Métis move Louis Riel Day event from Ontario's Northwest Rebellion monument

Historically, the speeches following the raising of the Métis flag on Louis Riel Day have happened in front of the Northwest Rebellion monument at Queen's Park in Toronto. This year the ceremony will move to the western side of the Legislature.

'That monument represents a violent struggle that took away our sovereignty,' says Métis historian

Métis leader Louis Riel was executed Nov. 16, 1885 for his role in leading the Northwest Rebellion. (Library and Archives Canada)

At the request of the Métis Nation of Ontario, the province's ceremony for Louis Riel Day has shifted locations this year.

Historically, the speeches following the raising of the Métis flag have happened in front of the Northwest Rebellion Monument at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto. 

This year the ceremony will take place away from the monument on the western side of the Legislature.

"That monument represents a violent struggle that took away our sovereignty as free people," said Jesse Thistle, a Métis-Cree historian.

The Métis Nation of Ontario passed a resolution at its Annual General Assembly in August in Kenora to have the ceremony moved away from the monument.

Gary Lipinski, the former president of the Métis Nation of Ontario, in front of the Northwest Rebellion monument. A picture of Louis Riel rests on the monument. (submitted by Todd Ross)

Todd Ross, chair of the Toronto and York Region Métis Council, said there was agreement to go back to the provincial government and say the Métis Nation would participate in Louis Riel Day this year but would not gather in front of the monument.

This decision to move the ceremony represents a small but important step toward reconciliation for the Métis Nation, said Ross.

"There needs to be more of an effort to show the history. That we dig back deeper and help tell that story," he said.

Louis Riel Day honours the Métis leader as well as the contributions of the Métis to Canada. On Nov. 16, 1885, he was executed by Canadian forces for leading the Northwest Rebellion.

The monument was erected on the legislature grounds in 1910 to honour the sacrifices made by a battalion of soldiers who left Toronto to fight against Riel's rebellion.

"I think it's wonderful that we're not having to raise our flag in front of that monument," said Thistle.

"I don't think my relatives who were a part of the Northwest Resistance would like the flag of the Métis Nation in front of the monument that commemorates the soldiers that were sent to put my people down."

While there has been debate surrounding whether or not colonial monuments should be removed, Thistle said that process has a sanitizing effect on history.

The Toronto and York Region Métis Council. From left: Secretary/Treasurer Marilyn J Hew, Councillor Kezia Picard, Councillor John Budarick, Chair Todd Ross, President Tera Beaulieu, Youth Rep Christine Skura, ​Councillor Michael Berg, Senator Constance Simmonds and Women's Rep. Shirley Debassige. (Submitted by Todd Ross )

"Have that statue, but have something beside it that talks about the impacts of the Northwest Resistance on Métis, the Métis Nation itself, from that perspective, so you're getting two pieces of the historical puzzle," said Thistle.

"If we do that we're offering a more complete history of what Canada is. It's not just some heroic tale; it's the actual history of how nations are made."

The Métis Nation of Ontario will co-host the event at the Ontario Legislature at noon on Thursday. The Métis flag will be raised with speeches to follow.

There will also be a celebration on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Native Canadian Centre on Spadina Road.