Louis Riel was hanged for treason against the Canadian government more than 130 years ago but today, Canada's prime minister paid tribute to the Manitoba Métis leader.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in a statement issued Monday, lauded Riel as not only a founder of Manitoba but a champion of the values Canada's identity is now based upon.

Here is the full statement, released on Manitoba's ninth annual Louis Riel Day:

"Today, I join the Métis people, Manitobans, and Canadians across the country to commemorate Louis Riel: a champion of minority rights, a founder of Manitoba, and a key contributor to Canadian Confederation.

"Louis Riel made important sacrifices to defend the rights, the freedoms, and the culture of the Métis people. The ideals that Louis Riel fought for — ideals of inclusiveness and equality — are now the very same values on which we base our country's identity.

"As we work to renew a nation-to-nation relationship with the Indigenous peoples of Canada, including the Métis people, let us take a moment to reflect on the life of Louis Riel, and celebrate the many contributions of Métis communities to our great country."

Riel was hanged for treason at age 41 in 1885 and remains a controversial figure in Canadian history.

Trial of Louis Riel

Louis Riel (standing centre) addresses the court in Regina, listing the Metis grievances and outlining his vision for a diverse Canada, during his trial in 1885. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

Seen by many as a folk hero and protector of minority rights and culture, there have been demands made over the years for his retroactive pardon.

Others view him as a traitor who instigated war when he led two resistance movements against the Canadian government.

After he was executed in a public gallows in Regina on Nov. 16, 1885, Riel's body was transported to Manitoba. On Dec. 12, 1885, he was buried in the St. Boniface Cathedral cemetery, now part of Winnipeg.

On Feb. 18, 2008, Manitoba officially recognized the third Monday of every February as Louis Riel Day, a general provincial holiday.

Freedom fighter

Dwight Dorey, the national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, also issued a statement on Monday to celebrate Riel:

"Today we pay tribute to a man who fought to preserve Métis rights and culture. He defended his people against bigotry and racism, and was convicted of a crime he did not commit, for which he paid the ultimate price. He was a true freedom fighter.

"I hope both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people take time to reflect and pay tribute to the sacrifice that Riel made in the name of justice. Today we remember our history and learn from past mistakes to ensure this type of injustice never happens again."

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples represents the interests of Métis, status and non-status Indians, and southern Inuit people living off-reserve.

Riel at Canadian Museum for Human Rights

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) is hosting a number of events, including music, dancing, crafts and discussion, for Louis Riel Day.

In the Canadian Journeys gallery, visitors will find stories and exhibits about the Métis resistance, indigenous land rights and Franco-Manitobans' struggle for language rights.

Costumed interpreters will be on hand to answer questions and provoke discussion.

Bonnie & John Buhler Hall

  • 11 a.m. – Welcome by CMHR official family of Festival du Voyageur and mascot Léo La Tuque.
  • 11:30 a.m. – Theatrical performance for families.
  • 1 p.m. – Musical program opens.
  • 1:25 p.m. – Red Moon Road.
  • 2 p.m. – Ray St. Germain.
  • 2:35 p.m. – Patti Kusturok.
  • 3:10 p.m. – Sagkeeng's Finest.

In galleries

  • 10:30 a.m. to 12 noon – Beading workshop.
  • 11:30 a.m. to 12 noon – Photos with Festival du Voyageur official family and mascot.
  • 12 noon – Discussion of Métis rights in Canada led by former St. Boniface Museum director Philippe Mailhot.
  • 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. – Make your own clay beads.
  • 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. – Beading workshop.