As part of Louis Riel Day, celebrated on February 15th by Manitoba, it seems important to us to present this man. Born in 1844, of a Métis father and a French-Canadian mother, even if he was little discussed in our history lessons, it is clear that in recent years, his career has interested more and more citizens across Canada.
Louis Riel was a Métis leader who, through his beliefs, defended the territory of his people in Western Canada and fought to protect his people from the Canadian government. A central figure in the rebellions, he is considered the founding father of Manitoba. Adopted in 1870, the law creating the province of Manitoba attests to the maintenance of denominational schools and of the educational rights and privileges existing to Protestant and Catholic minorities. In addition, it established that English and French would be the two official languages, because at that time, the population was made up of both Francophones and Anglophones.
Today, in Manitoba, almost 9% of the population (108,460 people) can speak French and English. However, French as a mother tongue is spoken by 3.4% of the population (43,207 people). (Commissioner of Official Languages, 2020). (Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages)
In 1882 a second movement arose again against the Canadian government’s encroachment on Métis lands on the banks of the Saskatchewan River. Louis Riel is called again to reinforce his people and organize an armed resistance. This time, the troops suffer defeat. Found guilty of high treason by an exclusively English-speaking jury in 1885 in Regina, Saskatchewan, Louis Riel was executed. His death caused an uproar in Quebec and gave rise to violent protests. In Montreal, nearly 50,000 people gathered at Champ-de-Mars to protest and hear various political figures denounce Riel’s execution.
Why broach the story of Louis Riel? Because it is important to highlight his career and his history. Louis Riel’s actions continue to resonate in the minds of Canadians and on the political scene of the country, reminding us of how much this man of the 19th century is still relevant today. If he remains the symbol of the split that separates East and West, Francophones and Anglophones, indigenous people and white people, on the other hand, his fight and his sacrifice are part of the values defended today on a planetary scale: the perspectives of a multicultural society, respect for the Other in his/her difference, openness to the natives and to minorities.
Therefore, Louis Riel, patriot and great Canadian, deserves the title of “citizen of the world”. (Encyclopedia of French Cultural Heritage in North America)
Learning our history helps us interpret the past, so we can better understand the present and envision the future.
Claire IsaBelle and the team!