Louis Riel was the first child of Louis Riel Pere and Julie Lagimodire. He was born October 22, 1844 in St. Boniface. His mother was the seventh child of Jean-Baptiste Lagimodire and Marie-Anne Gaboury. Louis Riel Pere had been born at Ile–la-Crosse in 1817. He was the son of Jean-Baptiste Riel dit l’Irlande and Marguerite Boucher.Both of Louis Riel’s parents were Catholics.
Louis Riel spent his childhood on the east bank of the Red River, on the property of his Lagimodire grandparents. He grew up with the Mtis. He was extremely aware of his identity. At the age of ten, he began his education, and started studying at the school run by the Christian Brothers.
Going to Montreal on June 1, 1858, with his Sister Valade. They travelled for five weeks before arriving in Montreal on July 5. In Montreal, Louis was admitted to the College de Montreal run by the Gentlemen of St. Sulpice. This is where he studied an eight year course of studies, which included Latin, Greek, French, English, Philosophy and Science. Louis was an excellent student and, placed himself at the top of his class. He was full of grief by the death of his father, on January 1864. Although he continued his studies, his instructors found that his attitude had changed. In March 1865, he left the College de Montreal. He was granted permission to continue his studies as a student while living with Nuns. After breaking the rules several times and repeatedly missing class, he was asked to leave both the College and the convent.
The world which faced him as he left the College was full with strong political activity. During this period, Louis lived with his aunt, Lucie Riel, and managed to find employment in the law office. Louis fell in love with Marie Julie Guernon and even signed a marriage contract. However, this was quickly broken off as Marie’s parents were against their daughter marrying a Metis. Louis made his way to Chicago and St. Paul. He arrived in St. Boniface on July 26, 1868. After leaving for ten years.
At this time Canada included only the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The land known as Rupert’s Land, belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Company appointed a governor to the Settlement positioned at the joint of the Red and the Assiniboine Rivers. Fort Garry lay in the middle of the Settlement was the headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
The Metis had succeeded in breaking the fur trade that the Company had held until the 1850‘s. The years between 1850 and 1860 ended the old way of life in the North-West.
Many changes had taken place in the Settlement since his Louis Riel left. With the arrival of many settlers from Ontario, and Fort Garry had become an active commercial centre. For economic and political reasons, these Canadians were opposed to the Company’s influence, while the Metis were worried about the future under the Canadian government. They were afraid the country would be occupied by people from Ontario and that this would create a problem for the Mtis. Since the new settlers would be Protestants, and the French-speaking Mtis would be Catholic. The Metis were also afraid of loosing their land.
In 1869, the Canadian government sent John Stoughton Dennis to Red River to survey the land. He was badly treated by the Mtis. To add to the Mtis’ concern, the survey was being carried out in like the Ontario style of survey, in squares, instead of the system of long, narrow lots. When John Stoughton arrived in Fort Garry, conflict broke out. On October 11, 1869, sixteen Mtis led by Louis Riel stopped a crew of surveyors on the property of Louis. This was a very important incident, first, because it was the first act of resistance to the move of the Settlement to Canada and secondly, because it made Louis Riel as the leader of the Mtis.
William McDougall, who had been appointed Lieutenant Governor of Rupert’s Land. He set out for Red River to take possession of the North-West Territory for Canada. He was accompanied by army members with 300 rifles. When the news reached the Mtis, they decided to make their own army. On October 16, Riel was elected secretary of the Mtis “National Committee”, and John Bruce was elected president. Five days later, the Committee sent a warning to McDougall telling him not to enter the country without permission from the Committee.
Riel let it be known that he was opposed to McDougall’s arrival and asked the English to join him. He told them that he remained faithful to the British Crown but that he objected to the unfair way the government came into the West. On October 30, McDougall, Cameron and Joseph-Alfred Norbert Provencher, arrived in Pembina where they read the Committee’s note. They refused to listen to this warning and the next day, Cameron and Provencher went to St. Norbert where they were stopped and told to go back to the American border. On November 2, the Mtis took possession of Fort Garry. They than established their control over the area. However, their power was quite unstable as they could only rely on the support of the French Catholic population. A series of meetings were held to encourage supporters, but without any success. Several people against the way McDougall was treated. However, an agreement was reached on the research of a list of rights.
On November 23, Riel established a provisional government. This surprised the English-speaking people. On December 10, Riel’s Provisional Government’s flag flew on the flag pole at Fort Garry. On December 27, Louis Riel became president of the Provisional Government. To this point in time the Canadian government had been unaware of all the problems at Red River. Macdonald sent a special commissioner to explain his position to the Mtis.
