It may be Presidents’ Day in the United States, but Canada has its own holiday on the third Monday in February, and it’s indigenous: It’s the day chosen to commemorate the life of Métis politician and indigenous rights activist Louis Riel.
This day does not mark the day of his execution for treason in 1885; that is reserved for November 15. Rather, the February provincial holiday celebrates Riel’s life and the contributions he made to getting the rights of mixed-race Indigenous Peoples recognized in Canada.
From the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the country paid homage to the man who founded Manitoba and was later hanged.
This time Trudeau had nothing but praise for the iconic leader.
“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,” he said in a statement. “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.”
Depending on whom you ask, Riel was either a freedom fighter and a champion of indigenous rights, or a traitor who led rebellions against the Canadian government, as CBC News pointed out. Trudeau chose to laud him in the name of reconciliation, with an eye toward his promise of rebuilding the country’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples.
“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,” he said.
Riel stood by his convictions, even when it came to facing his own demise. He refused during his trial to agree to be declared insane, Philippe Mailhot, former director of the St. Boniface Museum, told CBC News.
"He would rather be executed as a sane person than be described as someone who was insane,” Mailhot told CBC News. “That would be an insult to all the people that followed him.”