Today is Louis Riel Day and I wanted to think about why Riel is not a larger hero for the Canadian public. While Canadian icons such as Prime Minister John A MacDonald, long considered a father of Confederation or Nellie McClung, who was a famous five, and who fought for the rights of women to vote and be considered a person; both are now being questioned as instead icons of racism.
Instead of a questionable history, 150 years ago Louis Riel helped proclaim a Bill of Rights on the Prairies. This Bill of Rights was far advanced for its time and even though it was eventually repudiated by John A MacDonald because it gave too many rights to French Canadians, and Indigenous peoples it still forms the foundation of Manitoba today. In fact, it is a little known fact that Manitoba is a bilingual province.
Louis Riel in his leadership of Manitoba brought together men from 12 English parishes and 12 men from French parishes. They wrote and debated a Bill of Rights and ensured equality for all who lived in the Prairies. The languages spoken at the assembly was English, French, Gaelic, Cree and Michif. This was a significant level of pluralism which Canada only started to embrace 40 years ago.
While Manitoba celebrates 150 years, they are very few celebrations for the person who was ahead of their time and helped form Canada. Louis Riel while he is considered a Metis hero should actually be considered a Canadian hero. He has a greater stature than MacDonald and has little in his past which would make him unworthy to be emulated by Canadian youth.
So Vive le Louis Riel a Canadian hero.
Hon. Dr. Robert Falcon-Ouellette, CD, PhD