Legacy of Riel marked locally

Sam Odrowski

“Louis Riel Day” was held Friday and Métis nations around the country celebrated his life as a brave leader and the founding father of Manitoba.
Locally, a flag-raising ceremony was held in front of the Civic Centre. A lunch followed in the Sunset Country Métis Hall, where president Brady Hupet and mayor-elect June Caul shared a few words.
Hupet spoke about Riel and honouring him for the sacrifices he made for Métis people 133 years ago.
“Today [Nov. 16] is the day that he was unjustly hung by the Government of Canada,” Hupet told the Times.
Riel started to lead the Métis after hearing of the unrest beginning to grow in settlements on the banks of the Red River in 1868 in what is now known as Manitoba.
He learned of how the Métis people had growing fears that they would lose their way of life and ancestral lands.
During the Red River Resistance of 1869, Riel objected to the unlawful entry of the Canadian government into the west, saying he believed the west had the right to negotiate its own terms of entry into Confederation.
The Métis tried to protect the rights of all who lived there, which included First Nation, Métis, and European settlers.
With Riel, the provincial government drew up a list of rights to present to the Canadian government and through his leadership, the Manitoba Act successfully was negotiated.
In July, 1870, the province of Manitoba was founded.
Despite the Manitoba Act of 1870 guaranteeing Métis rights to their land, over the next 10 years, Métis families in the Red River area lost their land and homes to incoming settlers.
Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald expressed great disdain for the Manitoba Act and was quoted saying, “These impulsive half-breeds got spoiled by this emeute (uprising) and must be kept down with a strong hand until they are swamped by an influx of settlers.”
Riel, a strong representative of Métis people, was elected to parliament three times but never able to take a seat due to political pressures and a $5,000 bounty put on his head from the Ontario legislature, which had no jurisdiction in the matter.
He was forced into exile in the United States, but answered a desperate call sent out by the Métis in 1884 and returned to Canada.
Upon his return, he once again tried to protect the Métis rights to land and their way of life–but this time was met with a military response from the Canadian government.
The Northwest Resistance arose and after the rights of western landowners were unjustly decided in Ontario newspapers, where facts had been misrepresented or ignored, Riel surrendered on May 15, 1885 and welcomed a public trial to tell the Métis story.
“The biggest injustice is the rebellion that should not have ever happened in the first place,” said Hupet.
“Without the rebellion, he [Riel] wouldn’t have met his fate that way.”
The trial that was supposed to take place in Manitoba was moved to Saskatchewan, which was a territory at the time, where English, Protestant, non-aboriginal jurors found him guilty of treason.
Had the trial taken place in Manitoba, there would have been six French and six English jurors, which would have given Riel a better chance at survival.
The jury recommended leniency to judge Hugh Richardson but he ignored their pleas and sentenced Riel to death.
On Nov. 16, 1885, he was hung in Regina along with several other First Nations’ peoples as a message from Prime Minister Macdonald to the Métis and others who challenged Canada’s western expansion goals.
Since 2006, the Town of Fort Frances has celebrated Louis Riel Day and honoured the sacrifices he made while trying to protect the Métis people.
Hupet thanked Mayor Roy Avis for his support of Louis Riel Day over the years, and said he looks forward to building a strong relationship with mayor-elect June Caul in the near future.