insisted on remaining in the Fort with O’Donoghue.”[xvi] On leaving Louis Riel consoled himself by saying, “No matter what happens now the rights of the half-breeds are assured by the Manitoba Act that is what I wanted –My mission is finished.”[xvii]
Louis Riel may have thought his mission finished, but he did not foresee the grave danger he personally would be in, and that his worldly mission was soon over. Mar Benyamin Shimun also had a sad fate as Louis Riel but their spiritual missions did not end during death, as we remember them today, whereby their souls and their visions would reach all the ancient and indigenous people who are being exterminated in the world today.
The Métis Bill of Rights and the Requesting of Assyrian Rights
The Métis Bill of Rights was drafted December 1, 1869 by the provisional government. If the Canadian government had negotiated the rights of the Métis in a fair and democratic way, the Métis may have never resisted Canadian imperialism. What the Métis were seeking is similar to what the Assyrians are seeking today in their homeland. The guarantee of their rights, the right to elect their legislature, that all privileges, customs, and usages existing at the time of the transfer be respected. That McDougall guarantees these rights before he is to be admitted into the territory, and that they have a full and fair representation in the Canadian Parliament.[xviii]
The Métis were asking for what any nation would want guaranteed before entrance as part of a foreign and new power and country. Most Assyrian lands have been seized by external powers. Ten years down the road and fifty years down the line we may have to make similar decisions as the Métis did, so the Assyrians have to diligently request similar rights today. The Assyrians need a government to represent them and request these rights. Sad as it may be, in the future the Assyrians as the Métis may not have a choice of whether they want to merge with one country or another. The Assyrians have expressed a desire for a safe haven in Iraq and maybe even their own region in the future, and they for the most part do not want to separate as part of a new Kurdish State if Iraq was going to be divided in the not so distant future.
The Dominion of Canada would have always found the Métis ready to enter into negotiations favorable to Métis prosperity, yet Métis prosperity was adverse to the Canadian dream and Assyrian prosperity is adverse to the dream that can be called “an alliance of selfishness”. Iraqi Kurdistan, which has gained official recognition internationally as an autonomous federal entity is a small part of the Kurdish dream of nationhood and statehood. Even in my first year political science class years ago the Kurdish nation’s aspirations were mentioned and they were considered by Professor Gecelovsky as a “many state nation” who have suffered and deserve their own country. When I asked him about the Assyrians he said, “Oh, the missing case of the Assyrians.” Many people believe that one of the Kurdish politicians and leaders dream is to annihilate that which is called Assyria because as someone very wise I know always says, “He who is out of geography is also out of history.” Meanwhile the Assyrians are fighting over names and churches, while their nation is escaping the homeland and their lands are being stolen. Unless the Assyrian national philosophy changes in the days, months, and years to come, the destiny of the Assyrians will be similar to that of the Métis, if not worse. The Assyrians will lose all their lands, their towns and villages to intruders, as they have so many times throughout history and in so many places, and their rights will not be officially guaranteed unless the mindset of the Assyrian people especially their politicians changes. Every Assyrian individual needs to become an ambassador for Assyria. We may not have the quantity of people of other nations but we can certainly work on the quality of each Assyrian individual. Everyone can do their part in their own way. We need to be a nation of revolutionaries. At one point in our history we preached the Gospel to the world, we need to preach the new Gospel of the homeland which belongs to us!
The Manitoba Act and a Assyrian Majority Province in Iraq
The Manitoba Act incorporated some of Louis Riel’s demands, such as separate French schools for Métis children and protection of Catholicism, but those rights were largely ignored and Métis claims to land were denied. The Official status of their French language was revoked. Hence, Louis Riel’s concerns for his people were in their right place. “The victory negotiated into the Manitoba Act soon proved hollow as the Canadian government adopted a variety of strategies to ensure that the Métis did not receive the lands promised them.[xix] “The Manitoba Act failed to resolve the grievances underlying the Red River Rebellion because Canada for the most part and from the outset had never been prepared to accept a Métis-majority province…”[xx] This is the reality of the history of the birth of Canada and the New World. Fully confident individuals and nations would not deny the rights of peoples of other nations. Canada was not prepared to accept a Métis-majority province and I`m not certain if Iraq is willing to accept an Assyrian-majority province. The League of Nations had similar policies concerning the Assyrians of Hakkari as the Canadian government had about the Métis:
“The Assyrians had asked that they might have the right to reside as formerly in their old homes, which had been theirs before the Turks came out of Mongolia, living there under such government as they should elect for themselves, according to the principles laid down by the League itself. The League decided that they were rebels against the Sultan, their own natural lord. Therefore they had no title for consideration, but must go back as the natural subjects of the Turk—who had just deposed that Sultan—and submit to the mercy of those who were in the very act in article massacring all of their kin on whom they could lay their hands. It was a flagrant and disgraceful denial of the very principles for which the League exists, and one of a series of cases in which the League which professedly exists for righteousness among the nations has given decisions based on expediency rather than justice, and has abandoned the weak who have trusted to it, lest the strong should repudiate its jurisdiction.”[xxi]
Even organizations such as the “League of Nations” which was founded on the principle of justice and helping the weak did not keep to their promises where it concerned the Assyrians. This is one of the many reasons why the Assyrian nation and its leaders need to awaken to the reality that exists in the world of today, but this reality should not be used as an excuse for our politicians to betray our nation.
