Louis Riel

By Tu Tran


Louis Riel was a Canadian Métis and politician. Throughout his lifetime he was an advocator of preserving aboriginal rights and traditions, and eventually became known as the founder of the province of Manitoba. His legacy was ended in 1885, where he was found guilty of treason and was sentenced to death. A controversial figure in history and famous leader, some parallels can be drawn between him and a leader from modern times: Nelson Mandela.

Courage is not the Absence of Fear

Louis Riel emerged in history during the Red River Rebellion of 1869, where he led the Métis in a rebellion against the Canadian Confederation that sought to claim the land that is now known as Manitoba. He sought to negotiate with the Canadian Confederation, but after a run-in with the Canadian Party who looked to take over the Métis land, Riel made the decision to execute a follower of the Canadian Party.

Despite being aware of the consequences and the fact that his reputation to non-followers would be stained, Riel chose to go through with the execution. To say that he wasn't fearful of the consequences (one of which was his own eventual execution) would likely be a lie. Instead, he chose to put on a courageous face to rally all of his supporters behind him even further and give them courage and strength as well, and their energy in turn would give Riel the strength to fight his own fears, which is what one of Mandela's leadership lessons is about.

Keep your friends close - and your rivals even closer

While Riel is usually known for having resorted to force towards the end of the 19th century, it is important to remember that he originally sought to have peaceful negotiations with the Canadian Confederation to keep the Métis traditions and not be assimilated into Canada and lose their identities. It was the unification of a very vocal pro-Canadian minority that resulted in things occurring the way they did.

By seeking peaceful negotiations, Louis Riel wanted to get on the good side of his opposition, the Canadian Confederation. By becoming close enough to them, he would be able to keep an eye on them as they are more dangerous outside of his influence than within. In doing so, he would also improve his public appearance, and possibly gain an even greater influence among his rivals. However, fire was fought with fire, and this did not last.

Nothing is black and white

This lesson is in connection to Riel's use of violence to take action. Prior to the execution of a follower of the Canadian Party, Riel stated "I have done three good things since I have commenced: I have spared Boulton's life at your instance, I pardoned Gaddy, and now I shall shoot Scott." The last part of the quote shows that, while the execution of Scott appeared to be brutal and unjustified, there were several other layers that Riel took into consideration to justify the execution.