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.