Has Louis Riel Impacted Canada?
Louis David Riel was a Canadian politician, a founder of the province of Manitoba, and a political and spiritual leader of the Métis people of the Canadian prairies. He led two resistance movements against the Canadian government and its first post-Confederation prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. Riel sought to preserve Métis rights and culture as their homelands in the Northwest came progressively under the Canadian sphere of influence. He is regarded by many today as a Canadian folk hero.
Louis Riel- just the thought of his name stirs up visions in strong contrast to one another: rational leader- mindless lunatic; martyred hero- murderous renegade; unjust victim- guilty traitor. Some believe he deserves none of these titles, but many also believe he is worthy of all. Matching one of these labels to Louis Riel isn't the point I'm focusing on, whereas the repercussion he made on Canadian history is. Louis Riel was born on October 22nd 1844 in Red River Colony which is current day Manitoba. During the forty-one years he lived, Riel accomplished extraordinary feats. After his father's death, he took his rightful place as leader of the Metis, and inspired them with their much needed sense of national destiny. When the inhabitants of Red River were faced with land speculators surveying their land, young Louis came up with a plan to enforce their proprietary rights over the land. As a result of Louis' following actions, in 1869 the Red River Rebellion had commenced and Manitoba was one of the consequences. After another plea was made by a group of Metis, Louis Returns from his 5 year exile in the United States and the Northwest Rebellion was conceived. As a result of all the conflict in past years, Canada grew the most from the imprint left by Louis Riel.
The Place young Riel first impacted was very close to home, in fact it was his home. The Red River Settlement situated on what is now downtown Winnipeg. In 1860's control over Rupert's land was being questioned by Britain, Canada, and the United States. HBC was also interested in relinquishing control over Rupert's land for it was to vast a territory to rule. Consequently, Canadian and British Governments made a deal with each other on the transfer of Rupert's land from Hudson's Bay Company to Canada to deter further American Expansions. The company agreed to surrender its control over the Northwest Territory including Red River Colony to the British crown. When the Canadian government sent surveyors to organize the territory into sections and townships as preparation for the expected inrush of new settlers, the Metis feared they would be dispossessed. Once word of William McDougall's plan arrived in Red River, Louis organized a military force group to contend the Canadian takeover. The Metis prevented McDougall who had been appointed territorial lieutenant governor from entering the territory, and lay hold of Fort Garry and its munitions. The rebellion had just commenced. Riel and his supporters had no intentions of rebelling against the Canada, they just wanted to ensure the people of Red River would maintain their rights and traditions after the region was handed over to Canadian authority. Riel composed a provisional government to insure order and to be able to make an agreement with Canada to make the territory surrounding the Red River Settlement could be a contender at entering confederation as the province of Manitoba. Riel dreaded that if William McDougall were to take over he Red River Settlement, he would give members of the Canadian party power over the area and disregard the Metis. The Canadian party members were violently anti-French, and anti-Catholic. The main target of their prejudice was of course the Metis. With the Canadian party's leader Dr. John Shultz in control, the Metis would lose all their rights.
Riel was inclined to protect the Metis rights, and so forth the angered Metis drew up a list of rights. Louis was now fearing a civil war because Canadian party members were armed and ready to attack. A group of armed Metis led by Louis Riel were headed to Shultz's Canadian party headquarters. With the house surrounded, one by one, the Canadian party members surrendered and were then taken back to fort Garry. By that time Shultz had escaped. Intrepid, three members of the provisional government took a draft of their proposal to Ottawa to meet with Prime Minister John A. Macdonald. Meanwhile, Shultz's attempts at freeing the remaining prisoner's fails and several more of his followers were arrested, one of them was Thomas Scott.
Thomas scott was the most belligerent member of the Canadian Party. He verbally expressed his anti-Metis views, and threatened Louis Riel's life while imprisoned in Fort Garry. On March 4th, he was executed by firing squad. Sadly, Shultz had already made his way to Ontario where he publicized his views on the Metis and the execution of Thomas Scott. Once this reached the ears of government members in Ottawa, the delegates from Red River had a hard time getting Macdonald to recognize them. Finally their terms for Manitoba's admission into confederation was accepted by the government, but as a compromise for provincial control, Macdonald offered a grant of 200,000 hectares of land. On May 2nd 1870, Manitoba's admission was passed by the House of Commons. In late august 1870, Louis Riel flees to the United States and spends the next five years in exile.
