November 13 – 18 marks the annual Métis Week celebrations. Each year, the Métis Nation of Alberta hosts events around the province to commemorate not only Riel’s uniquely complicated and heroic legacy, but the outstanding contributions of Métis people to Canada. November 16, the date Riel was executed, will be an especially significant remembrance.
When it comes to defining legacies of the women and men who helped shape Canada into what it is today, few people are as complicated as Louis Riel. The Métis founder of Manitoba and twice-elected Member of Parliament is at the same time revered and scorned; the vanguard of Métis resistance against the federal government is a hero and a traitor, depending who you ask. To this day, over 130 years after he was hanged for treason in Regina, Saskatchewan, Riel is to some still a controversial and polarizing man. But for many, especially Canada’s Métis population, Riel is a man to celebrate and to honour.
How to commemorate and memorialize Riel may differ among his fellow Métis supporters, as well as politicians and academics. Some have called for a pardon. Others, including provincial and federal politicians, have gone on-record in support of a full exoneration for Riel’s treason charges; he did nothing wrong and was a hero to his people. There are those who aren’t sure if a pardon or exoneration is warranted: after all, he took up arms (twice) against the federal government. Will exonerating Riel be a tacit endorsement of armed resistance? More than a century later, these questions still remain unanswered.
Decades after the Riel Resistance, some people felt compelled to hide their Métis identity. The Métis in Canada became, “the forgotten people,” until 1982 when they were formally recognized in the constitution as one of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. The role the Métis people have played in Alberta is diverse and dynamic, and Métis Week will be a time to reflect not only on the legacy of Louis Riel but also the long journey of the Métis to be recognized as a distinct people and the role they played in the founding and development of Canada.