On January 9, 1870, 12 prisoners including Thomas Scott escaped from the Fort. On January 23, John Schultz managed to escape as well. On February 12, Riel freed the other prisoners on the condition that they would not interfere with the politics in the Settlement.
On February 18, Major Charles Boulton and his men, passing near the Fort, were arrested by Riel’s men. 48 of his men were captured, including Thomas Scott. Major Boulton was trailed and was sentenced to death. After causing problems and attempting to escape, Thomas Scott was call upon to appear before a Mtis court martial. The seven members of the court found Thomas Scott guilty. He was sentenced to death. On March 4, 1870, he was executed by a firing squad.
On March 24, three delegates left for Ottawa to negotiate terms of Confederation. Father Ritchot, Judge Black and Alfred Scott were the delegates. With a lot of questioning and arguing, they were able to convince the government of the Manitoba Bill into the House of Commons.
On May 12, 1870, the Manitoba Act, was passed by the Canadian Parliament. It protected Mtis land and saved there right to their religion and to the use of their language in the Legislature and the courts.
Wolseley’s troops arrived and even though they were supposed to restore order and keep the peace, a lot of the soldiers wanted to kill Riel and get even with the death of Scott. Riel, had time to flee to the United States.
Riel went to the Mtis settlement of St. Joseph. He waited for news from Red River. A letter came which told Riel that he remain in the US, or his life would be in danger if he returned. Riel left Manitoba on February 23, 1872 and travelled to St. Joseph to go to for St. Paul, Minnesota.
Riel was often depressed and said that he had visions of a mission to complete. His cries frightened Barnab that Barnabe sent for Riel’s uncle, John Lee. .
Riel went to Keeseville where he stayed for a while. This is where he fell in love with Evelina Barnab, he was less interested in politics now, Riel tried to find work. Finally he decided to return to the West. Evelina did not think she would be able to get used to the prairies. Riel left and after several months, Riel stopped writing to her and the relationship came to an end.
On June 4, Riel got a visit from four Mtis, Gabriel Dumont, Mose Ouellette, Michel Dumas and James Isbister. They came to ask Louis to lead the Mtis once again. They had traveled from northern Saskatchewan where several Mtis families had settled after 1869. There the Mtis had continued their traditional way of life, now threatened by the arrival of settlers and immigrants. Their land was disappearing. Their rights were not being respected.
Louis made up his mind quickly. The dream he had treasured for so long was coming true. After not coming for fifteen years he was returning to Canada.
Louis set out for Batoche with his wife and two children, arriving there around the beginning of July 1884. On July 8, about six days after his arrival, he talk to the Mtis. His plan was a fair one, aimed at as much towards the Indians and the white settlers as to the Mtis.
All three groups responded warmly to the attendance of Louis Riel. A committee was to made to ask demands to be sent to Ottawa. A decision had been made to send petitions to Ottawa on behalf of all the people.
On December 16, 1884, after many meetings had been held, a petition was mailed to Ottawa. It demanded that the settlers be given title to the lands they then held, in the Saskatchewan, and Alberta be granted provincial status, also that laws be passed to encourage the nomadic Indians and Mtis to settle on the land, and that the Indians be better treated.
On February 11, 1885, the federal government responded to the petition that had been sent . The government promised to assign a commission to look into the Mtis claims and titles. First they would be to take a census of the Mtis in the North-West Territories. This angered the Mtis who were hoping for a better solution to their problems. The Mtis looked at Riel as a leader and a prophet
In 1885, pressure began to rise among the Indian tribes as they faced hunger and disease. The Indian did not have the resources necessary to cure their diseases. In 1885, the Indians realized that their situation was similar to that of the Mtis. That it was altogether natural that they turned to Riel. On March 19, Riel established a provisional government and took over the local church as his headquarters. Pierre Parenteau was chosen president and Gabriel Dumont was chosen general. However, Riel found himself only supported by the French-speaking Mtis and the Indians. He decided to capture Fort Carlton . He wanted to take it over without violence, but the Police toughened its fort. So Riel could only negotiate or attack. Hoping for negotiation, Riel sent Charles Nolin and Ambroise Lpine to demand that Major Crozier surrender the fort to him. In return he would let Crozier and his men go free.
