Louis Riel: Historical Hero Louis Riel is a well-known figure in Canadian history. Through his acts as a leader, despite his political mistakes, I believe he should be remembered as a Canadian hero. Riel, being well-educated and bilingual, would eventually emerge as a strong advocate for Metis rights in Red River. Riel practiced as a lawyer in Montreal, but returned to his home of Red River in the face of Rupert’s Land being purchased by Canada from the Hudson’s Bay Company (Histori).
His home, Red River Colony, was a part of Rupert’s land and many Metis people were afraid of losing control of their homeland. He would rally the French-speaking Metis and the English-speaking half-natives together to protect their interests from the conflicting interests of those in the east. He urged the creation of an army, the institution of a provisional government, and insurance of the defence of Fort Garry, the HBC headquarters (University of Missouri-Kansas City). The Metis people went on to form a committee called the “National Committee” and named Riel as secretary.
William McDougall, the new Lieutenant-Governor of the new jurisdiction, as well as a team of surveyors arrived at Fort Garry to survey the land but were not permitted to enter Red River. On November 2nd, the committee seized Fort Garry with no resistance from the HBC (Stanley). The government postponed the transfer until the planned date of December 1st, and McDougall and his crew headed back to Canada. At this time, Riel was preparing a “List of Rights” and he invited both English and French speaking citizens to attend the decision making at Fort Garry.
The defence of his people, while inviting equal influence and ideas from the people being affected by the decisions at hand, is what I believe to be the first example of Riel’s leadership and heroism. While the List of Rights was being made by Riel and the National Committee of the Metis, John Schultz – who had originally came as a team to survey with McDonald – began to lead a group of Red River Canadians, welcoming the Canadian acquisition of the area. Riel’s provisional government arrested Shultz and other members of his group when it was found out they were plotting to recapture Fort Garry (University of Missouri-Kansas).
Of the group arrested, one man named Thomas Scott was included who was an “Orangeman” that had recently migrated from Ontario that was greatly opposed to the group of Metis people (Histori). Scott was arrested a second time, consistently taunting his captors until the decision was made, and then approved by Riel to have him executed via firing squad. This act enabled the government to turn him into an outlaw, and he fled the settlement in August 1870 (Manitoba Historical Society). It should be noted that Riel himself never carried arms (University of Saskatchewan).
The execution of Scott was the single instance of bloodshed influenced by Riel, and despite being the one mistake he should not have made; it was influenced by the mindset of protecting his people and setting an example. A few years later, Riel would be placed inside a mental institution by his Uncle after several examples of a deteriorating mental health condition, including claiming himself a prophet, giving away riches to a blind beggar, crying and shouting in public, and interrupting catholic mass to interrupt the priest (University of Missouri-Kansas). He was discharged in 1876.
Riel became an American citizen in 1883, and in June of the following year he would be called upon in favour of returning to Canada. When Riel returned to St. Laurent he began recruiting drafting Metis and Native people from nearby reserves after a plea and petition to Ottawa failed (Stanley). This band of arms did eventually defeat a small force of mounted police sent west by the government. Fighting after this would last all but two months, known as the North-West Rebellion. Following defeat, Riel surrendered to General Middleton and would be taken to court for treason.
His lawyers attempted defences of insanity, which Riel rejected, as he believed the defence of the Metis people was his duty (Manitoba Historical Society). Riel was convicted of treason for leading rebellions against Canada, and was sentenced to hanging November 16, 1885 (Rabson). Through Riel’s trials of mental instability and forthcoming battle, he remained strong and dedicated to his people. Returning to the nation that would eventually kill him, Riel showed that his heart rested in Rupert’s Land, and he wanted nothing but to protect his people’s language, religion and culture.
For his bravery and unyielding effort over the course of a decade, I believe Louis Riel is a hero to Canadian culture and its history. Historica. “Historica Minutes – Louis Riel. ” Web. 25 July 2011. <http://www. histori. ca/minutes/minute. do? id=10646>. Manitoba Historical Society. “Louis Riel (1844-1885). ” 9 Apr. 2011. Web. 25 July 2011. <http://www. mhs. mb. ca/docs/people/riel_l. shtml>. Rabson, Mia. “Riel Was a Hero, Not a Traitor. ” Winnipeg Free Press. 17 Nov. 2010. Web. 25 July 2011. <http://www. innipegfreepress. com/local/riel-was-a-hero-not-a-traitor-108625299. html>. Stanley, George F. G. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Web. 25 July 2011. <http://www. thecanadianencyclopedia. com/index. cfm? PgNm=TCE>. University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. “A Biography of Louis Riel. ” Web. 25 July 2011. <http://law2. umkc. edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/riel/rielbio. html>. University of Saskatchewan Library. “Louis Riel. ” Web. 25 July 2011. <http://library. usask. ca/northwest/background/riel. htm>.