LOUIS RIEL

THE GREATEST LEGAL REFORMER | BY: TAHEERA SARKER

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HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Canadian Confederation on July 1, 1867 formed the Dominion of Canada. It included the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.


Ontarian's pressured the Canadian government, under Sir John A. Macdonald to increase settlement in the west. The government also didn't want Americans laying claim to the west, so they began negotiating with the Hudson's Bay Company for the transfer of Rupert's Land.


The Hudson's Bay Company


  • Formed May 6, 1670 to capitalize on the booming fur trade
  • Was granted Rupert's Land by Prince Rupert (King of England's cousin) giving them a monopoly (they were the only company in fur trade in that area with no competition = a LOT of profit)
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Rupert's Land Wasn't Empty...

While planning to transfer Rupert's Land to Canada, the HBC didn't consult its inhabitants - Scottish immigrants and Aboriginals: Cree & Métis. They believed the arrival of Enligh-speaking Canadians from the East would cause them to lose control of their homeland.

Métis are people with Aboriginal and European (British, French, Scottish) descent


  • The fur trade changed Aboriginals' traditional social & economic patterns
  • Social: Intermarriage between European settlers and indigenous women of Cree, Ojibwe, Algonquin, Saulteaux, or Mi'kmaq descent
  • Economic: Surplus & profit of fur trade causes Aboriginals to rely on it to provide necessities versus their traditional practices

Who was Louis Riel?

Métis leader, founder of Manitoba, central figure in Red River & North-West resistances.


  • Lived from October 22, 1844 - November 16, 1885
  • Born in the Red River Settlement a.k.a Assiniboia colony (present-day Manitoba)
  • Heard of the growing unrest north of the Red River from Métis traders concerning the transfer of Rupert's Land
  • Rallied Francophones & Anglophones together in 1868
  • Was secretary of the Métis National Committee
The Canadian government appointed William McDougall as Lieutenant Governor of Rupert's Land. Before the actual transfer, McDougall sent surveyors into the colony to divide the land into agricultural sectors, alarming the Métis. On October 11, 1869 the Métis National Committee, which protects Métis' social, cultural, and political status set up a roadblock, denying McDouggall entry into the colony.

RED RIVER REBELLION, 1869-1870

  • Riel and his followers seized Fort Garry (HBC headquarters) on November 2, 1869
  • Drafted the Declaration of the People of Rupert's Land and the North-West
  • Formed a provisional government to negotiate with Ottawa
  • Included people to represent the non-Aboriginal French & English speaking people of the colony
  • Execution of Thomas Scott, an Ontarian Protestant forces Riel to flee

Result: Manitoba Act, 1870

  • Created the province of Manitoba in the Dominion of Canada
  • Guaranteed Métis title to lands along the Red River & Assiniboine River (5,565 square kilometres), as well as another 1.4 million acres for the 7,000 children of the Métis
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NORTH-WEST UPRISING, 1885

Anglo-Protestant settlers caused the Métis to migrate northwest to what is now Saskatchewan. The treaty obligations that were set 15 years prior, when Manitoba became a province were unfulfilled by Ottawa. The Métis, Cree and Assiniboine were denied land tenure and political rights, motivating Louis Riel to return from exile.
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Trial and Execution

The government responded quickly and eventually outnumbered the Métis, causing Louis Riel to surrender on May 12, 1885. He was charged with treason and his trial began on July 28, 1885 in Regina. In his trial he defended his actions and affirmed the rights of the Métis. The jury (English & Scottish Protestants) found him guilty but recommended he not be executed. The Judge - Hugh Richardson, sentenced him to death anyway and he was executed by hanging on November 16, 1885.

LEGACY

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The Many Sides of Louis Riel

He is called

  • "The Red River Patriot"
  • "The Traitor"
  • "The Martyr"
  • "The Go-Between"
  • "The Madman"

Was He Successful?

The political and social atmosphere did not allow for that in his time


  • There were tensions between French speaking and English speaking people
  • There were tensions between Catholics and Protestants
  • There were tensions between indigenous groups and immigrants


Back to his quote:

"My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back."


  • Aboriginals are officially recognized as a distinct group by the Constitution in 1982
  • To this day, 140 years later, there are legal battles over whether or not the federal government lived up to the deal in 1870 that brought Manitoba into Confederation
  • Result = largest land claim yet (and they have the right to make it because generations of Métis lost their and and birthright when the government didn't fulfill its obligations)
  • The government has a fiduciary duty to the Métis -- they agree to accept responsibility of protecting the interests of group that is legally vulnerable


Métis Aboriginals are still with us today. Just because these negotiations occurred 140 years ago, does not give the government the right to rescind their responsibility to the Métis people.