French Canadians have always thought Louis Riel and his cause victim of Ontario Protestant religious and cultural racism. Louis Riel’s actions at Red River were inflamed by his concern for the property, language, and religious rights of the Métis peoples, which he felt would not be preserved, nor freely given, neither the claims to the land recognized, as those of their ancestors were not. The Red River Resistance describes the actions taken by the Métis that formed the provisional government after the Confederation of the British Colonies of Eastern North America. The Métis of the Red River Resistance like the Assyrians of Hakkari were strong in muscle, but their problem was that they were scattered and disunited. Only the strong survive where the game of “survival of the fittest” is played. No matter how big of a heart or spirit a nation has the reality is that usually those with more weapons are left standing in the end. The Assyrians of Hakkari took on and old empire and the Métis took on a new empire with similar results. No one knows how many people died exactly in the days of Hakkari and also in the days when the Metis fought for their rights.
Mar Benyamin Shimun the Patriarch of the Assyrians was a victim of the love he had for his nation, for he knew the danger in going to meet the Kurdish Agha Simko, but he went anyway because he believed that if he could persuade him on a truce then he could save many people from his Assyrian nation, and thus save their identity and propel it into the future whereby the children of Assyria could have the hope of prospering. The right to identity is one of the most controversial issues haunting the world’s humanitarian progress today especially because the leaders of democracy and freedom in the world are themselves new nations who have taken over lands of more ancient peoples. The forcing and the restricting of identity are inhumane even forcing your own child to conform to the mirror image of his father who he does not resemble is wrong. Canada as Assyria was a multicultural community from its beginnings. The world must accept multiculturalism because the earth is a mosaic of cultures. The Red River Resistance was in fact a resistance, which its roots lay in an identity crisis that North America was experiencing at the time similar to the identity crisis Iraq is facing today.
The declaration of war by the Assyrians against the Ottoman Empire is an example of the hopelessness which was felt by the Hakkari Assyrians who were being targeted because of their Christian religion and because they were Assyrians, the sons and daughters of a great civilization which appeared upon the earth in the early days when the world was still young. Basic components of identity are language, religion, customs, as well as relation to the land. This is what the Métis and the Assyrians of Hakkari and of today are struggling and asking for. Requesting ones right does not make a people insurgents even if they unite to take up arms as the Métis and the Hakkari Assyrians did. How much of a treasure for the human soul for the Métis and the Assyrians to maintain their distinct way of life.
After the Red River Resistance, when Métis moved to their new territories, they again demanded land guarantees, but when the Canadian government largely ignored their requests, they asked Louis Riel to lead another protest. The Canadian government dispatched troops west and defeated the Métis at Batoche. Riel was found guilty of treason. The following words are from Louis Riel’s trial a few months before his hanging:
“For fifteen years I have been neglecting myself. Even one of the most hard witnesses on me said that with all my vanity, I never was particular to my clothing; yes, because I never had much to buy any clothing. The Rev. Father Andre has often had the kindness to feed my family with a sack of flour, and Father Fourmand. My wife and children are without means, while I am working more than any representative in the North-West. Although I am simply a guest of this country – a guest of the half-breeds of the Saskatchewan – although as a simple guest, I worked to better the condition of the people of the Saskatchewan at the risk of my life, to better the condition of the people of the Saskatchewan at the risk of my life, to better the condition of the people of the North-West, I have never had any pay. It has always been my hope to have a fair living one day. It will be for you to pronounce – if you say I was right, you can conscientiously acquit me, as I hope through the help of God you will. You will console those who have been fifteen years around me only partaking in my sufferings. What you will do in justice to me, in justice to my family, in justice to my friends, in justice to the North-West, will be rendered a hundred times to you in this world, and to use a sacred expression, life everlasting in the other.”[xxii]
The Canadian government created the dominion of Canada without consulting the original owners of the land, the Aboriginal peoples, and in the Red River Settlement later on, they tried to force the Métis into Confederation as the province of Manitoba without guaranteeing their rights. The same types of policies and pressure upon the Assyrian leaders and people are occurring in Assyria today. Canada thought it right to take over the area which the indigenous people had resided on since time immemorial, without consideration for indigenous people. Canada is thought of by many as a more advanced country than the countries in the Middle East and look at how they treated the indigenous peoples of their land! As humans it can be difficult to comprehend how the oppressor deals with the oppressed, although the way the Assyrians are being treated today is corrupt we should not be surprised by the actions of the tribal peoples who reside and have the power in what is today called Iraq. This is the struggle attached to being a religious and ethnic minority in the Middle East, which seems to be synonymous to being insignificant.
