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Riel defeat no cause for celebration

Who was Louis Riel? The Métis leader commanded two rebellions in western Canada and was tried, convicted and hanged for treason in 1885. Until well into the 20th century Riel was regarded as "misguided and impetuous" at best and a psychotic traitor at worst. But in the 1960s Riel's image began to turn around. Today most Canadians, particularly the Métis, have reclaimed him as a heroic patriot, founder of Manitoba and a Father of Confederation.

All across the country, citizens' groups are planning special projects to commemorate Canada's 100th birthday in 1967. But the Métis of Batoche, Sask., aren't so sure they want to join the party. At issue is a proposed re-enactment of the 1885 Battle of Batoche -- the event that ended the North-West Rebellion and sent Louis Riel to the gallows. In this CBC Radio clip, a Métis says some of his people feel the Centennial represents the victory of the white man. 
• In the 1960s there were very few groups devoted specifically to furthering the cause of the Métis. In their book The Métis: Canada's Forgotten People (Manitoba Métis Federation Press, 1975), authors D. Bruce Sealey and Antoine S. Lussier note: "Métis efforts to organize themselves had historically centred around a crisis and, when this had passed, the organization dissolved."

• One of the first political Métis organizations was the Canadian Métis Society, founded in 1968. It had branched off from a group called the National Indian Council, which was founded in 1961.
• The 1960s was a time of social change in Canada. Mainstream society was noticing the poverty and discrimination faced by native people. But Métis people, who had distinct issues from other aboriginal groups, often got lumped in with status Indians.

• Unlike the Métis, status Indians lived on reserves set aside for them and were entitled to privileges not available to Métis.
• Sealey and Lussier note: "Métis people found, to their sorrow, that when they presented their unique problems, the general public and many government officials translated the requests into programs and grants designed to help the Indians. The harder the Métis worked, the more attention Indians received."

• In this clip, guest Howard Adams says it's the white man who has made Riel a hero, but that for Métis the true hero is Gabriel Dumont. Dumont was an experienced buffalo hunter who led Métis and Indian military forces during the North-West Rebellion.
• Dumont, who was illiterate but spoke six languages, was one of the Métis who sought Riel's assistance in Saskatchewan.
Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: Nov. 21, 1966
Guest: Howard Adams
Reporter: Ted North
Duration: 3:59
Photo: Photo of Maj.-Gen. Frederick Middleton / National Archives of Canada / PA-026732

Last updated: January 29, 2014

Page consulted on January 29, 2014

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