Louis Riel was a champion who fought for the rights of the Métis people, and who asserted that the Métis were a Nation in their own right. In creating the Provisional Government, he actually created the first government in Manitoba, and paved the way for Manitoba to join Confederation. Riel was elected a total of three times to an MP's seat in Parliament, for Provencher, Manitoba, once in a by-election on October 13, 1873 and once re-elected in the general election on January 22, 1874, when he travelled to Ottawa to sign the Oath's book [Riel never actually took his seat in the House of Commons, as MacKenzie Bowell, an Orangeman and fellow MP, moved for his expulsion on the basis of the death of Thomas Scott, also an Orangeman].
Over 100 years after his death, periodically a well-meaning proposal is made that in a path towards healing and reconciliation Louis Riel should be ‘pardoned’. This is extremely offensive to most Métis, as it implies that Riel did something wrong, for which he is being forgiven, when the position of most Métis is that the path towards true reconciliation lies in recognition of the Métis Nation, with its own constitution, self-government, and rights. Section 35.1 of the Canadian Constitution Act recognizes that along with First Nations and the Inuit, the Métis are recognized as one of three aboriginal peoples of Canada, and ‘the existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed’. As is the case, the devil is in the details, and subsequent to the Supreme Court of Canada Powley case and Daniels case, each affirming Métis rights and sovereignty, much work needs to be done to flesh out these rights and claims to Traditional Territories and the water around them, among other issues.
The historian Thomas Flanagan has written in his book, Riel and the Rebellion: 1885 Reconsidered, “As long as Canada exists, its citizens will want to read about Louis Riel because his life summarizes in a unique way the tensions of being Canadian: English versus French, native versus white, East versus West, Canadian versus American.” This mainstream point of view particularly aggrieves Métis, who maintain that through ethnogenesis the Métis became a distinct culture of their own.
Favourite Louis Riel Quotes
“In a little while it will be over. We may fail. But the rights for which we contend will not die.”
“We may be a small community and a half-breed community at that – but we are men, free and spirited men, and we will not allow even the Dominion of Canada to trample on our rights.”
“I suppose the half breeds in Manitoba, in 1870, did not fight for 240 acres of land, but it is to be understood that there were two societies who treated together. One was small but in its smallness it had its rights. The other was great but in its greatness it had no greater rights than the rights of the small, because the right is the same for everyone.”
“I have nothing but my heart, and I have given it long ago to my country.”