Riel, Louis

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Riel, Louis

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Louis Riel was born in Red River, the eldest of eleven children in a close family of Métis elite. He was educated in St. Boniface and then sent to the Petit Seminaire de Montreal. He withdrew from college after his father's death, perhaps because of romantic problems, and became a law clerk. He returned to Red River around 1868 and soon became embroiled in the prospective Canadian annexation of the settlement, gradually coming to lead Métis hostility to the transfer. At the beginning, he sheltered behind the titular leadership of John Bruce, listening carefully to the advice of Father Joseph-Noel Ritchot, but gradually he asserted his own voice. His direction of the Red River Rebellion (1869-1870) as president of the provincial government was for the most part brilliant, marred only by the execution of the Orangeman Thomas Scott, which enabled the Canadian government to turn him into an outlaw. In 1871, he helped raise a Métis force to support the new province against the Fenians. He was subsequently elected to Parliament from Provencher on several occasions but was expelled from the House of Commons. In 1875, he was granted an amnesty for deeds committed in 1869-1870, providing he remained in exile for five years. Unhappy and frustrated in the United States, he spent some time in mental asylums in Quebec from 1876 to 1878 before going to Montana, where he married and became an American citizen. In June 1884, he was asked by a group of Métis and English settlers in the Saskatchewan Valley to lead them in protest against the Canadian government. The protest turned to violence in 1885, and the Métis led by Riel were quickly and brutally suppressed after their military defeat at the Battle of Batoche. He was tried for treason, rejecting a plea of insanity advanced by his lawyers, and was hanged at Regina on November 16, 1885.


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Created by Andrea Martin, May 2015


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