Madman or Hero?
Louis Riel is one of the most controversial figures in Canadian history. To some, Riel may be a national hero. To others, he appeared to be a crazed lunatic. But no matter what your opinion is, it is fact that Louis Riel was a determined man who wouldn’t give up on his people. His leadership of the Métis was shown in both the Red River and North West Rebellions. Everything Riel did was to intentionally improve the Métis’ social status and remind the Canadian government of their existence, for they were often disregarded. He formed the National Committee of the Métis to protect their lands and provided Provisional Government for his Métis people, which negotiated an agreement and allowed the territory surrounding the Red River Settlement to enter the province of Manitoba. Also, he created the Métis bill of rights so that the Metis could protect themselves. Riel spent almost all of his life fighting for justice. By using his saying, “Justice commands us to take up arms”, he encouraged the Métis to fight with the Northwest Mounted Police for their rights and dignity. Before his high treason at the age of 41, he took the responsibility of the rebellion, with the Canadian government against him. Even before he died, his last words were still trying to protect his Métis people. Louis Riel was born in 1844 in the Red River Settlement. At the age of fourteen, Riel’s deeply spiritual convictions are recognized by a powerful Bishop, who talks Louis’ parents into allowing their son to pursue a university education. He was sent to Montreal to begin his studies in priesthood.1 Louis was halfway through his sixth year of study at the College when he got the news that his father had passed away. No longer able to concentrate on his studies, the distracted man’s marks dropped and it wasn’t long before he began looking for other career paths. In the morning of July 1868, he returned home, committed to helping his family survive the hard times that had fallen on all who lived in the Red River region.2 Grasshoppers had plagued the land and swarms of insects covered the land for miles. Many families were on the edge of starvation as the buffalo herds were diminishing, and the fur trade of the North-West were failing. The discontent in the Red River region fired up a mess of conflict. Heated debates over the rights of the Metis versus those of the Canadian government flared up around dinner tables, and continued throughout the streets of Winnipeg. The region was in a fierce debate of public opinion. The clash of different opinions and the poor state the region was in, led up to Riel leading two major rebellions. The first rebellion was the Red River Rebellion of 1869. Riel created a provisional government in the area and tried to negotiate with the Canadian government as much as possible. But Riel's role in the death of Thomas Scott resulted in his exile from Canada. Louis sank further and further into his profound depression during his exile, withdrawing more and more from the outside world as he lost himself in his daily conversations with God. 3Throughout the Red River conflict, Riel’s faith had remained the one constant in his life among the chaos of the resistance. Yet it was during this first year of his exile that, deprived of everything else, religion became Riel’s life. 4 During the winter of 1875-76, Riel openly insisted that he was a prophet and sometimes even boasted he was the Messiah-the Son of God. 5He went on days without sleep, pacing for hours on end and let bone-chilling cries and howls. 6“No I am not crazy!” he yelled at anyone who had suggested it. “I have a mission to perform, and I am a prophet. I am sent by God!” 7After a few months of enduring Louis’ behaviour, his caretakers decided to have Riel committed. Louis spent the next two years of his life in insane asylums.8 The Second major rebellion that took place was the Northwest Rebellion of...
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