The 1.4-million acre land grantThe Manitoba Act set aside 1.4 million acres of land for the children of the families of partial Aboriginal background in Manitoba. The expectation of the people of Red River was that they would be able to claim this land along banks of the various river systems of southern Manitoba. With this land they and their children would be able to continue their existing settlement patterns and to establish largely Métis and country born communities. It was a dream that went largely unfulfilled. Between 1870 and 1884 more than 4,000 of the 9,800 Métis and English-speaking country born left Manitoba, most of them going to Saskatchewan. Why so many left Red River so shortly after they had taken up arms to defend the community is a question that historians continue to debate.
Some historians have taken the position that that the federal government took deliberate steps to prevent the Métis and country born from claiming the land that they expected to settle. These measures included delay, changing the methods by which the land was to be distributed, ignoring existing Métis claims and assisting land speculators. Certainly, St. Boniface Bishop Alexandre-Anontin Taché was extremely critical of government policies that he felt undermined the claims of the original settlers. According to these historians, many of the original settlers and their children were cheated out of their land. The more charitable note that the government did little to protect the Métis and country born, while others claim the government actively supported the fraud.
Others argue that while there may have been delay and confusion on the part of the federal government, the Métis had been moving west from Red River during the years prior to 1870. This was not because they were rootless nomads, but because they were adapting to changes in trading patterns in the West. The developing trade in buffalo robes, it is argued, required that they spend less time farming and more time on the plains. Even these historians note that with the arrival of British troops, the assault on leaders of the resistance, and the government's failure to provide amnesty, many Métis did not feel comfortable or safe in Red River. Still other historians have taken the position that the Métis did in fact receive all the land that had promised to them—and possibly even more. This argument claims that the Metis were not really interested in engaging in large-scale farming and as a result, they sold their land and moved west to continue their lives as hunters, trappers, and small-scale farmers.