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Louis Riel


Amanda Pineo


    Louis Riel was pioneer in native, and the conditions of the Red River were what allowed him to rise to power, but his pride and his insanity are what lead him to his down fall.Louis Riel was born on October 27,1844 in present day Winnipeg. Louis was the oldest of eleven children born to Julie Lagimodiere, who had grown up in the west, in the Red River Settlement and was part Chipewyan. Louis father a French Canadian Metis, was born at Ile a la Cross.

    Riel’s father joined the Hudson Bay Company in 1842 when he was twenty-one. He than left to join the Oblate to become a priest, but the left and went back to the Red River. He was given some land there and the next year he married Julie Lagimodiere. But the conditions of the Red River were not great "the conditions made life in the Red River district uneasy and culminated in events that brought about Louis Riel’s rise to power among his people" (Bowsfield, Rebel of…10)

    In the eighteenth century the west was first opened by the French – Canadians explores, and the fur traders from Quebec. Many of these men took Indian woman as their wives, and their children became known as the Metis people of mixed blood.    

    Marriage to an Indian woman could be useful, from their wives they could learn the language, and through her an alliance could be formed with her tribe giving the trader a close and peaceful contact with the Indian people.The Indian connection served the French- Canadian traders well when dealing with competition from the British owned Hudson Bay Company. After the fall of New France in1759, the French – Canadian fur trade came to an end. The trade went to British, Scottish and American merchants who set up headquarters in Montreal. But the French Canadian connection with the Northwest had not been destroyed" the existence of the Metis people was evidence that French – Canadian blood would remain. Also the influence of the Catholic Church was very many presents. Through language, blood and religion, a part of French – Canada would always exist in the Northwest."(Bowfield, Rebel of … 10)

    Louis’ father was more educated than most Metis, an orator in defense of Metis rights. He was respected by most people in his community, thus further identifying young Louis with the Metis cause. When he was an adult Louis wrote that his father always "acted out of wisdom"(Bowfield, The Rebel and the Hero 17) and would be glorified some day, he was closer however with his mother.

    Riel was most affected by his life at school and at home. His parents were very religious and his family was very close. Louis learned his first lessons at home, than he attended a small school taught by the Grey Sisters, a group of nuns, and a group of priest’s called the Christian Brothers.

    By the time that Louis was thirteen, he had reached the end of any schooling there was in the Red River. The Bishop of the Red River, Monseigneer Alexander A. Tache, had watched the school careers of Louis and other young Metis with great interest, "he was determined that some of them should be educated further so that they could return to the Red River and help their people"(Neering, 11-12). Louis and three other boys were chosen to got to a school in Quebec, were they would study at Catholic Colleges.   

    When Louis asked his father if he should go, his father told him, "  yes my son. The Metis will need educated men to lead them in the times ahead when all the world is changing. If you become a priest, then you will serve both God and your people. Go study hard, learn to serve God with all your heart. Then you can return to the Red River" (Neering, 13)

    Louis was to spend eight years studying in Greek, Latin, and English, along with some philosophy and Science. Louis was a good student, but his teachers and friends began to notice that Louis was quick – tempered, "to offer any opinion contrary to his was to irritate him"(Bowfield, The Rebel and the Hero 19)

    In February of 1864 Louis father passed away. Louis became melancholy and withdrawn, his teachers were convinced that he would never become a good priest. Louis himself was also coming to the same conclusion and began to consider a career in business or law. In March of 1865 Louis left the school without getting his degree.

    Riel was twenty-four when he came back to the Red River. Bishop Tache and his mother were disappointed that he did not become a priest. If he had finished his schooling then he would have been the first of his people to enter the church. After ten years in Montreal all that could be said of Louis was that the "he had an education greater than anyone in the settlement"(Bowfield, The Rebel and the Hero, 20)

    Louis had found that the settlement had changed a great deal. Fort Garry still stood; the Hudson Bay Company had enlarged it. High limestone walls made it look more like a military fort than anything else. Other changes came about at this time. It was decided that all magistrates for the area had be able to speak both French and English. There were new magistrates appointed in 1850. The Metis had three members on the council of Assiniboia by 1857. The Metis had achieved commercial freedom, but had protected their language, culture, freedom of ownership and educational system, they also achieved a direct role in the decision of government and in the administration of these decisions.

