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It is summer, 1884. Most folks in the fledgling community of Blaris in western Manitoba have had two to three years to establish their subsistence farms. All have the long-term view that when there are railroads to carry their grains and livestock to market, they will have the cash flow to survive. At the moment, they are growing pork, beef, chickens, and grain for flour, mostly for their own tables. Meanwhile, tensions are mounting further to the west in the valleys of the Saskatchewan. Many in Blaris have some appreciation and sympathy for the western causes, such as the plights of the Métis, many of whom left the Red River Valley in Manitoba following the conflicts of the 1870s. The Métis are again being hounded by the government in Ottawa, which has begun surveying the river lots that they had already established, mostly along the banks of the South Saskatchewan River near Batoche. The Métis want recognition for the provisional government they established in the absence of any interest from the East. In short, they want some control over the laws and structures of the land on which they live.
The Prairie Indians, who had signed Treaty 6 with the Queen in 1876 at Fort Carlton and are reluctant to occupy the confining Indian reserves that they had been allocated, are suffering from severe malnutrition. Without the prairie bison on which they had depended for generations, they now face starvation. In addition, they—especially their children and elders—are being decimated by diseases such as scarlet fever, smallpox, and measles. There is no sign of the medicine chest that they had been promised in the treaties. Back in western Manitoba, the settlers’ nightmare is that the Indians and the Métis will find common ground and unite their formidable warrior skills to drive the settlers from their lands. Accounts of the bloody Sioux uprising in Minnesota only twenty-two years earlier fan these fears.
Unrest is rampant.