Louis Riel And The Metis Essay

Hi there, I am in social studies 10 summerschool course, my teacher had assigned my class to write an essay on Louis Riel, arguring on whether he is a hero or traitor. The essay is due tomorrow, I had spent a few nights on it and was just able to finish it up.

I would be so greatful if anyone is willing to help me by pointing out my mistakes.

PS: Because english is my second language, please help me by pointing out the grammar mistakes that i have made.

thank you!



Louis Riel, Hero of Métis

On November 16, 1885, a man known to be a lunatic, a murderer, a traitor of his country stood on the scaffold of Regina jail. This "traitor" had been fighting for the rights his nation all throughout his life; He had a strong determination to fight for what he believed in, and was sentenced to death in result of being persistent - which was addressed as "treason" in court. Despite the well education and a high social standing in which he possessed, the man faced discrimination, and did not have a voice even when he was wronged, just because his blood was mixed. This man was Louis Reil, a Métis leader who was willing to sacrifice himself for his culture and nation, identified as one of the most important figures in Canadian history.

Born in the Red River Settlement in 1844, Louis Riel grew up to be a bright student, he was sent to Montréal to train as a priest at an young age, but never graduated. Riel later became a lawyer, returning to the Red River area at the age of 24, just as Canada was negotiating with the Hudson's Bay Company for the purchase of Rupert's land. The inhabitants of red river were not taken into consideration, and the Canadian government seemed to have ignored the existence of the residents living on the land they were preparing to join with their confederation. Tension rose among the Métis when surveyors were sent to the red river valley and overlooked the Métis' claims to their property, since there were no legal claims. Fearing that the Canadian government would confiscate their land, a decision was made among the proud descendants of French Canadian voyageurs and native mothers-the Métis had to protect their people and land, no matter how difficult it was going to be.

Ambitious and well educated, Riel quickly took position as an important leader among the Métis of the Red River Settlement. He had no intention of rebelling against the Canadian government; in fact, the Métis were willing to enter Canadian confederation, but only under the condition of being provided protected rights by the government. After failed attempts to bring the Métis' issues into attention to the Canadian government, Riel made sure that the Métis were given a voice that would be heard by the Canadian government by setting up a "provisional government". McDougall, the Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories was strongly anti-Métis. He did not provide any responsible answer to the requests of the Provisional Government. Facing ignorance by the arrogant Canadians, Riel was determined to fight for the rights and respect for his people. A party of Métis had earlier occupied Fort Garry; Riel was prepared for the worst. In early December of 1869, Just when John Schultz and 48 of his supporters were about to attack fort Garry, Riel lead a party of armed Métis and arrested the English "prisoners". Among the English men was Thomas Scott, an Orangeman who strongly loathed the Métis, he was violent and threatened to kill Riel once he was freed. It was not expected that Riel's decision to execute Thomas Scott would end up as one of his biggest mistakes, later costing him his life; at the time, the death of Thomas Scott was known to have ended the threat of war between the two governments, this event - the red river rebellion contributed to the negotiation of the creation of Manitoba. If Riel had not taken any actions for the rights of his people, they would be continuously ignored by the Canadian government. Riel's only intention was to improve the Métis' social status and remind the Canadian government of their existence, yet due to his lack of consideration of his actions, Riel was misunderstood greatly.

The execution of Thomas Scott led to an uproar among in Ontario; Riel had no choice but to flee for his safety, for he was in danger of being charged with murder. It was even during his exile; Riel did not forget his Métis people. He believed that fighting for the rights of the Métis was his destiny. In 1884, when he was summoned upon by Gabriel Dumont to return to Canada and help the Métis of Saskatchewan, Riel agreed without hesitate, leaving his career as a teacher in the United States. He sent a list of grievances to the Canadian government, requesting for equal rights for the Métis as others in the Northwest. This list of grievances was named the "Métis Bill of Rights". Although the government did receive the document, they did not respond to the Métis. When Riel proposed a second petition by sending a representative, Laurence Clark to Ottawa, They received nothing but a threatening message: the only answer the Métis would receive for their petition was bullets. The rumor of a force of Northwest Mounted police was on their way to arrest Riel; this was the last of his patience. The Canadian government refused to negotiate peacefully, and was determined to make war.