    For the next ten years there was peace in the Red River; the Metis were happy with the status –quo. The prices for furs were good because of competition form the United States. The economy of the Red River up to the late 1860’s was still isolated by the fur trade and had almost no commercial ties with the rest of Canada, one fur trader said "the trade of the Red River Settlement can be comprehended into one word "furs", and the Hudson Bay Company has been, and is, the chief promoter in business in every farm though out the settlement" (Bumstead, 103)

    Than the Hudson Bay Company decided to sell their land in the Northwest to Canada, all they had left to do was transfer the land. To prepare for the transfer, the Canadian government sent a surveying party to the Red River. They were to divided the land into square sections, each two kilometers in size and shape, and ready for settlers to calm when they arrived. Arrangements were under way for Canada to take over the land, but no one had cared to ask the people of the Red River what they wanted. Instead "all arrangements were to be made in Ottawa" (Neering, 19)

    When tension in the Red River began to rise, the Metis found that the Canadian government was sending William McDougall to take over as lieutenant governor of the Northwest, before the transfer for of the land had taken place. A National Committee of the Metis was formed to help decide what to do about McDougall. They rode to meet him, and handed him a written message saying: "The National Committee of the Metis of Red River Orders William McDougall not to enter the territory of the Northwest without special permission"(Neering, 21). McDougall knew that he had no legal right to enter the Northwest as Governor until Canada had formally taken control of the area, so he turned around and went home.

    The Red River was in turmoil after the news spread that McDougall had been sent back to the border. The Hudson Bay Company Council that governed the Northwest summoned Louis to a meeting to account for the actions of the Metis. Riel told them that the Metis had no problem with the Hudson Bay Company rule, but they would "not stand idly by while a new government its will on the Northwest"(Neering, 22)

    The Metis heard about the Canadian meetings and feared that the Canadians would want to try and take over Fort Garry from the Hudson Bay Company and establish their own control over the Red River Settlement. Early one morning the Metis crossed the river and quietly took over Fort Garry. Two days later representatives from all parts of the Red River came to the fort to take part in a convention that would determine what they would do next. Riel wanted to form a Provisional Government, with the power to represent the area in any dealings with the Canadians government. The Metis than began to argue over whether or not this would be a rebellion, Louis finally lost his temper " Go, return peacefully to your farms, stay in the arms of your wives. Give this example to your children. But watch us act out. We are going ahead to work to obtain the guarantee of your rights and ours. You will come to share them in the end" (Neering, 38)

    The community finally agreed on one thing: they wanted to put together a bill of rights for the Red River. The bill demanded an elected legislature, representation, in the Canadian Parliament and recognition of both French and English as official languages.

    Riel was still worried that the Canadians would try and take over Fort Garry and destroy what the Metis had accomplished. To forestall them the Metis arrested forty-seven Canadians and imprisoned them in Fort Garry. One of the men was Thomas Scott.

    Riel was no at the height of his power. He was leader of the only established government in Rupert’s Land and he also had control of the army, he also had the Americans at his side and the Canadian government had to deal with him if they wanted the Northwest Territories back.

    Scott was not a quiet prisoner, he did not like the idea of imprisonment especially by the Metis, the people that he despised. Scott often tried to cause trouble while he was in the Metis jail, often telling the guards "learn to speak English, I’ll do whatever I like. Soon the English will come and take this fort. Than you and your friends will swing in the breeze and I will be there to laugh at you"(Roberson J.S., 23). Scott tried once to escape from the prison, but found himself a prisoner of Louis Riel for a second time.

    Scott was marched before a court of six men, all members of Louis council. When Scott had said that he did not understand the charges because he did not speech French, his charges were repeated in English. Scott was accused of trying to escape Fort Garry, and making insulting remarks toward the Metis guards. "Four members voted or impisment, one for acquittal, and one for banishment, his sentence was death, and was to be killed the next day at noon"(Roberston J.S., 26).

    When the news of Scott’s death had reached Ontario, newspapers said that "Scott had been killed because he was English and Protestant, and he was murdered by French that were Catholic"(Roberston J.S., 28) and the people of Ontario wanted revenge. Riel did not want to leave home, but he knew that he had to because his life was in danger. He stayed in the U.S. for a year, than he heard that elections were being held at the Red River to chose the province representatives in Ottawa. Louis wanted to run for parliament but decided not to when Cartiers was beat in the Quebec riding. Cartiers won soon after, but than he passed away, so Louis was determined to run in the next election, he came back to the Red River and ran, and one easily.

