November 16, 1905. I am 61 years old today. In a way, I’m lucky: many of my children and grandchildren live near me in Saskatchewan. But I do not feel like celebrating. Why? Twenty years ago, on November 16, 1885, Louis Riel, a great patriot who defended the rights of the Métis in the Prairies, died. He was hanged because a court said he was a traitor to the country.

Like Louis Riel, I was born in the Red River colony (in the Winnipeg area today). Many Métis families lived there. What is a Métis? A Métis is someone who has both Native and White ancestors. My grandfather was a white Catholic francophone who worked in the fur trade. He married my grandmother, a Native woman. The Métis were a bison hunting people. By 1905, there were almost no bison left; they had been decimated.

At the age of 14, Louis Riel was sent to study in Québec. He returned to the colony when Canada bought the northwest lands of the Hudson’s Bay Company without consulting us. Riel became our chief to protect our lands and our rights. I took part in the resistance movement he led and which led to the creation of Manitoba as a Canadian province in 1870. We were happy with this victory.

However, as more and more white colonists arrived, many Métis moved further West. That’s what I did with my family. But colonization caught up with us. So we asked Riel, who had gone to live in the U.S., to come back and help us again. Except this time, things ended badly. Riel was captured and sentenced to death by a court hostile to our cause. And the Métis gained nothing.

Author:  Service national du Récit de l’univers social

See also – Traces of the past:

French (If available)