Louis Riel Day cause for celebration
Just as Louis Riel Day was marked across Canada yesterday, a celebration of the protector of Métis rights and one of the Fathers of Confederation was held at the Sunset Country Métis Hall here.
More than 120 people turned out to enjoy a buffet supper, including moose roast donated by Captain of the Hunt Dean McMahon, as well as hear and dance to music performed by district entertainers.
“Louis Riel Day takes place on the anniversary of a great tragedy—the execution of Louis Riel on Nov. 16, 1885,” read Theresa Stenland, Region 1 Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) councillor, who delivered a message on behalf of MNO president Gary Lipinski, who was attending Louis Riel Day celebrations in Ottawa.
“Riel’s only crime was that he defended the rights of his people, our people, the Métis,” Stenland stressed.
“Although he fought for the Métis rights in the west, his resistance had repercussions for Métis in Ontario, as well,” she noted. “We were labelled traitors and for generations our culture was forced underground.
“We became the ‘forgotten’ people.
“Over the years, however, we began to assert ourselves and take up the mantle of Louis Riel,” Stenland added. “We founded the Métis Nation of Ontario, and with Steve Powley we asserted out Métis rights.
“Every day that we work together as MNO citizens, we are seeking the same rights that Louis Riel defended.
“Louis Riel’s battle did not end on Nov. 16, 1885 because we are fighting it today,” Stenland reasoned. “It is for that reason that Louis Riel Day, Nov. 16, 2011, is a day that celebrates our resilience as a people.
“It is a day we remember what we have achieved so far, and it is a day we steel our resolve so Louis Riel’s dream can be a reality for our children.”
Sunset Country Métis president Clint Calder said the message of Riel must be passed on to the youth.
He then passed the microphone over to Ericka Tymkin, daughter of Sunset Country Métis women’s representative Michelle Tymkin, who delivered a speech on the history of Riel.
The story goes as follows: Riel’s maternal grandmother, Marie-Anne Gaboury, was the first white woman to live in Western Canada, travelling there with her husband in 1806.
Riel’s Métis father, Jean Louis Riel, worked for the Hudson Bay Company here in the Lac la Pluie District, as it was then known. He joined the Hudson Bay Company in 1838 and left our area in 1842—two years before his famous son was born.
Riel is known for leading two resistance movements against the Canadian government, seeking to preserve Métis rights and culture.
The first was the Red River Resistance of 1869-1870. Riel established a provisional government to negotiate terms under which the modern province of Manitoba entered Confederation.
But this victory only lasted for a few months. Riel, who still is frequently referred to as the “Father of Manitoba,” was forced into exile in the United States as a result of the controversial execution of Thomas Scott.
While Riel was president of the provisional government, Scott was tried, found guilty, and shot by a firing squad. Ontario had no jurisdiction in this matter, yet the Premier of Ontario put a $5,000 bounty on Riel’s head.
While a fugitive, Riel was elected three times to the Canadian House of Commons but was never able to take his seat because of this $5,000 bounty.
During these years, Riel was frustrated by having to remain in exile despite his growing belief that he was a divinely-chosen leader and prophet—a belief which later resurfaced and influenced his actions.
He married in 1881 while in Montana and fathered three children.
Riel was persuaded to return to what is now the province of Saskatchewan to represent Métis grievances to the Canadian government. This resistance escalated into a military confrontation known as the North-West Rebellion of 1885.
It ended in his arrest, trial, and eventual execution on a charge of high treason.
“Louis Riel stood up for the rights of a group of people that should have had significant rights,” noted Tymkin.
“Undeniably, Louis Riel was a national hero, and he still is today,” she added. “Though he may have done some things that upset the government, all of his actions have contributed to building Canada up as a nation.
“It is still evident today,” Tymkin said. “Canada has the province of Manitoba. Also, the Métis have been recognized and have grown to be equal in Canadian society.
“The trans-continental Canadian Pacific Railway still runs today thanks to Louis Riel.
“He is definitely one of Canada’s most important figures, and he is unmistakably a hero,” she stressed.
On a lighter note, musical entertainment was provided by Justin Boshey and Elmer and Clifford Whitefish, who got some folks jigging and square-dancing for several songs.
Eric Fagerdahl, Ericka Tymkin, Abbey Calder, “Intirely Mac” (Wayne and Danette MacIntyre), the “Sunset Country Chicks” (Brittany Hayes, Charity Rose, and Sandra Allan), and “Distant Legacy Band” (Justin Boshey, Mark Beachey, Brian Kabatay and Glen Tower) also took to the stage.
Special guest was John Bonin, manager of aboriginal affairs for Union Gas (Ontario), which had sponsored the fall harvest fish fry held last month at the Métis Hall.
Bonin said he is a good friend of MNO president Gary Lipinski, found he is always warmly welcomed by the Métis people, and he always looks forward to coming to Métis events.