    Even though he was elected to parliament, there was still a warrant out of his arrest in Ontario and 5,000 dollars for his capture. Friends smuggled him into Ontario, but Riel decided to go back to Montreal. Then a new election was called and Louis was determined to run foe office once more. He was elected again and was determined that he would his face in Ottawa. Riel disguised himself and got into the parliament building and singed the roll. The clerk looked down to see Riel’s signature then looked up "to see Riel bowing in the doorway"(Bowfield, 120)  Reports then circulated that armed men waited in the gallery at the Parliament Building to kill Louis, so he again decided to go back to Montreal. That year Louis was granted amnesty, on the "condition that he stay out of Canada for five years"(Bumsted, 146)

    Louis became tormented by his dreams of God and Christ, his enemies, the bloody body of Thomas Scott, his friends and his dead father. Louis was no longer able to hide his pain, his uncle came to bring him back to Montreal were he would be left in a seminary. He had to smuggle Louis into Canada, but Louis would not stay quiet. He ran throughout the corridors of the train saying "I am a Prophet, I am a Prophet" (Roberston J.S., 285). Most of the time he stayed in his room he called himself Louis David Riel, Prophet, and Priest - King, the thought that "the world was sinful and that Canada was God's chosen country and the Metis were God's chosen people"(Roberston, J.S.285).

    When Louis was living in the states he became re aquatinted with an old friend named Gabriel Dumont, Dumont asked Riel to come back to Canada, Riel began to think that he was not ment to be a school teacher and came back to Canada and promised himself that the would fulfil God's mission.

    Louis came back to Canada in 1884, and soon began to hear the complaints of the Metis, who were unhappy with the status - quo, the only solution seemed to be rebellion. The Indians to the Northwest were also on happy. They began to talk about an uprising against the Canadian government. A council was held in June, and the Indians began to talk about the concessions that they wanted form the government. The Mounted Police then broke up the council. Riel took advantage of this. While the Canadian were making plans to enforce the area. This put the Metis into action. They reformed the Provisional Government, nothing further occurred until March 25, when a troop of Mounted Police appeared on the banks of the South Saskatchewan, which made Dumont take action. "A military council was formed and troops dispatched on Duck Lake"(Association of Metis, 47).   

    When John A. Macdonald heard about the battle at Duck Lake he authorized military action. But Riel was certain that things would go his way " the sprit has informed me that the battle would be successful. This was told to em not in words, but was comminuted to my sprit in a more tangible way" (Flanagen, 57).

    Then Dumont got into a "battle" with General Middelton, it began on April 24 and ended on the 25, the Metis had ten casualties, Middleton had sixty, ten dead and fifty wounded. The Rebellion itself stirred up strong feelings, the Orange men wanted revenge against Louis, as did Macdonald, and it was said that "Riel would not have a fair anywhere out side of Quebec (Robertson. S.S.274). On August 1, 1885 Louis was convicted of high treason and was sentenced to hang he asked God "My God, through Jesus, please let the Crown attorneys be aware of the facts they lack" (Flanagan, 95).

    At the trail Louis tried to convince the jury that he was not insane, three doctors took the stand, two said that he was sane, the one that did not said " the most cunning deceiver could not simulate the appearance and actions which he presented. A malinger would never utter so much wisdom mixed with so much insanity. Riel great aim, even at the trail was to falsify the charge of instantly, and to show that he had the mental capacity to be a leader of men."(Bowfield, 172) he than went on to say " anyone who has read his letters to the jury will see a great deal of shrewdness, irony and sarcasm of a rather intelligent kind, mingled with his delusions of greatness. His frowns and facial disgust when the evidence was presented to prove his insanity were no actors part" (Bowfield, Rebel of…173).

    When Louis was in prison became closer to God " I need to pray, do the same, all you who have sins to atone for, graces to obtain, dangers to avoid, misfortunes to prevent". As the Lord’s prayer was recited, Louis Riel dropped to his death.Riel spent his early years educating himself to become a pioneer of native rights, but his pride often got the better of him. Many people feel that the rebellion was a way for Riel to have revenge on English Canada for sending MacDougall as Luetendant Governor of the Northwest.His main mistake lay in his part of the execution of Thomas Scott. His delusions of greatness and increasing insanity led to his down fall and execution.


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Be Done. Winnipeg, Manitoba: Manitoba Metis Federation, 1979

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Prejudice. Toronto, Ontario: Coop Clark Publishing Company, 1969

Bowfield Haetwell. Louis Riel. The Rebel and the Hero. Toronto, Ontario: Oxford

Company Press, 1971

Bumstead J.M. The Red River Rebellion. Toronto, Ontario: Canadian Cataloguing in

Publication Data, 1966

The Dairies of Louis Riel. Edited by Thomas Flanagan, Alberta:1977

Neering, Rosemary. Louis Riel. Don Mills, Ontario: Fitzhernry and Whiteside LTD, 1977

Roberston J.S.. The Story of Louis Riel. Toronto, Ontario:Coles Publishing Company,


Roberston R.W.W.. The Execution of Thomas Scott. Toronto, Ontario: Burns and

MacEachean Ltd., 1968

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