May 23, 2004
Louis Riel is considered by many to be one of the most heroic figures in Canadian history. In my eyes, any person who can lead his people through some of the most harsh and depressive periods of their lives is a hero, whether they were considered a traitor by others in Canadian society or not. As long as they can continue aiding their people, even if these actions do harm others, they are still a hero to their followers, and in the future, to politicians and historians alike. Riel fought for the Mtis rights with both the pen and the musket. Also, he used peaceful conduct as much as possible, rather than being violent. His tactics and commitment to his cause and his people make him a hero in Canadian history.
Louis Riel was raised in the Red River valley as a well-mannered Mtis boy with devout catholic values. He was educated as a lawyer in eastern Canada and used his ability to write well and to speak English to his advantage during the beginning of his endeavours. When he returned to his home in the Red River settlement, he was greeted with the news of his peoples hardships. Instantly he wanted to help. I believe that the first step to becoming a good leader, and then a hero, is having a passion for something and a method for using that passion to solve a problem.
The Mtis were the descendants of French-Canadian fur traders and Native mothers. Their homeland, in what is now Manitoba, was very fertile. It produced grains and vegetables but also was abundant with Bison, the Mtis major source of food. Due to the potential of this area many Canadian settlers wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. Even the fur trading companies wanted to have some benefit from the Red River valleys prosperity. The Hudson Bay Company instated laws that forced the Mtis to supply them with Bison meat, or Pemmican, and also that disallowed them from trading their pemmican with anyone else. The Mtis had no claim over their land, as it had officially been given to the HBC, being a part of Ruperts land. With hundreds of settlers coming into their land, they began losing areas that they had once used for agriculture and the bison population was also steadily decreasing. If nothing was done, the Mtis Red River settlement, a once prosperous place, would fall into a depression.
Riel wanted nothing more for his people than land and religious rights so that they could return to the way things once were, simple and uninterrupted; however, with racial tension and a language barrier between the settlers and the Mtis, they were unable to ask for such things from the Canadian Government. Louis Riel was asked by the Mtis to act as their leader and he began devising tactics to make the government hear their arguments.
Riel used the only peaceful means he could while dealing with the government and the Mtis problems. He spent much of his time writing to people in senior positions in the government, in the hopes of solving things without any violence. Also, Riel instated a provisional government to care for the needs of the people of the Red River valley, since the Canadian government had neglected them. All of Riels efforts brought him no positive response from the government. Eventually, he felt that he had no other choice than to take military action. The Mtis were hunters and very skilled with a rifle. Many of the settlers that stood up against them had little chance of victory or survival.
Louis Riel took an organized approach to battle. He treated his men and his enemies with respect. During the Red River Rebellion (1869) Riel and his provisional government took control of the Red River settlement and faced the Canadian party, a group of men that represented the settlers, led by John Schultz. They surrounded Schultzs home, also the headquarters of the Canadian party, and took him and forty-eight other party members hostage. Schultz escaped and led his men out to rescue his captured supporters only to, once again, have many of those men captured or killed by the Mtis. One of those captured was Thomas Scott, an Orangeman with a great hatred towards the Mtis.
Scott was tried and sentenced to death for crimes against the provisional government. For the most part, the rest of Canada was outraged that one of their men had been murdered by Riel and his provisional government. The Mtis agreed with Riel on most things, including the capture and trial of several men in the Canadian party. The Mtis respected the decisions of Riel and eventually they took on his morals, values and ideas for their own.
On May 2, 1869 the Mtis were granted two-hundred-thousand hectares of land, which they named the province of Manitoba.
Riel fled the country in August of 1869, after the Prime Minister sent troops into Red River to keep the peace until the provincial government was in place. He returned to the call of his people in the summer of 1884 because the Mtis were being driven westward, and off their lands. They needed the governments help and handouts just to survive. In 1885, Riel led an uprising, which would later be called the Northwest rebellion, against the Canadian government once again. This time, the Mtis lost. Riel was captured and charged with treason. He lost his case and was executed on November 16, 1885.
I think that at the time, yes, Louis Riel was guilty of treason, but that does not make him any less of a hero. Many great heroes and heroines have been executed, but they were still great leaders of their people. Riel attempted to lead his people to freedom and victory. He took honourable paths throughout his life and was a good example for those who followed in his footsteps. When he believed that something needed to be done he took initiative and followed through with well devised plans. I believe that Louis Riel was and still is one the most heroic people in Canadian history.