Now the Metis are living in the Northwest Territory, and with a new environment comes new obstacles. In 1883, the Canadian government slashed the budget in its Indian department because they're more interested in obtaining the funds for the Canadian Pacific Railway, than give the Metis the fresh start as farmers they were promised. Receiving government food handouts was the only way the native peoples could survive. Sometimes food was not even given to "difficult Indians", as a result many of the aboriginal peoples were facing starvation. Louis Riel was called back into the picture after many years of exile in the summer of 1884, Riel and the Metis had no intensions of a rebellion against the Canadian government, they just wanted to be heard. Riel and a local farmer drew up a Metis Bill of Rights, this one was a lot more detailed than that of the past "List of Rights" in 1869. By the end of 1884, an uneasy tension was building, the CPR was not even close to being finished and yet they were bankrupt, and suspicions of a Metis revolt was feared. On March 19 1885, Louis held a meeting where he addressed the points to the Metis. He told them it is possible a peaceful resolution would come out of this, but the government is forcing a war on them, and that is what they will be given. Haywire began when a negotiation attempt between the NWMP and the Metis went sour. Half an hour goes by, two Metis were shot, twelve NWMP officers were killed, and twenty-five lay wounded. Another Rebellion led by Louis Riel had begun. Over 5000 Canadian troops were fanned out throughout the Northwest to put an end to this rebellion. A scrimmage south of Batoche in April prevented troops from entering the city until May, and once in the city, 175 Metis faced off with 725 Militia in a three day skirmish. Near the end, Riel and Dumont met up to confer about their situation. Frightened, Dumont fled with his family to the United States, and on May 15th Louis turned himself in as a plea to lighten the punishment on the rest of the rebels.
As Riel had planned, aboriginals who participate in he revolt were either pardoned or sentenced to a short jail term. Unfortunately, Riel himself did not get such a luxury. After his arrest, Louis was charged with high treason for rebelling against the Canadian government. This particular charge was punishable by death, and knowing the Canadian government, and their prejudice against Riel, they wanted to make him and example of their superiority. When Riel's lawyers asked the judge to admit all the Metis petitions to the government as evidence in Riel's defense, he refused. We need only look at the structure of this trial, how it was conducted and the jury to know that it was unfair Riel refused his lawyers desperate attempts to make him plea insanity, so in front of a six man English protestant jury, Louis pleaded his case, and that of his people. Louis was determined to show the mistreatment of his people, and try for sympathy, he even placed the weight of this suffering on the shoulders of the Canadian government. When all failed, Louis quoted "I am glad that the Crown had proved that I am the leader of the half-breeds, in the Northwest. I will perhaps be one day acknowledged as more than a leader of half-breeds, and if I am, I will have the opportunity of being acknowledged as a leader of good in the great country." Louis Riel was found guilty of high treason, and on November 16 1885 at approximately 8:30 AM, hanged until dead. The Canadian government refused to consider mercy.
Conclusion: Louis Riel has forever impacted the lives of Canadians, and Canadian history. By the age of 25 young Louis had already led his people through a successful rebellion, and consequentially became founder of Manitoba. After leaving to be exiled for five years, Louis is abruptly called back in need of by his people. The Northwest Rebellion was not something Riel had expected, but seemed to have been forced upon him. What first came out to be a peaceful revolution, ended with death, and near the end, Louis foresaw this. "We shall fail, perhaps, but the right for which we fought for will never die." It seemed with the Canadian government, when Louis Riel is brought up, a rebellion shortly follows leaving him with an unfair reputation. Nonetheless, a mere chapter in this man's life resulted in huge changes in Canada. Manitoba joined in confederation with Canada in the late 1860's early 70's, Canadians who attended Louis trial bear witnesses the true suffering of the Metis people, and Louis exposed the government's prejudice to all of Canada, though he did not know it then. Views of the Canadian government have changed from the passages recorded in history books, and especially those involving Louis Riel and the Metis. Finally, after around a hundred years, his long awaited dream of being known as "a leader of good" has come to pass.