Major Crozier had left Fort Carlton with 56 Mounted Policemen and 41 volunteers to stop Riel. Led by Gabriel Dumont, the Mtis met them at Duck Lake. Dumont accomplished something by drawing the troops into a valley where Crozier was forced to come to a stop. Two horsemen, Isidore Dumont and Falling Sand went forward to meet them. They believed that they wished to negotiate, Crozier also went, with the y a guide named Mckay. All four men stopped in the middle of the valley and Crozier took out his hand as a sign of friendship. Thinking they had been let down, Falling Sand made a grab for Mckay’s rifle. The guide fired and Isidore Dumont fell dead from his horse. The battle of Duck Lake had begun. After forty minutes, with his force destroyed, Crozier gave the order to retreat. Seventeen members of the government had been killed and several were wounded in the battle.
This battle made the Indians and Mtis realize that the Canadians were not unbeatable. Soon cries of revenge came out of every Indian tribes. Two hundred Indians attacked Battleford and Fort Pitt. At Frog Lake Wandering Spirit and his Indians murdered the Indian representative. The Frog Lake incident encouraged the Canadian government to get involved. John A. Macdonald had not the West seriously, but the Frog Lake massacre quickly caught his attention. John A. increased the amount of food and money to the Indians and a military force of 5,000 men were sent to General Middleton.
Gabriel Dumont and 350 Mtis were to defend Batoche. Dumont believed that the only way of to defend this was through Indian warfare. He wanted to attack quickly by surprise than immediately leaving. Riel was against this plan. He wanted to avoid violence as long as possible. He wanted to carry out negotiations. This attitude of Riel had very bad consequences for the Mtis. It allowed Middleton to come to Batoche in safety. Dumont then decided to set a trap for him at Fish Creek. On April 24, Riel and Dumont set out from Batoche with 200 Mtis. As they arrived at Fish Creek, Riel changed his mind and wanted the Mtis to return to Batoche. At that moment a messenger brought word to them that a Mounted Police were approaching Batoche from the direction of Qu’Appelle. Dumont sent 50 men back to defend the settlement, under Riel’s leadership. With Gabriel Dumont in command, the battle of Fish Creek ended in a draw. .
In Batoche Riel was beginning to have doubts about the decisions he had made. Riel asked Poundmaker and Big Bear for help, but they would not arrive in time.
Middleton stopped for two weeks to rest his men.
The fourth day of the battle, the Mtis were defeated. The two leaders reacted differently to this defeat. Both of the leader were hidden in the woods in Batoche. Riel, after checking the safety of his family, went into the woods to pray. He made no attempt to flee. When Middleton told him to surrender, he replied that he would give himself up to fulfill God’s will and that he wanted freedom for all of his people. He said that he would surrender so that he could continue to defend the Mtis’ cause.
Riel was taken to Regina. Dumont, tried unsuccessfully to bring back Batoche. When he heard that Riel had given himself up, Dumont left for the United States. The rebellion was over. Poundmaker surrendered on May 23, but Big Bear finally gave himself up on July 2.
On July 6, 1885, Riel was charged with high treason. The trial opened on July 20, with Riel pleading not guilty. This trial was to have bad consequences for Riel and for Canada. The jury was all Protestant. Riel’s lawyer wanted to plead that Riel was insane and not responsible for his acts. Riel was against to this plan that his lawyers had the judge rule that he did not have permission to speak.
The witnesses testimonies were damning. They insisted that Riel had been mentally unstable before and during the rebellion. Towards the end of the trial, Riel was allowed to speak.
After a moment of prayer, he reviewed the troubles in the North-West, beginning with the sufferings his people had suffered and the government’s not doing anything about this. He said that he was not insane and that he did not want to be set free by reason of insanity. He did not reject that he had previously been in a mental hospital, but pointed out that the doctors had certified that he was cured.
Riel was sentenced to hang on September 18. Than is was postponed to November 16. On the day of the execution got a visit from his family and on November 6, he wrote his will.
During the night of the 15th and the early hours of the 16th, he wrote one last letter to his mother and received the last finances. At 8:00 a.m., he climbed the stairs to the stage for his execution.
On November 19, a service was sung for the rest of Riel’s soul at St. Mary’s Church in Regina. On December 9, his body was returned to St. Vital where it layed for 2 days in his mother’s house. A funeral song was sung December 12 at St. Boniface Cathedral and his body was buried in the church yard.
There lived and died a man who we recognize today as the founder of the Province of Manitoba and defender of the rights of the Mtis and of French Canadians.