Preparation for war had begun among the Métis as Riel declared on March 19, 1885, "Justice commands us to take up arms." By March 26, The Northwest uprising had begun with the victory of the Métis at Duck Lake, but by shooting down twelve northwest mounted police members, the Métis were then forced to face the immense number of eight thousand Canadian soldiers ready for battle. Although the Métis had been able to stop a troop of nearly two thousand militia soldiers at fish creek, the lack of military supplies of the Métis during the battle of Batoche forced them to surrender to the Canadians.

The battle of Batoche resulted in the end of the Northwest Uprising. Devastated, Riel surrendered and took all the responsibility of the rebellion. Riel had spent all his life fighting for justice, dedicating his life fighting for the rights of the Métis. Yet it was his overpowering determination and faith in destinies did he become a contentious figure. Louis Riel died a tragic death at the age of 41, facing death; his last words were still defending his people. Riel died with the crime of treason to the Canadians, for he spent all he had fighting for his people, the Métis.

Louis Riel, Métis leader, founder of Manitoba, central figure in the Red River and North-West resistances (born 22 October 1844 in Saint-Boniface, Red River Settlement; died 16 November 1885 in Regina, SK).

Louis Riel, Métis leader, founder of Manitoba, central figure in the Red River and North-West resistances (born 22 October 1844 in Saint-Boniface, Red River Settlement; died 16 November 1885 in Regina, SK). Riel led two popular Métis governments, was central in bringing Manitoba into Confederation, and was executed for high treason for his role in the 1885 resistance to Canadian encroachment on Métis lands. Riel was initially dismissed as a rebel by Canadian historians, although many now sympathize with Riel as a Métis leader who fought to protect his people from the Canadian government.

Early Life

Riel was born in 1844 in Saint-Boniface, in the Red River Settlement. His father, Louis Riel, Sr. — a businessman and political leader in the Métis community — organized a large Métis resistance to the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) fur-trading monopoly at the trial of Pierre-Guillaume Sayer in 1849. Riel’s political legacy likely influenced his son, who left Red River at a young age to study in Québec.

From the beginning of his formal education, Riel emerged as a standout student. At 13, the Catholic clergy in the Red River parish of Saint-Boniface identified him as a strong candidate for the priesthood, and he was given a scholarship to study at a Sulpician school in Montréal. Riel excelled at this junior seminary, where he soon neared the top of his class. He also acquired a passion for poetry, which he nurtured for the rest of his life. While studying for the priesthood, Riel met a young French Canadian woman, Marie-Julie Guernon, to whom he quietly became engaged. However, in the racially charged atmosphere of the day, Guernon’s parents refused to allow her to marry a Métis man and the engagement was broken off. Riel left the seminary and moved back to Red River.

Riel at Red River

In March 1869, the HBC agreed to sell Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory to the Dominion of Canada. Anticipating the transfer of these lands, the federal government appointed William McDougall as lieutenant-governor of the new territory and sent survey crews to Red River that August to assess and re-stake the lands. Concerned that an influx of Anglo-Protestant immigrants from Ontario would follow, the Métis organized the Métis National Committee in order to protect the social, cultural and political status of the Métis in Red River and the Northwest more generally. As an articulate young man with an eastern education, Riel was elected as its secretary — and was later elected president. With Riel at its head, the committee halted the Canadian land surveys on 11 October 1869. Less than one month later, the committee established a roadblock to prevent William McDougall from entering the Red River Settlement on 2 November. That same day, the Committee seized Upper Fort Garry from the HBC and, with little resistance from HBC officials, took steps to establish itself, under Riel’s leadership, as the government of the Red River Settlement. The committee invited both the English and French speaking people of Red River to send delegates to Upper Fort Garry to discuss the terms on which they would allow McDougall — and by extension Canadian authority — into the Northwest.

The Métis National Committee

The Métis National Committee was consolidated as a provisional government in early December 1869. With Riel at its helm, it issued a "Declaration of the People of Rupert's Land and the North-West," which rejected Canada’s authority to govern the Northwest and proposed a negotiated settlement between Canada and the new provisional government. In response to McDougall’s rejection from Red River, the Canadian government sent three special commissioners to the settlement: Reverend Jean-Baptiste Thibault, Colonel Charles de Salaberry, and Donald A. Smith, chief representative of the HBC in Canada. Smith persuaded Riel to summon a general meeting, at which Riel and other local leaders proposed a convention of 40 representatives of the settlement, equally divided between English and French speakers, to discuss the possibility of union with Canada. At the first meeting, held 26 January 1870, the delegates decided to draw up an entirely new "List of Rights," which they considered the conditions necessary for “the people of the North-West” to enter Confederation. In March 1870, this convention was transformed into the “Provisional Government of Assiniboia,” which contained three branches of government: an elected legislature, an executive responsible to the legislature, and a fledgling judicial branch. The provisional government appointed and sent three delegates to Ottawa, whose official task was to negotiate with George-Étienne Cartier the entry of Assiniboia — Red River and the surrounding area — into Confederation.

