A Snug Little Flock: The Social Origins of the Riel Resistance 1869-70


276 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-920486-50-9
DDC 971.05'1





Reviewed by William A. Waiser

William A. Waiser is an associate professor of history at the University
of Saskatchewan.


This is a revised version of Pannekoek’s doctoral dissertation, which
was defended almost twenty years ago. Its appearance is not only long
overdue but ironically timely—in large part because recent Red River
scholarship has become bogged down in a stalemate over statistics and
how they are interpreted.

Pannekoek directly challenges the standard interpretations of the
1869-70 Red River Resistance. He repudiates the idea that the resistance
represented a clash between “primitive” and “advanced”
civilizations. He also refutes the view that the colony was essentially
united and was reacting against the way in which the region was to be
integrated into confederation. Instead, he sees the troubles of 1869-70
as the climax of an internal, long-simmering sectarian and racial
struggle and suggests that the resistance can best be understood as a
civil war.

Pannekoek develops his argument around the activities of the Anglican
clergy in the Red River settlement in the mid-nineteenth century.
Determined to create, in the author’s words, a “Little Britain in
the Wilderness,” these clerics attacked the unique social, cultural
and economic features of the colony. Their efforts eventually resulted
in a society fragmented between white and aboriginal, Catholic and
Protestant, “halfbreed” and Métis, clergy and colony elite. In
particular, the English Protestant “halfbreeds,” by the 1860s, had
come to place their faith in British values and actually welcomed the
transfer of these values to Canada. In the end, though, the divisions
within the Red River settlement meant that the region could offer little
resistance to the post–1870 settlers and their values.

A Snug Little Flock is a provocative piece of work, especially the
suggestion that the mixed-blood population of the settlement was deeply
split along religious and linguistic lines. The idea that the Métis,
including the commercial leaders, were collectively opposed to Canadian
takeover is equally contentious. Pannekoek’s extensive use of church
records, moreover, sheds new light on the colony’s inner workings and
is to be commended. He demonstrates that Red River was a complicated
society, and confirms that simple explanations for the resistance are no
longer acceptable.


Pannekoek, Frits., “A Snug Little Flock: The Social Origins of the Riel Resistance 1869-70,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 19, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/31174.