Let’s Remember: Louis Riel, 1844-1885


Louis Riel was born on October 22, 1844, one hundred and seventy five years ago today.  On November 16, 1885, he was hanged after a farcical show trial with incompetent defence lawyers.  Riel is an example of what happens when an ethnic minority stands up against a government willing to use violence to either subjugate or eliminate people (see also: NODAPL, Ipperwash Crisis of 1995).
Riel’s story is a complex one, both hero and villain.  To many Metis and First Nations people, he stood up against prime minister John A. McDonald’s nationalism (A for alcoholic).  To the French, he was a victim of anti-catholic sectarianism and anti-French attitudes in Ontario.  To others, he would be described today as freedom fighter or terrorist, depending on your point of view.
Riel fought the Red River Rebellion against the Canadian government, wanting Manitoba’s independence from both Canada and the US (contrary to Ottawa’s claims of the Metis wanting to join the US).  McDonald used Riel’s execution of Thomas Scott as a pretext for military invasion of Manitoba and the show trial against Riel. Like some Indigenous peoples in other countries, the Metis suffered and were marginalized until they were no longer a recognizable group, assimilated into the Canadian populace.
There is a LOT more to the history than that.  I don’t have the time or expertise to tell it fully.

A related oddity for you: Thee Headcoatees (not a typo) were a garage-punk band from England.  In 1992, they released the song “Louis Riel”, a rewrite of the song, “Louie Louie”, incorporating events from Riel’s life.  Have a listen.

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