Make Louis Riel Day a national holiday?

| February 15, 2013
Make Louis Riel Day a national holiday?

In a move clearly designed to appeal to “family” voters by B.C.’s Liberal government, B.C. celebrated its first Family Day on February 11.

While people optimistically frame the day as one of celebrating created or non-biological families, the fact that Family Day is modelled after a similar day in Alberta shows its conservative roots. Just look at B.C.'s innocuous campaign with its adult cartoon bear with two cubs as an illustration of the holiday’s ideological premise.

So how can we recalibrate the holiday? rabble.ca has suggested that February 18 be designated Louis Riel Day, a national holiday.

My Métis ancestors were well acquainted with both Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont. Jérôme Henry, born in 1856, was a light-skinned Métis spy who supplied Dumont with a map of General Middleton’s position and a map of the marching plans to Tourond's Coulée, formerly known Fish Creek, the victorious Métis victory before Batoche). Henry was shot in the shoulder during the battle. His wife, Marie-Rose Vermette, my ancestor from whom my grandmother heard stories of Riel and Dumont, was a member of the Muskeg Lake Band but after 1885 the word "rebel" appeared after her name on the band pay list. Mari-Rose’s father, Joseph (José) Vermette, a nephew of Gabriel Dumont, was shot on the top of the head of and killed at Tourond’s Coulée. I wonder how Marie-Rose survived having her father killed, her husband wounded and her community attacked. After Batoche, most of the village was looted and burned to the ground by Canadian forces.

So should we have a national Louis Riel Day? While it may resonate in some provinces, I'm not sure Louis Riel would resonate here in B.C. or other parts of Canada, especially if we follow protocol.

Perhaps an Indigenous Unity Day is more suitable. Honouring the traditional and ancestral territories on which we live, such as unceded Coast Salish territories here in Vancouver, means we should respect and honour the courageous peoples who fought and are still fighting on this territory to keep their traditions.

While it is important to foreground the legacies of colonisation, we should acknowledge traditions and ways of being that exist and the new ones that are being created. Indigenous peoples are reclaiming and reinventing traditions as shown in Idle No More.

I attended an Idle No More gathering at the Broadway and Commercial Skytrain station in Vancouver, a part of Vancouver’s urban rez. People from different Nations-Cree, Haida, Métis, Kwakwaka'wakw-shared their songs. Excited youth, maybe unsure of the songs and dance, still giddily joined in. B.C. First Nations did pow wow songs and people from all Nations, along with non-Native people, did a round dance in the busy intersection.

Maybe, to paraphrase the Grinch, Indigenous Unity is not bought in a store; maybe it means just a little bit more than a designated day.

 

June Scudeler is a PhD candidate in English at UBC and President of the Vancouver Métis Community Association. Her dissertation examines Cree and Métis Two-Spirit, gay and queer narratives.

 

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