In Manitoba, the Canadian province north of Minnesota and North Dakota, today is officially Louis Riel Day. For many, Riel is a controversial historical figure. Seen by many as the ‘father of Manitoba,’ he was hanged by the Canadian state for treason in 1885. For many Métis and other Indigenous people, Riel is seen as a prophet who used direct action tactics to confront the incursion of white Canadians into traditional Indigenous lands and their subsequent disenfranchisement. Of course, Riel was neither a saint nor was he without his flaws. Riel is a figure who stood for Indigenous sovereignty, even while he was strongly aligned with the Catholic Church (albeit he practiced a very unorthodox Catholicism). Before his state-sanctioned assassination, Riel is known to have argued: ‘My people will sleep for 100 years, but when they awake it will be the artists that give them back their spirit.’ A century later, Métis activists pushed the Canadian state to recognize the Métis as a distinct aboriginal nation (no such luck for Métis living below the 49th parallel). On this Riel day, I say ‘Vive Riel! Vive la résistance indigene!’
The above image is from my 2011 exhibition at Urban Shaman Gallery in Winnipeg. For the show, I addressed Métis history on both sides of the US-Canada border, as well as the significance of Métis armed insurrections of the late-nineteenth century.