Meanwhile, a small force of Canadians gathered at Portage la Prairie, hoping to enlist support in the Scottish parishes of Red River and disband the provisional government. The appearance of armed Canadians alarmed the Métis, who promptly rounded them up and imprisoned them at Upper Fort Garry. The Métis convened a court martial at which Riel's associate, Ambroise-Dydime Lépine, sentenced a young Orangeman, Thomas Scott, to death by firing squad. Scott was executed on 4 March 1870. While this event was downplayed in both the Provisional Government of Assiniboia’s deliberations and by the Canadian leadership negotiating with the provisional government’s representatives in Ottawa, the execution did radicalize Protestant Ontario, who from this point onward sought retribution from Riel for Scott’s death.

Despite opposition from the Orange Lodge of Ontario, of which Thomas Scott had been a member, the provisional government’s delegates obtained an agreement with the Canadian government. The agreement was embodied in the Manitoba Act, which received royal assent on 12 May 1870, when the Province of Manitoba entered Confederation. Central to this agreement, the federal government agreed to reserve 1.4 million acres (566,560 hectares) for the children of Métis residents of Manitoba and ensured that the province would be officially bilingual.

To reassure Ontario and support the administration of the new Lieutenant-Governor A.G. Archibald, the federal government sent a military force to Red River under Colonel Garnet Wolseley in the summer of 1870. Though the Red River Expedition was supposed to be "an errand of peace," according to Archibald, the provisional government had not consented to its arrival, and it was not part of the agreement made by the delegation to Ottawa. Riel had reason to fear its arrival; the provisional government even considered resisting it. However, when it became obvious that the expedition was out to lynch Riel, he fled to the United States. On 3 May 1871, he returned quietly to his home in Saint-Vital, Red River, although he often stayed in hiding. When the province was threatened in the autumn of 1871 by a Fenian raid from the United States, Riel offered to organize a force of Métis cavalry to demonstrate Métis commitment to their agreement with Canada.

The Intervening Years: Québec to Montana

In Ontario, Riel was widely denounced as Thomas Scott's "murderer" and a reward of $5,000 was offered for his arrest. In Québec, he was regarded as a hero, a defender of the Roman Catholic faith and French culture in Manitoba. Anxious to avoid a political confrontation with the two principal provinces of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald tried to persuade Riel to remain in voluntary exile in the United States, even providing a cash payout to Riel, who needed the money to support his family. However, his exile lasted only four months, and Riel was encouraged by his friends and his widespread popularity in French Manitoba to enter federal politics. He was elected in the federal riding of Provencher in a by-election in October 1873. Riel was re-elected in the February 1874 general election, at which point he travelled to Ottawa and signed the members’ register at the House of Commons. But before taking his seat, he was expelled from the House on a motion introduced by the Ontario Orange leader Mackenzie Bowell. Although re-elected in a constituency by-election in Provencher in September 1874, Riel delayed in taking his seat and was later expelled from the House.

On 12 February 1875, the federal government adopted a motion granting amnesty to Riel that was conditional to five years of banishment from "Her Majesty's Dominions." The question of whether or not Riel had broken either British or Canadian law for his part in the Red River resistance was never determined in court.

Shortly after his exile, Riel suffered a nervous breakdown and his friends secretly admitted him to hospital, against his own wishes, at Longue Pointe in Montréal. He was later transferred to the mental asylum at Beauport, Québec. In January 1878, Riel went to Keeseville, New York, before travelling to the Midwest. Between 1879 and 1883, in Montana Territory, he reintegrated himself with the Métis, joined the Republican Party, became an American citizen, and married a Métis woman, Marguerite Monet, dit Bellehumeur. In 1883, he also became a schoolteacher at Saint Peter's Mission, located on the Sun River.

