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Louis Riel, circa 1870

Louis Riel, circa 1870. // Image from Archives and Special Collections.

Remembering the legacy of Louis Riel

February 14, 2017 — 

For decades, Louis Riel was condemned as a rebel and traitor. Today, he is considered the founding father of Manitoba, a visionary thinker and protector of minority rights and culture.

As the driving force behind the Red River Resistance of 1869-70, Riel played an integral role in bringing the new province of Manitoba into Confederation in 1870.

Though Riel has yet to be retroactively pardoned for the charges of treason that led to his execution in 1885, his achievements have been honoured in other ways: in 2016, the province symbolically acknowledged Riel as the first leader of Manitoba by mounting his photo in the Legislative Building next to former premiers.

Manitobans also celebrate Louis Riel’s legacy with a public holiday held each February. The University of Manitoba will again host its annual celebrations to honour this historic leader and foster a greater understanding of Métis history and culture among the U of M community.

“Before 2008, there wasn’t a specific day to celebrate Louis Riel’s achievements. I have such a huge sense of pride for my culture, so having the opportunity to share the day with other students on campus and with people in Winnipeg and across Manitoba means a lot,” says Kieran Saindon, president of the Métis University Students Association (MUSA).

“Louis Riel Day is a culmination of the efforts of Métis people from across Canada to have the Métis Nation recognized,” adds Saindon. “Since before Riel was hanged in 1885, Métis have been struggling to be recognized in Canada. There’s a quote from Louis Riel that says, ‘My people will sleep for 100 years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.’ With recent developments like the Daniels case, the efforts of Métis people are coming to a head and we’re able to celebrate our leaders and our heritage.”

On Friday, Feb. 17, the U of M Louis Riel Day Celebrations will take place at Migizii Agamik – Bald Eagle Lodge and the Métis flag will be raised at University Centre, starting at 10:30 a.m.

More details on events are available here.

“It’s important for Manitobans to know the story of our province and to respect our past so we don’t make the same mistakes we’ve made before,” says Saindon.

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