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LETTER: A bit of history, recognizing Louis Riel Day

Letter to the editor

To the editor,

Louis Riel Day commemorates the anniversary of the execution of Louis Riel on Nov. 16, 1885, in Regina, Sask., by the Canadian government in the Northwest Résistance. Louis Riel was a fearless defender of Métis rights, Métis culture and identity.

Louis Riel Day is the most significant day in our history as Métis people. This day is a day of celebration of who we are as a unique people, our unique culture and traditions independent of other Aboriginal peoples.

On Nov. 16, we celebrate Louis Riel Day. Although most of us have heard of him, not everyone remembers why. He has been described as charismatic, a leader, a rebel, a traitor, the Father of Manitoba and even insane. So who is Louis Riel and how did he get his own holiday?

Louis Riel was born in 1844 at the Red River Settlement where he was the first of 11 children, born to a Métis father and French-Canadian mother. He was elected president of the provisional government formed during the Red River Resistance of 1869-70, and negotiated Manitoba’s entry into Canada in 1871. Riel was elected to Parliament three times, but never took his seat. He returned to the Northwest at the request of the Métis during the initial stages of the Northwest Resistance in 1884.

Following the defeat of the Métis at Batoche, Riel was tried for treason. His lawyers tried to plead insanity as his defense, but he denied those claims. He was found guilty of high treason in May 1885. Despite the jury recommending leniency, he was sentenced to hanging.

During his own life, Riel was recognized as the father of Manitoba and is currently acknowledged to be a founding father of confederation in Canada. In addition to advocating for Métis rights, Riel also fought for greater religious freedom, French language rights, First Nations rights, and greater gender equality throughout the Northwest. Riel died as a staunch advocate for the Métis and as a defender of minority rights in general.

It is Riel’s legacy that continues to attract Métis to remember the ideals and values that he died defending. For that reason, Métis across the homeland commemorate the anniversary of his death, as opposed to the day he was born. It is a day to celebrate the lasting culture and impact that Métis have had on Canadian society. It is a day to recount that Métis have long advocated democracy and freedom of expression for all Canadians.

In fact, in one of his trial speeches, Riel prophetically stated that he “will perhaps be one day acknowledged as more than a leader of the half-breeds, and…will have an opportunity of being acknowledged as a leader of good in this great country.”

The Aboriginal Cultural Centre and our very supportive community partners, Yellowhead Community Services, the BC Metis Federation and the Michif Historical and Cultural Preservation Society, will be hosting an event to commemorate this day.

Please see poster for information and details. You must pre-register, all COVID rules will apply and masks are mandatory indoors.

Yours in Community Spirit

Cindy Wilgosh

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