Thursday, May 22, 2008

"A Busy Half-Century" - #1

Part One: Proclamation

May 15, 1885
Rain Coast Province,
Dominion of Canada:

BATOCHE OVERRUN, RIEL CAPTURED read the headline of the Seathl Clarion the day after the battle. Another, associated article speculated on what would happen to the leaders of the abortive rebellion now that their provisional capital in Saskatchewan had been taken.

Actually, what would happen to Riel and the others was a foregone conclusion.

The copyboy read over the front page again and took the paper to his editor. “Here you are, Mr. Biber,” the young canine said.

August Biber (Augie to his friends, and Gus to his wife) took the paper and squinted at it through his glasses. The beaver idly picked up a paw-rolled cigarette, lit it, and smoked as he read the copy over, then passed it back to the copyboy. “It looks gut,” he said in his thick accent, his broad tail slapping at the back of the chair. “Let’s start printing them, Lester. And let’s make sure they all get delivered this time, ja?”

“Yes, sir.”

Moments later the presses started up and as the mechanical sounds and the rustle of paper began to fill the building Biber contemplated the lit end of his cigarette. Yes, the news of the suppression of Riel’s rebellion was bad, and he only hoped that the tribes who had supported him would not be punished too harshly by the government.

But their grievances had been legitimate.

Biber thought about the reaction of his fellow residents to the news, and what course of action they might take.

He had no way of knowing, of course, that action had already started.


June 7:

The largest town and capital of the province, Seathl sat at the end of its fjord, a large collection of wooden and stone buildings centered on a two-story building made of red bricks imported from San Francisco. The building housed the Provincial Assembly, the archipelago’s governing body.
Twenty-seven solemn faces lowered their copies of the newspaper and looked at each other. They were the representatives of the various districts of the Rain Coast, and included businessfurs as well as native tribal leaders.
The moody silence was broken by a gentle cough as the Assembly’s Moderator cleared his throat. Greg Montgomery had been elected to the post earlier in the year, and the canine had so far done a good job of keeping a lid on things.
Not any longer.
“It can’t go on like this,” John MacAllister was saying. The head of the local lumber collective added, “We pay too much for things now, and all the big combines out East do is siphon money away from us.” The burly bobcat growled as he splayed his claws out on the table. “And when, or if, that blasted railroad gets built, it’ll be more’n a siphon. It’ll be like a gusher.”
An equally well-built wolf nodded in agreement. Storm Cloud was chief of the Haida Nation on the Rain Coast. “We have all seen how the Dominion treated the Cree and the others,” the lupine said quietly. “The other chiefs and I are worried that the same things will happen to us – broken treaties, loss of hunting and fishing – “
“I agree,” an otter who was leader of the Tlingit said. “And do we have a Governor who can defend us? No. He was sent here by the government.”
Montgomery sighed. He’d seen this coming.
“Raven, I agree with you, and with John and Storm Cloud. Last month, I asked all of you to quietly go back to your districts and put a simple question to them. I also asked you to keep the answers from me until we could see what Riel was going to do in Saskatchewan. Well, we’ve seen it.
“So, we bring the question out into the open – what do the people want us to do? Paul, call the roll, please.”
One by one the twenty-seven district representatives voted, and when it was done the verdict was unanimous. When the final result was given to the Moderator the canine slumped in his seat.
MacAllister asked, “Right, we’ve voted. Who tells the Governor?”
Montgomery sighed. “I’ll tell him.”


