Louis Riel Day: November 16, 2020
Louis Riel is one of Canada’s most controversial famous historical figures. Métis of the Red River in Manitoba, Louis Riel was a rebel, a politician, a poet or a hero, depending on who you asked. We celebrate Louis Riel on November 16 every year to honour and mourn our Métis leader, who died in Regina, Saskatchewan on this day in 1885.
Born in St. Boniface, Manitoba, Riel was known for leading the Red River Resistance (1869 – 1870). He helped form the Métis National Committee in 1869, later known as the Provisional Government of Assiniboia. The Committee was formed to protect "the social, cultural and political status of the Métis in Red River and the Northwest."
After confederation, Riel was elected in 1873 and 1874 to represent the federal riding of Provencher. He was expelled from his seat each time due to motions by the Orange Party and for delaying to take his seat. He started a second provisional government for Métis in the Northwest Territories in 1884, and when talks broke down, the Northwest Resistance (1885) began.
Riel "was tried in Regina, found guilty of treason, and hanged" on November 16, 1885.
In honour of this famous Métis historical figure, we are sharing some books in our collection to learn more about his life and experiences. You can check out these titles and many more on our website.
Note: books shared below are a mix of fiction and non-fiction. Additionally, if an author is Indigenous, their nation will be next to their name.
A Girl Called Echo, Volume 2: Red River Resistance by Katherena Vermette (Métis), illustrated by Scott B. Henderson, colourized by Donovan Yaciuk
This graphic novel tells the story of Echo Desjardins, who "is adjusting to her new home, finding friends, and learning about Métis history. She just can't stop slipping back and forth in time. One ordinary afternoon in class, Echo finds herself transported to the banks of the Red River in the summer of 1869." She sees Canadian surveyors taking away land access from Métis families "who have lived there for generations." Echo sees the Resistance and "fears for her friends and the future of her people in the Red River Valley."
You can also read A Girl Called Echo, Volume 1: Pemmican Wars for Echo Desjarlais' full story.
A Girl Called Echo, Volume 3: Northwest Resistance by Katherena Vermette (Métis), illustrated by Scott B. Henderson, colourized by Donovan Yaciuk
This graphic novel follows Echo Desjarlais as she travels back in time to the Northwest Resistance of 1885. She meets leaders like "Louis Riel, Gabriel Dumont and Mistahimaskwa, in Batoche and other sites of the Resistance. After victories, then defeat, at the hands of the Canadian Forces, Riel surrenders. Echo travels back to the present, where she discovers her own ties to the Métis who fought there. This is Book 3 in the graphic-novel series that examines the history of the Métis through an own-voice perspective."
Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown
This graphic novel retells the story "of the charismatic, and perhaps insane, nineteenth-century Métis leader." This story covers "the violent rebellion ... led by Riel" who some see as a martyr, and others as a murderer.
The Pemmican Eaters by Marilyn Dumont (Cree and Métis)
This poetry collection helps to recreate "a sense of the Riel Resistance period." Dumont evokes "the geographical, linguistic/cultural, and political situation of Batoche ... through the eyes of those who experienced the battles, as well as through the eyes of Gabriel and Madeleine Dumont and Louis Riel."
Louis: The Heretic Poems by Gregory Scofield (Métis)
This poetry collection "takes a fresh look at Riel." It challenges "conceptions of Riel as ... a folk hero and martyr." Scofield uses Riel's poetry to help show sides of the Métis leader most do not consider: "that of husband, father, friend and lover, poet and visionary."
Kisisakâciwan: Indigenous Voices from Where the River Flows Swiftly edited by Jesse Rae Archibald-Barber (Cree and Métis)
This anthology includes voices such as "Big Bear, Thunderchild, Louis Riel, Gabriel Dumont, Edward Ahenahew, Maria Campbell, Buffy Saint-Marie, Rita Bouvier, Harold Johnson, Gregory Scofield, Warren Carriou, Louise Halfe, and many more." It contains "oral narratives from Cree, Saulteaux, Nakoda, Dene, Gros Ventres, and Métis cultures."
Song of Batoche by Maia Caron (Métis)
"A historical novel about the Riel insurrection of 1885, from the point of view of the Métis women. It offers an interesting account of the lives of the Métis women as they move to support their husbands in the battle with Middleton. This includes Marguerite, Riel's wife, and Madeleine, Dumont's wife." This story shows "Louis Riel and his struggle to create a homeland for the Métis on the South Saskatchewan and also to create a new Catholic religion."
Louis Riel: Let Justice Be Done by David G. Doyle
"Louis Riel, prophet of the new world and founder of the Canadian province of Manitoba, has challenged Canadian politics, history and religion since the early years of Confederation." His trial and execution was "Canada's most important and controversial... Was the 1885 execution of Riel the hanging of a traitor? Or the legal murder of a patriot and statesman? Tried in a territorial court, Riel called out for justice, for an 'inquiry into his career.' To date, no such inquiry has been called. The spiritual and political father of the Métis nation and Western Canada remains branded a traitor to Canada."
Doyle brings together "Riel's words, writing, and historical research" to show evidence that Louis Riel should "assume his proper place in Canada's history."
A Rush to Judgment: The Unfair Trial of Louis Riel by Roger E. Salhany
"A Rush to Judgment challenges the view held by some historians that Riel received a fair trial. Salhany argues that the judge allowed the prosecutors to control the proceedings, was biased in his charge to the jury, and failed to properly explain to the jury how they were to consider the evidence of legal insanity."
The False Traitor: Louis Riel in Canadian Culture by Albert Raimundo Braz
"The nineteenth-century Métis politician and mystic Louis Riel has emerged as one of the most popular - and elusive - figures in Canadian culture. Since his hanging for treason in 1885, the self-declared David of the New World has been depicted variously as a traitor to Confederation; a French-Canadian and Catholic martyr; a bloodthirsty rebel; a pan-American liberator; a pawn of shadowy white forces; a Prairie political maverick; a First Nations hero; an alienated intellectual; a victim of Western industrial progress; and even a Father of Confederation."
In this book, Braz merges "the available material by and about Riel, including film, sculpture, and cartoons, as well as literature in French and English, and analyzes how an historical figure could be portrayed in such contradictory ways."