All the Métis wanted was sovereignty upon entering into Confederation with Canada. The Métis are still struggling for their rights today. The principle of self-determination was defined in article 1 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which became international law in 1976: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic social and cultural development.”[xxiii] John Weinsten the author of the book Quiet Revolution West has the following to say about the definition of self-determination by the United Nations:
“Although hailed as a universal right of peoples, in practice, self-determination had been applied to independent states or to externally colonized peoples on their way to becoming independent states. It had not been extended to minority nationalities and indigenous peoples within independent states. These minorities and indigenous peoples saw themselves as being subject to an internal form of colonialism, a denial of their collective right to develop as distinct national communities within these states.”[xxiv]
Multiculturalism may be the only hope for indigenous peoples such as the Métis and the Assyrians. With multiculturalism comes the hope of peoples of various cultures, religious beliefs, languages, and skin colors to coexist harmoniously. Multiculturalism can be linked to universal humanitarian principles. A Multiculturalism Policy could have been one of the solutions for the Métis issue and prior to the Red River Resistance. The organizing of a policy to protect Assyrians similar to that of Canada’s modern Multiculturalism Policy[xxv] could be something worthwhile Assyrian leaders can work on. This policy may not achieve all of the dreams of the Assyrian people, but it is one more step along the road of a thousand mile journey towards humanitarianism in Iraq.
A Multiculturalism Policy though is just a written document whereas true multiculturalism has to be part of the psychology of the people, and the idea must be in the hearts and minds of those who see beyond ethnic lines and who understand that acceptance of peoples of other ethnicities and religions should be the foundation of every just nation.
[I] Hartwell Bowsfield. 1969. Louis Riel: Rebel of the Western Frontier or Victim of Politics and Prejudice. 5.
[ii] Alexander Begg. 1956. Red River Journal and Other Papers Relative to the Red River Resistance of 1869-1870. 527.
[iii] David Hay. 1966. No Through Road. 4.
[iv] David Hay. 1966. No Through Road. 71.
[v] Alexander Begg. 1956. Red River Journal and Other Papers Relative to the Red River Resistance of 1869-1870. 491.
[vi] Chad Behariell. Class Notes: Jan.17th and 19th 2006.
[vii] Hartwell Bowsfield, 1969. Louis Riel: Rebel of the Western Frontier or Victim of Politics and Prejudice. 5.
[viii] Alexander Beggs 1956. Red River Journal and Other Papers Relative to the Red River Resistance of 1869-1870. 400.
[ix] Alexander Beggs, 1956. Red River Journal and Other Papers Relative to the Red River Resistance of 1869-1870. 453.
[x] David Hay. 1966. No Through Road. 118.
[xi] David Hay. 1966. No Through Road. 123.
[xii] Alexander Begg. 1956. Red River Journal and Other Papers Relative to the Red River Resistance of 1869-1870. 522.
[xiii] David Hay. 1966. No Through Road. 130.
[xiv] Alexander Begg. 1956. Red River Journal and Other Papers Relative to the Red River Resistance of 1869-1870. 27.
[xv] Alexander Begg. 1956. Red River Journal and Other Papers Relative to the Red River Resistance of 1869-1870. 491.
[xvi] Alexander Begg. 1956. Red River Journal and Other Papers Relative to the Red River Resistance of 1869-1870. 595.
[xvii] Alexander Begg. 1956. Red River Journal and Other Papers Relative to the Red River Resistance of 1869-1870. 565.
[xix] Sarah Cartier. Categories and Terrains of Exclusion, Constructing the Indian Woman in the Early Settlement Era in Western Canada. 25.
[xx] John Weinstein. 2007. Quiet Revolution West the Rebirth of Métis Nationalism. 13.
[xxi] Rev. W. A. Wigram. 1929. Assyrians and Their Neighbours. 236.
[xxiii] John Weinstein. 2007. Quiet Revolution West, The Rebirth of Métis Nationalism 106.
[xxiv] John Weinstein. 2007. Quiet Revolution West, The Rebirth of Métis Nationalism. 106.