Honouring Louis Riel

On November 16, Métis people across Canada will be honouring the life and sacrifices made by the prolific leader Louis Riel. Although Louis Riel Day is not a statutory holiday in Alberta, it is crucial to understand its significance to the Métis people.  

Who is Louis Riel? 

Born in 1844 in Red River Settlement, Manitoba, Louis Riel is celebrated for leading resistance movements against the Canadian government. First, was the Red River Rebellion of 1869 -1870. The resistance began as a reaction against the Hudson Bay Company’s (HBC) sale of Rupert’s Land to the new Canadian government. As the HBC had not consulted local First Nations and Métis communities, Riel formed the Métis National Committee to protect their rights. The formation of this provisional government forced the Canadian government to negotiate. 

During this time, the execution of Thomas Scott under Riel’s government provoked the Canadian government to send in a military expedition to Red River. Additionally, a $5000 bounty was placed on Riel for his role in Scott’s execution, forcing him into exile in the United States. Nonetheless, representatives from Red River were able to negotiate the creation of the province of Manitoba as well as other Métis rights in 1870. 

The second resistance movement occurred in 1885 when Riel was called back to support the Métis in Saskatchewan. Westward expansion and settlement had encroached on their land, and with no rights or protections, they called on him for support. Under his leadership, they formed the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan to negotiate and defend their land rights. However, their forces were defeated and Riel was captured. Tried for high treason and made to be an example, Riel was executed in Regina on November 16, 1885, at 41 years old. 

Who celebrates Louis Riel Day? 

There are two versions of Louis Riel day celebrated across Canada. In Manitoba, Louis Riel Day is celebrated on the third Monday in February. This statutory holiday was introduced in 2008 after schools across the province were asked to recommend a new holiday. 

For the Métis, Louis Riel’s legacy is honoured on November 16 instead. As Riel fought for the protection and preservation of Métis rights and culture, November 16 has become a day to celebrate all things Métis. A detrimental result of Riel’s trial and execution was the ostracization of Métis people in Canada; seen as traitors, they were forced to hide their heritage and culture. Nowadays, the Métis celebrate their culture, heritage, and struggles on November 16 as a continuation of Riel’s resistance. 

Next Steps:  

To honour the legacy of the Métis people, we recommend 3 ways businesses and organizations can honour Louis Riel Day in Alberta this week:

  1. Learn about the history and struggles of Métis people 
    1. Visit the Indigenous People’s Experience in Fort Edmonton 
    2. Read about Métis history through the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada
    3. Visit the Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture
  2. Support the Métis Nation of Alberta
    1. Sign up for Otipemisiwak Magazine to learn about MNA events and programming 
    2. Connect with the MNA Truth & Reconciliation Coordinator to collaborate on programming 
  1. Honour the contributions of the Métis people 
  1. Attend events held during Métis Week from November 13-19, 2022
  2. Support Métis owned businesses 
  3. Engage with media made by Métis creators
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