Make Louis Riel Day a national holiday

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Photo: Saskatchewan Archives

In 2008, Manitoba celebrated the first Louis Riel Day on February 18. The Métis revolutionary is honoured and commemorated for his role in founding a province "that embraces all cultures." We at believe it is time to make Louis Riel Day a national holiday.

Riel was hanged in 1885 by a corrupt, openly racist prime minister who boasted before the execution, "He will hang though every dog in Quebec bark in his favour." The face of Sir John A. Macdonald graces our ten-dollar bill, while the man he killed remains unheralded save a six-cent stamp issued in 1970.

With the Idle No More movement driving renewed debate about relations with the Indigenous peoples of this land, a national holiday celebrating a Métis hero would help recognize the long history of resistance to colonization within our borders.

Like Idle No More, the Red River Resistance challenged Ottawa's attempt to wrest control of the land from its inhabitants without consultation or compensation. "We may be a small community," he warned. "But we are men, free and spirited men, and we will not allow even the Dominion of Canada to trample on our rights."

Louis Riel is an exemplar of organized action against injustice, essential in the founding of two Canadian provinces, and a touchstone of resistance. He was a brilliant political strategist, exceedingly educated in law and the liberal arts, and fluent in French, English, Cree, and Latin. He was a reluctant warrior, a poet, a prophet. "My people will sleep for one hundred years," he said. "And it will be the artists who will help them awake."

Riel is just one among many historic figures slandered and misrepresented by historians and commentators defending the interests of the powerful and privileged in Canada. Idle No More is an opportune time for all of us to work to restore the memory of all those who resisted colonialism and struggled for rights and sovereignty. 

So, of course, installing Louis Riel Day as a national holiday is only one small, ceremonious step towards recognizing the role Aboriginal peoples play in Canada; but it is a step worth taking.

Ayons la paix de l’âme. Et l’Infini nous ouvre
Des aperçus nouveaux, gais à chaque moment.
—Palpite! ô mon esprit! (How my body trembles)

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