June 10:
“Greg, you’re either drunk or crazy,” Charles Hanrattie spluttered, “and so’re all those idiots on the Assembly. Haven’t you read the papers? What you’re talking is treason, dammit!”
“Chuck, look,” Montgomery said patiently, “the Assembly knows what might happen – “
“Might? Might? Do you know what they do to traitors, Greg? What they’re going to do to Riel? They’re going to hang him, that’s what!” The Maine coon cat’s thick fur bristled as he waved his paws, pantomiming a hangman going through the motions. “Well, it’s going no farther than this. I’m the Governor, by God, and I’ll put a stop to this nonsense.” He walked to the door of his office, threw it open and bellowed at his secretary, “Fred! Get Captain Redpaw in here, now!” He slammed the door closed and stamped back to where the canine stood. Facing him eye to eye the feline asked, “Why are you doing this, Greg? We’re friends, or were – you can tell me.”
“Chuck, I’ve been trying to tell you for two years now,” Montgomery said. “Prices keep going up, everyone’s seen how Ottawa treats the natives – “
The feline waved the suggestion away irritably. “That’s lies, and you know it.”
The canine crossed his arms over his chest. “No, Chuck, I don’t know it. A lot of those people are my friends, and some have even married into my family over the years. You forget, I was born here.”
“Hell, no I haven’t forgotten, and that’s you’re trouble. You’re too close to these people.” There was a knock at the door. “Come in!”
The door opened and a cougar dressed in the khaki uniform of the Provincial Police filled the door. “You wanted to see me, Governor? Hi, Greg,” and he nodded to the Moderator.
“Reese,” Montgomery said.
“Captain Redpaw,” Hanrattie said, “as Governor of this province I am ordering you to place this man under arrest. In fact, I want you and your men to round up the entire Assembly and place them under arrest, too.”
Reese Redpaw blinked at his orders. “What’s the charge, sir?”
Hanrattie glared at Montgomery, lip curled in contempt. “Treason,” he spat.
The cougar eyed the canine. “This have something to do with the Assembly vote, Greg?”
“You knew about this, Captain?”
Redpaw shrugged. “You know, word gets around, Governor – “
“And it didn’t get to me, apparently. Turn over command to your aide and add yourself to that list, Redpaw.”
The cougar sighed and looked almost sympathetically at the Maine cat. “Governor, it’s like this – “
“If you – “
“SHUT UP!” the cougar roared, silencing the Governor momentarily. “Look, you, I was born here, just like Greg and the rest of ‘em. Hell, I was the first one in my family to be born in Saint Athanasius’, ‘stead of at home. We haven’t been getting a fair shake from the rest of Canada since my grandfather’s time.” He took a step back, a paw resting casually on his pistol. “You want to go tryin’ to arrest the Provincial Police, too, well, be my guest. Governor.”
Hanrattie glowered at the two men, then walked to the door. Montgomery asked, “Where are you going, Chuck?”
“I’m taking Lisa and the kids and getting out of here,” the feline declared. “I don’t want to be around when the Army comes to hang the lot of you.”
“I had thought of making you Ambassador.”
But he said it to the cat’s back as Hanrattie stormed through the outer office and out of the building.
Montgomery and Redpaw looked at each other. “So, that’s that,” the police officer said. “What’s next?”
The canine shrugged. “I guess we have to say something.”


June 12:
It was just before noon when the entire Assembly gathered out in front of the building and the bell in the structure’s cupola started to ring. The bell was usually used to announce some occasion or other, and it swiftly drew a small crowd.
Augie Biber checked to make sure his camera and photographer were in place before walking over to Captain Redpaw. “What’s going on, Kapitan?”
“Something important,” came the cryptic reply.
Greg Montgomery, prodded by a few of his fellow legislators, stepped forward and cleared his throat nervously. “I, um, have an announcement to read.” He drew a piece of paper from his coat pocket and began to read aloud.
“First, let me say, for posterity’s sake we do not take this step lightly or without due deliberation; indeed, we are all, singly and together, aware that we are committing treason by undertaking this course of action.” He paused to swallow. “But this decision was put to a vote by all of the voters of this province, and the decision was unanimous. Therefore, with full awareness of the gravity of the situation in which we find ourselves, the Assembly of the Province of the Rain Coast has voted unanimously to secede and forever separate itself from the Dominion of Canada and the British Empire.
“There are good and sufficient reasons for this great step.
“One, that the Government of the Dominion has repeatedly scorned our requests for a Governor who is native to our province and understanding of our unique situation;
“Two, that the Government of the Dominion has repeatedly demonstrated a profound lack of sympathy and callous disregard for the original inhabitants of this land;
“Three, that the Government of the Dominion has constantly drained away from this Province money and materiel resources that could be spent bettering the lives of its inhabitants, in order to aggrandize a wealthy few; and
“Four, that the completion of the current railroad project will only accelerate this process and leave us destitute.
“For these good reasons, the Assembly of the Province of the Rain Coast on this day, the twelfth day of June in the year of grace 1885, proclaims the severance of its ties with the Dominion of Canada and the British Empire and proclaims itself the Rain Coast Republic.”
The silence was deafening as Montgomery lowered the paper and added, “May God bless our new Nation.”
At that moment the Clarion photographer’s flash powder erupted, freezing the moment as the flag of the Dominion of Canada fluttered down from its pole, to be replaced with a plain and unadorned rectangle of dark blue.
One Assembly fur began, “God save our grac – “ then paused and stopped, abashed.
At the sight of the Canadian flag coming down there was a smattering of applause, and people turned away to go about their business.
Biber joined in the scattered applause and asked Redpaw, “So, it is done now, ja? What happens next, I wonder?”
“That’s in God’s paws, Augie,” the cougar replied.
Sehr richtig. But, why blue?”
A shrug from the big feline. “Best we could do on short notice.”


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