As a young Metis woman, I know I need to make a difference. We need to contend for the rights and freedoms of all Canadians. In 1885, just prior to Riel’s execution, Riel is recorded as saying, “I am more convinced every day that without a single exception I did right. And I have always believed that, as I have acted honestly, the time will come when the people of Canada will see and acknowledge it”. I am determined to see the day Riel spoke of come to pass.Read Isabel Gagne's Time to Write a Historical Wrong
Metis Nation of Saskatchewan
Isabel Gagne is an 18 year old Metis woman who has accepted an offer to study International Business in Montreal at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University. Isabel has a passion for social justice and has lived a life of service to her community. Isabel plans to complete her Bachelor of Commerce degree within the next four years. In 2015 Isabel was named Saskatchewan’s Junior Citizen of the Year and was recognized by the Congress of Aboriginal People’s with the Youth Achievement Award.
The piece she has written explores the issue of justice surrounding the historical portrayal of Louis Riel. Isabel feels her generation needs to right a historical wrong. She believes the writing and teaching of Canadian history should record Louis Riel as an activist who fought for human rights rather than as a traitor hung for treason.
Isabel believes that in today’s context Riel would be referred to as a hero who fought for the rights of all Canadians. Riel is the embodiment of a true Canadian. He stood up against the injustice of racism however history records Riel as a leader of a rebellion rather than a champion of resistance against the oppression of government.
Isabel’s writing refers to Riel as a living treaty between two nations and calls for action to Write/Right a historical wrong.
Our generation has an opportunity to right a historical wrong. History records that Louis Riel was hung for treason. But, think about it. Was it treason or was it a human rights movement? As a generation of young people, we need to question the writing and teaching of Canadian history.
I have been inspired by the diligence in which Riel, the father of the Metis nation, fought for what he believed. Riel’s fight for the value and rights of the individual has served, for over a century, to inspire and stir up passion in the hearts of aboriginal people across Canada. Riel truly is the embodiment of what it means to be a true Canadian.
Perhaps being from Saskatchewan, I feel a particular affinity to the struggle of the Metis people that was ultimately manifest at the Battle of Batoche. Many Metis under Riel’s leadership moved to Saskatchewan even though the land was not yet settled. A couple of summer’s ago, I visited the National Historic site in Batoche, Saskatchewan where I discovered a plaque. I was stirred by the quote on the plaque as I feel it exemplifies the value the Metis, under Riel, placed on freedom: “We left Manitoba because we were not free, and we came here to a country that is still wild, to be free”. Riel inspired people, and his voice still challenges us, as a Metis Nation, to a place where we are not willing to sacrifice freedom.
Louis Riel respected all cultures. Riel was an advocate for all people. His belief in the rights of all people glared in contrast to the Prime Minister of the day, John A. MacDonald. Whereas Riel was a living treaty between two nations, MacDonald was often quoted with vulgar and racist remarks against people of Chinese, Aboriginal, or African Decent. The idea of a living treaty is not to assign a people group to a reservation of land to keep them away. Rather, Riel personified cultural and ethnic acceptance. As a Metis man, Riel’s ancestors could be traced to two different sides of a conflict, yet he was at peace in the middle.
My keen sense of justice has been fueled by the fight of Riel and his people. He stood up against the government of the day when they not only tried to take away land rights but they also refused to see the Metis people as equals because of their aboriginal bloodline. I believe Riel’s battle was not a rebellion but rather a human rights movement. MacDonald and the Canadian government looked at the Metis as less than human; referring to them as “half-breeds,” quite clearly showing contempt for the Metis’s native ancestry. Riel used his education to fight for the rights of his fellow Canadians.
Riel had a vision of a United Canada, and he was willing to take a stand to achieve it. Perhaps the way Riel has most influenced me is to have me question the writing and teaching of Canadian history. Riel pushed back against racism. He stood for the right to land ownership. Did he rebel or was it what today we would call a human rights movement? I tend to believe Riel when he said, “We did not rebel, we defended and maintained rights for which we enjoyed and had neither forfeited nor sold.” Today aboriginal people are still fighting for these rights. In the end, Riel gave his life for a country that denied him, yet he started a human rights movement that is still being fought today.
As a young Metis woman, I know I need to make a difference. We need to contend for the rights and freedoms of all Canadians. In 1885, just prior to Riel’s execution, Riel is recorded as saying, “I am more convinced every day that without a single exception I did right. And I have always believed that, as I have acted honestly, the time will come when the people of Canada will see and acknowledge it”.
I am determined to see the day Riel spoke of come to pass. I believe history needs to be re-written depicting Riel as an activist rather than a traitor, for Riel himself said “We may fail, but the rights for which we contend won’t fail.” Let’s allow this statement of Riel stir us to action. We need to right this historical wrong. We need to insist that the teaching of history be a true reflection of a man who fought for the rights of all Canadians – for human rights. Let’s write/right this wrong.