The NWMP: Development of Early Canadian Law Enforcement
The creation of the North-West Mounted Police in 1873 was the "ultimate expression of the federal government’s control over policing" (Johnson & Griffiths: 1991, 29). The North-West Mounted Police (NWMP), predecessors of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were created by the government of John A. MacDonald to police the prairies. Prior to the development of the NWMP, the only form of law enforcement came from employees of the Hudson Bay Company who had established their own penal code. The purpose of the NWMP was "to protect the ‘Indians’ from Americans and to bring the Queen’s justice to a lawless, dangerous territory" (Johnson & Griffiths: 1991, 30). However, some people contend that the NWMP was created not to aide the Natives but to assimilate them once the fur trade declined (Johnson & Griffiths: 1991). Whatever its purpose, 300 men set out from Manitoba in the summer of 1874 on the "Long March" to stop the "American lawlessness" from spreading (Johnson & Griffiths: 1991).
During the "Long March" the NWMP travelled along the U.S. border "to the den of the American whiskey traders and the source of most of their concern: Fort Hamilton", otherwise known as Fort Whoop-up (Johnson & Griffiths: 1991). Along the way to Fort Whoop-up, groups of Mounties stayed on at pre-designated locations to set up detachments. The final group that arrived at Fort Whoop-up found it deserted except for a small group of Natives. Many claimed that the Americans left out of fear of the Mounties. According to Johnson and Griffiths "the ability of Canada’s Mounted Police to maintain law and order on a vast frontier has become legendary, the quintessential Canadian image" (1991, 30).
Some critics argue that the NWMP force was a military reminder of the federal government and therefore local political activity was stifled (Johnson & Griffiths: 1991). Under the rhetoric of law and order the NWMP could manipulate the Native population, and preserve sovereignty, therefore, they provided the stability that was needed to encourage settlers to the Canadian West. Ultimately, the NWMP provided the manpower needed to enforce federal policy concerning the Native population of the prairies.
Initially, the Mounties were seen as the saviours of the Native population. After ridding the West of unruly Americans, a mutual respect developed between Mounties and Natives. Some historians maintain that due to their respect of the Mounties many Natives realised that assimilation was in their best interests (Johnson and Griffiths: 1991). According to Johnson and Griffiths "the nomadic, hunting lifestyle was abandoned, and the natives remained on reserves and were supervised by agents of the federal government, employees of the Department of Indian...