Was Louis Riel a Hero or a Traitor?

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Louis Riel is known by many names: a prophet, a traitor, and a madman. Out of them all, Riel is regarded as a hero, who stood up for his people in the face of the Canadian government, and those who question his sanity still view him as an essentially honourable figure. Riel was strongly respectful towards the Metis and felt that they deserved rights too, like any other human being, as they faced racial discrimination by Canada’s government, whom denied them many rights and took away things like their land and culture.

Riel’s earlier life contributed to who he was during the encounter with the surveyors and the settlers, such as his good education and his knowledge of three different languages: English, French, and Cree. As part of the Red River Resistance, he helped establish a provisional government, and was elected president. Since the Resistance and execution of Thomas Scott, he had suffered a series of emotional breakdowns, but later on, his delusions had subsided and he was married with a family and became a school teacher. Louis Riel was born a natural leader.

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Born in St. Boniface in the Red River settlement, Riel was raised in the Francophone-Catholic community of St. Boniface. However, Riel identified strongly with the Francophone Metis. When Riel was 14, he went to study at the College de Montreal, and was a good student whom received a broad and excellent education in many things, including languages and the sciences. When Riel returned to his community, Red River, in 1868, he stood out as someone with a higher education. He could speak fluent English, French, and Cree.

In the transfer of Rupert’s Land for the HBC to Canada in 1869, when the surveyors began arriving, Riel saw an opportunity to establish the Red River settlement as a province. He saw the opportunity tht Confederation would provide Red River with. Confederation would give red river and elected provincial government, contol over local affairs, and most of all would set conditions to join Canada, such ad establishing rights for French, Catholic, and Metis people. The presence of Canadian surveyors in Red River in 1869 was one of the first times that Riel reared his heroic head to help save and protect the land of Red River.

The surveyors were people sent by Canada’s government to divide and mark the land of the Red River settlement into separate pieces of property. In April 1869, the Hudson’s Bay Company, Britain, and Canada had worked out an agreement to transfer Rupert’s Land to Canada. Soon enough, the surveyors began to measure the land into sections for settlement. This settlement would push the Fur Trade, as well as the Metis way of life off the land. Louis Riel decided that something had to be done about this.

Riel helped as the Metis banished them from their farms and the Red River settlement. As well, in a famous incident in October of 1869, Louis Riel stopped the surveyors from crossing his cousin’s farm, a member of the Red River community. Over the next month, another obstacle was put among Riel, as an official of Canada’s government tried to enter Rupert’s Land. His name was William McDougall. Canada had appointed McDougall as lieutenant governor of the territory, and wanted him in Red River before the transfer of the territory could take place.

Metis volunteers set up a blockade and stopped him, with the guidance of Riel along the way. Riel made their first move, and established a provisional government in Fort Garry and remained loyal to it even when it was being hounded by the settlers of Ontario. In December 1869, the Metis declared a provisional government at Fort Garry. In February of 1870, the French and English communities each elected 20 representatives to the provisional government, with Riel as president. Riel had flaws, flaws as of proven throughout his history, but he was still a hero in many ways.

With the new provisional government established in Red River, came a group of settlers from Ontario who tried to overthrow the government, whom had intolerant views and believed that British Protestants should have power over all other peoples. In February of 1870, Riel’s Provisional Government arrested some of the settlers involved, and tried them for conspiring against their authority. Riel did what he had to do, and convicted and shot one of them, Thomas Scott. Riel did it as an example, that they had no right to mess with their newly established government or the Metis, and this is what would happen if they did.

Since the Resistance and execution of Thomas Scott, he had suffered a series of emotional breakdowns. He had spent several years in asylums and had believed that he was “prophet of the grasslands. ” Later on with a while of recovery, his delusions had subsided. He was married with a family and became a school teacher. However, in 1884, the leader from South Branch–Gabriel Dumont—went to get help from Riel. As of the meantime, Riel was living in a Metis community in Montana. Unfortunately, when “avenging angel” Gabriel arrived, calling him back to the wilderness, his delusions resurfaced.

He then left Montana with his family to go to South Branch in July 1884. However, Riel got back on top and talked to Metis and settlers about a way forward, and advised all of the groups–Metis, White settlers, and First Nations—to work together. Riel sent a petition to Macdonald on behalf of residents asking for provincial status, elected governments, and control over natural resources. Macdonald used stall tactics, and Riel and the Metis grew impatient and frustrated, and on March 19, Riel declared Provisional Government at Batoche.

A rebellion started, but ended soon enough as Riel surrendered to the Canadian Army, and was hanged as of November 16, 1885. He was seen as a murderer and a madman, but not the Metis hero whom he really was. It is possible that Riel was both a murderer and a hero. It is also possible that his rash decision to execute Scott drastically altered the history of his people. Metis scholars have noted that Riel is a more important figure to non-Metis than to Metis, perhaps because he is often the only Metis figure most non-Metis are aware of.

Riel was a gifted student, whom knew many languages, and bore knowledge that proved useful in his later adult-hood and life as he fought for and defended the people of Red River. As the surveyors entered his land of Red River, Riel heroically fought until the had left, and the Metis lands and cultures were saved and remained intact. Riel also had some flaws, some of which psychological, but without him, Things would not be as they are today. Without Louis Riel, the greatest Metis hero of our time, Canada would be entirely different as of today.

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Was Louis Riel a Hero or a Traitor?. (2017, Feb 05). Retrieved from


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