Louis Riel Day, Toronto, 2005

People commemorate Louis Riel Day in front of Queen's Park in Toronto

Louis Riel Day, Toronto, 2005. This Day, 16 November, commemorates a famous Métis and Canadian leader. In 1869-1870 Louis Riel helped his people form a government in what is now southern Manitoba. This was done as a result of the frustration at the lack of action from the Canadian Government and in response to the transfer of Rupert’s Land from Hudson’s Bay Company. Riel established a provisional government to fill a governance void and to protect the rights of the people who occupied the lands. However good and well intentioned the Provisional Government was, it was seen as a revolution by the Government of Canada. For his part in the creation of the Provisional Government and its actions Riel was branded a traitor. A Canadian military expedition was dispatched and Riel learned that a number of the soldiers meant to lynch him. With a bounty on his head, he fled and was banished to the U.S. for five years. Nevertheless, the actions of Riel and the Metis resulted in many of their “List of Rights” being included in the Manitoba Act. Following the Red River Rebellion, large numbers of Métis traveled west and settled in the Saskatchewan Valley. In 1885 Riel was asked to return to Canada to present Métis grievances to the Canadian Government. Once again with the influx of settlers and immigrants, Metis rights were no longer being respected, their lands were being taken and the government was not listening. Their patience was exhausted and Riel led a rebellion against the Canadian authorities. The resulting military confrontation, the North West Rebellion, was complicated by political and economic factors as well as cultural and social issues. The Métis were vastly out-numbered and after fierce fighting the resistance ended. Louis Riel escaped and only after ensuring the safety of his family and freedom for his people, he surrendered. In spite of a controversial decision by the court, he was found guilty of high treason and hanged on November 16th 1885. Louis Riel was the founder of the Province of Manitoba and a defender of Metis rights. Riel remains one of the most complicated, elusive and controversial figures in Canadian history.

Courtesy of Scott Carpenter, Métis Nation of Ontario

© Scott Carpenter, Métis Nation of Ontario. All Rights Reserved.

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