In June 1884, Riel was asked by a group of Métis to help them protect their legal rights in the Saskatchewan Valley. Led by Gabriel Dumont, this delegation asked Riel to travel north to utilize his expertise in dealing with the Canadians for the benefit of the Métis people. Riel consented, so long as his family could join them and that he would be able to return to Montana once things were settled in Saskatchewan. With every intention of returning to Montana, Riel and his family reached Batoche, the main centre of Métis settlement in Saskatchewan, in early July. Riel conducted a peaceful agitation there, speaking throughout the district and preparing a petition. Among other grievances, the Métis were concerned by the fact that they did not hold permanent title to their land. Non-Aboriginal farmers were also dissatisfied with their lot and took issue with low wheat prices, high freight costs and tariffs on farming machinery. They were especially upset that their settlements were not reached by the new Canadian Pacific Railway. Riel and William Henry Jackson — secretary of the Prince Albert area farmers' union and Riel’s secretary — drafted a petition outlining these grievances in December 1884. This petition, preceded by some 40 others sent before Riel’s arrival, was acknowledged by the federal government, which promised to appoint a commission to investigate and report on problems in the West. However, similar statements had been made before, and the Saskatchewan Métis, many of whom had left Manitoba after the Canadian government’s failure to live up to its agreements, were wary of such promises.

The Provisional Government of Saskatchewan

By 1885, the North-West Mounted Police had been established, and a railway to the West almost completed, so the impetus for the Canadian government to negotiate with Métis as it had in 1870 was no longer present. Tired of waiting on Canadian action, the Batoche Métis, at a meeting on 5 March 1885, proposed to take up arms in order to compel Canada to recognize their land rights. At a meeting on 8 March 1885, Riel put forth a motion to create a provisional government for Saskatchewan. While the motion did not pass at that meeting, a 10-point "Revolutionary Bill of Rights" was drafted. It asserted Métis rights of possession to their farms, amongst other demands, including, "That the Land Department of the Dominion Government be administered as far as practicable from Winnipeg, so that the settlers may not be compelled as heretofore to go to Ottawa for the settlement of questions in dispute between them and the land commissioner."

After word was received that the federal government was sending 500 soldiers to Batoche in answer to the Métis petitions, on 18 March the Métis seized the parish church at Batoche, formed a provisional government — of which Riel was president — and demanded the surrender of the HBC post at Fort Carlton. The ensuing fighting lasted two months (see North-West Resistance), and although the Métis won the first of two engagements, the Canadians ultimately overwhelmed Métis soldiers, and Riel surrendered himself to the Canadian militia.

Trial and Execution

On 6 July 1885, a formal charge of treason was laid against Riel. On 20 July his trial began in Regina. Against Riel’s wishes, his counsel defended Riel on the grounds of insanity, pointing to the time he spent in asylums in the late 1870s. Riel, however, understood that by casting him as insane, his lawyers would discredit his people’s legitimate grievances against the Canadian government. Riel wished to pursue a claim of self-defence instead, arguing that Métis actions in both 1870 and 1885 were justifiable. Riel, however, could not afford his own defence, and so his counsel was paid for by friends in Québec, who likely had different motives than Riel. Repeatedly at odds with his lawyers throughout the proceedings, Riel ended his trial with an eloquent speech that systematically dismantled his lawyers’ insanity-defence strategy. This speech proved Riel’s sanity — it also all but assured that he would hang.

With the foreman in tears, the jury pronounced Riel guilty. While the jury recommended clemency, none was forthcoming. The verdict was appealed to the Court of Queen's Bench of Manitoba and to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Both appeals were dismissed, but public pressure, particularly from Québec, delayed execution pending an examination of Riel's mental state. The three examining physicians found Riel "excitable," but only one considered him insane. Owing to questionable excisions, the official version of the report did not reveal any difference of opinion and the federal Cabinet decided in favour of hanging.

Riel was executed on a public gallows in Regina on 16 November 1885. His body was transported to Saint-Boniface, where his remains were taken to the cathedral’s cemetery at the head of a massive procession made up of the leaders of French Manitoba. His grave, as well as his home, remain well-visited historic sites to this day.


Politically and philosophically, Riel's execution has had a lasting effect on Canadian history. Riel’s execution made him the martyr of the Métis people. In Central Canada, the political fallout from Riel’s hanging enlivened French Canadian nationalism, propelling Honoré Mercier, who came to power in Québec in 1886 on a platform that played to the feelings aroused by Riel's hanging. Riel’s death also caused a fundamental shift in Québec voting trends, moving the province’s traditional support of the Conservative Party to the Liberal Party led by Wilfrid Laurier. Riel's execution remains a contentious issue, and demands for his retroactive pardon have been made on a number of occasions. Far from the days where Riel was a hated “traitor” and the “murderer” of Thomas Scott, Riel has been recognized as a Father of Confederation, as a wronged man, as a defender of his people, and as a protector of minority rights in Canada.

