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1992: Ottawa declares Louis Riel a founder of Manitoba

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.

A bit more tarnish has been polished off Louis Riel's reputation. More than 106 years after a Tory government hanged Riel for treason, Brian Mulroney's government says Canada has "matured as a nation." This calls for the official recognition of Riel's, "unique and historic role as a founder of Manitoba and his contribution in the development of Confederation." Métis leaders tell CBC Radio the move is a step in the right direction.
• Louis Riel led rebellions against the federal government in 1870 and 1885.

• Riel approved the execution, by firing squad, of captured surveyor Thomas Scott during the original Northwest Rebellion at the Red River settlement.

• After the second rebellion in what is now Saskatchewan, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald's government agreed with a territorial court decision to execute Riel for treason.

• After Riel's death in November 1885, many Quebecers abandoned the Conservatives and voted instead for Sir Wilfrid Laurier's Liberals.

• The unanimous 1992 House of Commons vote was the result of an all-party agreement. The only complaint came from Nova Scotia MP Patrick Nowlan. According to Maclean's magazine, Nowlan said Parliament was "rewriting Riel history" to be politically correct.

• Nowlan worried that the move set a precedent that would allow Ottawa to declare Prime Minister Mackenzie King, "a security risk because he did things during the war according to a medium's ball."

• The resolution said Riel "paid with his life for his leadership in a movement which fought for the rights and freedoms of the Métis people -- those of mixed native and European ancestry -- to attain their constitutional rights."

• The opposition parties had unsuccessfully tried to persuade the government to go one step further and officially recognize Riel as a Father of Confederation.

• The day the resolution was passed, Riel's descendants told the Globe and Mail that the Riel name had for a long time been seen as anti-Canadian.

• "Years ago we said our name quietly, we were reprobates, we'd hide our head in the sink," said Peggy Riel, who married Louis Riel's great-nephew in the early 1950s. "I used to work at Eaton's and I'd wear my name tag. People would say, 'You belong to that traitor?'"

• In 1992, the Métis also won a Supreme Court decision recognizing them as an aboriginal nation in Canada.

• Yvon Dumont, speaking as the leader of the Manitoba Métis Federation in this clip, was Manitoba's Lieutenant-Governor from 1993-99.

• A poll commissioned by the Privy Council Office in June 2002 said 57 per cent of Canadians would support, "the Canadian Parliament passing a bill that would declare Louis Riel innocent of high treason," with 38 per cent opposed.

• In the poll, almost half of Canadians admitted they were not familiar with the Riel story and two-thirds of agreed that "having a debate on Louis Riel is pointless since we cannot go back and rewrite history."

• In 2004, Prime Minister Paul Martin said his government was considering naming Riel a Father of Confederation.

• "There is a great deal of interest in our caucus to basically have a very tangible recognition of Riel's contribution, not just to the Métis Nation, but to Canada as a whole. And we're very interested in proceeding on that," Martin said. As of 2006, when Martin lost in the January federal election, the government had not acted.

Also on March 10:
1796: Julia Catherine Beckwith (Hart) is born in Fredericton, N.B. At age 17, she became the first native Canadian to write a novel published in Canada. The book is called, St. Ursula's Convent.
1974: A former Japanese officer surrenders on Lubang Island after hiding in the Philippine jungle for 30 years. Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda did not believe WWII had ended until he received orders to surrender from his commanding officer.

Medium: Radio
Program: As It Happens
Broadcast Date: March 10, 1992
Guest: Yvon Dumont
Host: Alan Maitland, Ann Medina
Duration: 10:01
Photo: Library and Archives Canada / PA-139073

Last updated: October 30, 2013

Page consulted on February 13, 2014

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