The creation of Manitoba was an exercise in statecraft. The languages of relevance to this particular exercise in statecraft were those of international statesmanship of the time used by the dominant colonial power, Britain. That language was decidedly English — though British colonial officials and diplomats also corresponded and negotiated in other languages.

For example, British statesmanship in dealings with Canada also included use of the French language. The history of the creation of the Dominion of Canada had resulted in a British, self-governing colony in which French was the predominant language in one section (Lower Canada/ Canada East/ Quebec and parts of New Brunswick), while English was predominant in another (Upper Canada/ Canada West/ Ontario and parts of New Brunswick, as well as virtually all of Nova Scotia). The initial act of confederating these British colonies into one dominion had protected French as a Canadian language of statesmanship.[i]

In negotiating the transfer of Hudson’s Bay Company territory in North America to the Crown, and then from Queen Victoria to Canada, both English-speaking and French-speaking Canadian officials were involved. Both French-speaking and English-speaking Canadian politicians had interests at stake when it came to expanding Canada’s geographic extent by annexing the vast stretches of Rupert’s Land (which included parts of the Labrador Peninsula and present-day Nunavut) and the North-West.

The politicians at Red River Settlement in Assiniboia, if they were to engage in statecraft with Canada in a manner that was acceptable to the Crown and Parliament of Great Britain and deserving of international respect, had, therefore, to respect the linguistic conventions and the cultural tensions of the “foreign country” of Canada.[ii] Thus, the politicians at Red River had to pay close attention to questions of French-English duality.

At Red River Settlement in the ‘home country’ of Assiniboia, Aboriginal languages pre-dominated. Aboriginal languages, however, were not regarded by the colonial power of Great Britain as languages of statecraft. British colonialism was marked by conceits, prejudices, and arrogance. First and foremost, a mythic ‘Anglo-Saxon’ superiority was propounded.[iii] Aboriginal people were not classed as ‘Anglo Saxon.’[iv] For the most part, by 1869, Aboriginal peoples of North America (and Indigenous peoples world-wide), were not regarded by British officials, nor by officials in their colonial possessions (such as Canada), to be nations capable of producing statesmen who were sophisticated enough to engage in statecraft.

Thus, although members of the Provisional Government of Assiniboia, including its legislators, might be more fluent in an Aboriginal language than in French and/or English, and even though they might discuss issues amongst themselves in Aboriginal languages, all official government business conducted at Red River was recorded and published only in French and/or English.

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[i] As John A. Macdonald observed, “The delegates from all the provinces have agreed that the use of the French language be one of principles on which the Confederation would be based.” See “Confederation: Benefit or Threat for the French-Canadian ‘Nationality’?,” in The French Language in Québec: 400 Years of History and Life, Part Three - French: A Compromised Status, archived by Conseil supérieur de la langue française, Gouvernement of du Québec, http://www.cslf.gouv.qc.ca/publications/pubf156ang/part%20three/chapter%206/complement%2026/c26confederation_benefit_or_threat_for_the_french_canadian_na%E2%80%A6.pdf (accessed 27 February 2013).

[ii] Arthur S. Morton, A History of the Canadian West to 1870–71, Being a History of Rupert’s Land (The Hudson’s Bay Company Territory) and of the North-West Territory (Including the Pacific Slope) (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1939), 829.

[iii] On ‘Anglo Saxons’ see Stephen Oppenheimer, “Myths of British ancestry,” Prospect Magazine 127 (21 October 2006), Prospect Publishing online, who argues that according to DNA analysis, the most common genetic markers show Basque/ Iberian origins predominate in the British Isles, not ‘Anglo Saxon’ (a notoriously difficult group to identify historically with any precision). By 1870, a characterization popular in government, anthropological, and missionary circles world-wide held that “Half-breed” individuals were ‘in-between’ people. They were positioned part way up an imagined socio-evolutionary ladder that had “savagery” at the bottom (which at that time was equated with ‘primitive man’) and that had “civilization” at the top (which was equated with ‘Anglo Saxons’). See Patrizia Palumbo, ed., A Place in the Sun: Africa in Italian Colonial Culture from Post-Unification to the Present (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 240; Christopher M. Hutton, Race and the Third Reich (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005), 72; Kenneth Thompson, ed., The Early Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, vol. 4, Race and Culture ser. ed. Robert Ezra Park (New York: The Free Press, 1950), 136, on Ezra Parks; Peter Watson, ed., Psychology and Race (New Jersey: AldineTransaction, 2007), 213–215; and Norma Jean Hall, “‘A Perfect Freedom’: Red River as a Settler Society, 1810-1870,” M.A. thesis (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2001), 11–12 and n. 24.

[iv] See Paul A. Kramer, “Empires, Exceptions, and Anglo-Saxons: Race and Rule between the British and United States Empires, 1880–1910,” Journal of American History (March 2002), http://www.jstor.org/stable/2700600?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents (accessed 27 February 2013), 1318.