Riel has a number of statues commemorating him in his home province. In 2007, Manitoba recognized him with a public holiday held annually in February. For the Métis, 16 November, the day of Riel’s execution, is a national public commemoration of Riel’s life and the struggles he led. Riel still remains the most famous Métis leader and an important figurehead for Métis people in Western Canada.

Riel’s place in Canadian history is more celebratory than in the past. For many, Riel has become a Canadian hero, as he embodies many contemporary issues in the country — bilingualism, multiculturalism, tolerance for difference, a keen sense of social justice — than many of his contemporaries. However, writers often ignore that Riel was very cautious of the Canadian national project, seeing it as assimilatory as much as unifying. Métis scholars now critique the zeal with which Riel has been Canadianized and how this appropriation is often at odds with Riel’s political beliefs, which featured a prominent place for Métis nationalism and political independence.

Historiography and the Issue of Madness

The story of Riel has endured dramatic shifts since the 1960s. While Riel’s legacy has always been controversial — loved by some, hated by others — his status as a rebel, highlighted by many non-Métis historians and political scientists, has been largely replaced by the recognition that Riel was a visionary whose principles resonate with many Métis and Canadians today. Métis writers have been instrumental in reclaiming Riel’s narrative through many historical and cultural works. As a result, he is increasingly praised for his multiculturalism and multilingualism — both of which were contained in the original vision of Manitoba.

Riel’s disputed insanity is less of an explanatory factor for scholars and popular writers today than it was previously. While his time in asylums is often left open to interpretation in many writings, the obsession with Riel’s supposed insanity and caricaturized spiritual mission have been increasingly understood in the context of their time, and the cultural context of Métis religiosity. Several scholars have noted that it was usually Riel’s friends, rather than his enemies, who attempted to cast him as insane, and that among his contemporaries, his “insanity” was regularly contested; many thought he was simply extreme, radical, or excitable — none of which made him crazy.

Suggested Reading

  • P. Charlebois, The Life of Louis Riel (1975); W.M. Davidson, Louis Riel (1955); T.E. Flanagan, Louis "David" Riel: Prophet of the New World (1979) and Riel and the Rebellion, 1885 Reconsidered (1983); George F.G. Stanley et al, eds, Les Éditions complètes de Louis Riel/The Collected Works of Louis Riel (5 vols, 1985); J.K. Howard, Strange Empire (1952); George F.G. Stanley, Louis Riel (1963); Thomas Flanagan, ed, The Diaries of Louis Riel (1976); Jean Morisset (transl), Louis Riel : poèmes amériquains (1997); Gilles Martel, et al, Louis Riel, poésies de jeunesse (1977); Glen Campbell, ed, The Selected Poetry of Louis Riel (1993); Saskatchewan Archives Board, Riel's 1885 Diary (1985).

Links to other sites

  • Louis Riel & Gabriel Dumont See a synopsis of Joseph Boyden’s insightful biography of Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont at indigo.ca.

  • Louis RielWatch the Heritage Minute about legendary Métis leader Louis Riel from Historica Canada. See also related online learning resources.

  • Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts ChallengeThe website for the Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge, which features Canada's largest essay writing competition for Aboriginal youth (ages 14-29) and a companion program for those who prefer to work through painting, drawing and photography. See their guidelines, teacher resources, profiles of winners, and more. From Historica Canada.

  • Speech of Mr. Wilfred Laurier on the Riel QuestionClick on “Download” to view the full text of Mr. Wilfred Laurier’s speech that criticized the decision to execute Louis Riel. Delivered in the House of Commons on March 16, 1886. From the Saskatchewan War Experience website (University of Saskatchewan Library).

  • Speech of Sir Adolphe Caron on the execution of Louis RielRead the full text of Sir Adolphe Caron’s speech in support of the execution of Louis Riel delivered in the House of Commons in 1886. From archive.org.

  • Louis RielBiography of Louis Riel, Métis spokesman, regarded as the founder of Manitoba, teacher, and leader of the North-West rebellion. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.

  • Louis Riel’s Land ClaimsAn article about Louis Riel’s difficulties with various real estate transactions in western Canada. From the Manitoba Historical Society website.

  • Louis RielA chronology of events in the life of Louis Riel 1844 – 1885. From the Government of Manitoba website.

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