Louis Riel: Indigenous Hero Or Unpardonable Mass Murderer? Yes!
Print Friendly and PDF

Earlier (2011) Is Tribute To Japanese-American WWII Veterans Long-Overdue? Seriously?

This story is from last year, although it was promoted recently on Pocket.com.

It's about the man who led the Red River Rebellion in Canada in 1870  and Northwest Rebellion in 1885. This happened out west in what is now Manitoba, which on your map is north of North Dakota.

The Indigenous Rebel Who Took the Fight to White Settlers

As colonists spread across North America, Louis Riel took up arms — and was demonized in Canada’s history books. After 150 years, it’s time to reevaluate his legacy.

By Julia MĂ©traux,  Narratively.com, May 7, 2020

The idea is that this fellow Riel is only getting positive recognition as of 2020. This is wildly wrong.

Peter Brimelow wrote in The Patriot Game: Canada and the Canadian Question Revisited in 1987, that pro-Riel, anti-Anglo Canadian propaganda was already the Narrative in the schools since the mid-20th century.

English Canada's self-censorship is so effective that no dreams disturb this sleep. It seems quite natural for the liquor company Seagrams Limited to distribute in 1980 a promotional history of Canada, The Canadian Journey, whose only mention of World War I is in the context of French-language schooling and the firing of enemy aliens on the Prairies. This suppression has achieved impressive levels of refinement. For example, Louis Riel, the nineteenth-century leader of two minor Prairie rebellions against Canadian authority by French-Indian halfbreeds ("Metis"), has been turned into an official Canadian hero in the twentieth century.

This is  partly out of the pervasive North American guilt about aboriginals, partly a matter of the romantic sympathy of progressives for any revolution, and partly because he was always a hero to French Canada, whose alliance with Sir John A. Macdonald's Conservatives is conventionally supposed to have been terminated by Riel's execution for treason. Macdonald could hardly risk a pardon, because Riel himself had ordered the shooting of an Ontario Orangeman, Thomas Scott, who refused to accept the authority of the Metis "provisional government." Scott's only crime was remaining loyal to Canada. But recent Canadian historians, whether popular or academic, have regularly paused in their narratives to cast aspersions on his character: "arrogant and recalcitrant"—Kenneth McNaught, The Pelican History of Canada; "pugnacious"—Pierre Berton, Why We Act Like Canadians; "a violent man"—June Callwood, Portrait of Canada; "an obstreperous youth"—Donald Creighton (!), John A. Macdonald: The Old Chieftain.

None of these Anglophone authorities, however, seems to have found space to explain—and accordingly modern English Canadians are generally unaware—precisely why their forebears were so outraged by Scott's death. Eyewitnesses believed that, although horribly wounded, he had survived the firing squad. Hours later, he was reported to be semi-conscious and in agony inside his coffin. There was even a widespread apprehension that he was still alive when finally buried in a secret grave near the Red River on March 4,1870.

The Narratively piece does mention the murder of Scott:

Despite attempts to mar Riel and the new provisional government, the MĂ©tis continued with their mission of obtaining sovereignty over their land. On February 17, a group of 48 armed Canadians were taken prisoners by the MĂ©tis. A little less than a month later, Riel ordered one of the prisoners, Thomas Scott, to be executed by firing squad, infuriating Prime Minister John A. Macdonald. Scott was allegedly singled out for taunting MĂ©tis guards with racist comments while he was imprisoned.

But the point about Riel's execution is that he was executed for treason after the Second Riel Rebellion in 1885. Scott died in 1870, and Riel was allowed to escape and not be hanged. When Riel returned in 1885, over 90 people were killed, and, obviously, the Canadian courts and government didn't want him to have a third chance.

Let's go with this judgement from the National Post in 2004:

Canada behaved unjustly and arrogantly in 1885, but we cannot revise its final judgment against Riel unless we are prepared to openly adopt a separate standard of conduct for Riel himself. Riel permitted the execution of the meddlesome, chauvinistic Orangeman Thomas Scott after an improvised 1870 Metis court martial, even though Scott's efforts to undermine bicultural government in the Red River Settlement exceeded others' only in his stubbornness and verbal ferocity.

Apologists are hard-pressed to justify Scott's killing except by raison d'etat. But the same principle excuses Riel's execution with a great deal more justice. If Scott was a threat to Riel's transitional government, how much more profound was the threat a living Riel posed to the project of a sea-to-sea Dominion? If it was right for Riel to shoot Scott, and Riel was thereby no mere murderer, how can it have been wrong for the government to hang Riel?

Rebels who succeed are remembered as revolutionaries; rebels who fail are remembered as traitors. That is the logic of rebellion, and it is no disservice to Riel to call him what he was.

Of course, there's no problem with some Canadians respecting and honoring Riel as a great man while others consider him a rebel. Consider the case of Robert E. Lee..

But because Riel was (partly) non-white—the Canadian word Métis is the same as the Mexican word mestizo, i.e., mixed white and Indian—toppling any memorials to him will not be social justice, but a hate crime.

Print Friendly and PDF