He founded Manitoba but would be executed as a traitor.
Louis Riel is the best-known Métis hero, and across Canada this weekend, his death on November 16, 1885 was commemorated by aboriginals of mixed French and indigenous descent across Canada.
Numerous milestones in the rebel leader’s life are marked throughout the year, but the most prominent one is this, his day of execution at the hands of the Canadian government.
“November 16 is the most important day on the calendar for the Métis Nation,” said Clément Chartier, president of the Métis National Council, in a statement. “It was on this day in 1885 that our fearless leader Louis Riel was executed for defending the rights of his people, the Métis.”
Born in 1844 at Red River Settlement to a Métis father and French-Canadian mother, Riel served as president of a provisional government that was formed during a Métis resistance movement of 1869-70, according to a column in The Straight. He also helped negotiate the entry of Manitoba into Canada in 1871 and is thus considered to be the “father” of that province.
Riel even stayed for a time in the United States, where he was exiled in 1875, returning in 1884 to help with continued resistance, wrote British Columbia Métis Brodie Douglas in The Straight.
“Following the defeat of the Métis at Batoche, Riel was convicted of high treason and was sentenced to hang,” Douglas wrote, adding that November 16 marks the day that “Riel was unjustly murdered by Canada for his leadership role in defending the rights and aspirations of the Northwest Métis.”
It has taken some time for Riel to be seen outside of Métis circles as anything more than a rebel leader, according to a biography in The Canadian Encyclopedia.
“Riel led two popular Métis governments, was central in bringing Manitoba into Confederation, and was executed for high treason for his role in the 1885 resistance to Canadian encroachment on Métis lands,” says the encyclopedia. “Riel was initially dismissed as a rebel by Canadian historians, although many now sympathize with Riel as a Métis leader who fought to protect his people from the Canadian government.”
The struggle for recognition has not diminished with time, Métis leaders said.
“Our fight did not end 129 years ago,” Chartier’s statement said. “We continue to move forward in asserting ourselves as a rights-bearing people—it is because of Louise Riel’s efforts and others who have sacrificed their lives for Métis rights that we are here today.”
It is a struggle to honor Riel’s life and to carry on his fight, said Métis Nation of Ontario President Gary Lipinski.
"We celebrate this day to recognize our ongoing struggle to fulfill Louis Riel's dream that the Métis take their rightful place within Confederation,” Lipinski said in a statement.