Louis Riel: Victim Or Criminal? Essay

1826 words - 8 pages

Louis Riel, even today, remains one of the most controversial figures in Canadian history. He was a political and spiritual leader of the Métis of the Canadian Prairies who sought to preserve Métis rights and culture as their homelands came progressively under the Canadian influence. The circumstance of his death had lasting political ramifications in Canada and was opposed by many. His trial is arguably one of the most famous in Canadian history, and the question as to whether it was unjust is a topic of debate. Louis Riel
Louis Riel was born on October 22, 1844 at the Red River Settlement, Rupert’s Land. He was the eldest of eleven children. He was educated in St. Boniface where ...view middle of the document...

He was executed after being found guilty of conspiracy for his part in the rebellion, which initiated public outrage from English Canada towards the Métis. After this, Prime Minister MacDonald negotiated the List of Rights with the provisional government, which then led to the establishment of the Manitoba Act. This made the Red River colony become the province of Manitoba and both French and English were to be recognized as official languages. This apparent victory was short-lived when MacDonald sent a force of 1200 soldiers to Red River to assert control over the new province. This was done in response to the outrage of Thomas Scott’s execution in Upper Canada. Louis Riel fled to the United States and an influx of white settlers flowed into Red River, receiving title to the land while the Métis waited for the land grants promised to them by the Prime Minister.

Prime Minister MacDonald tried to persuade Louis to remain in voluntary exile for his part in Thomas Scott’s death, but instead he returned and entered into federal politics. He was successful in a by-election and a general election in 1874 but was unable to take his seat in the House of Commons. He was re-elected but did not attempt to take his seat again. Shortly after, he had a nervous breakdown and was transferred to a Québec mental asylum. He became obsessed with the idea that he had a religious mission to lead the Métis and that he was a prophet. After he was released in 1878, he went back to the United States, becoming an American citizen and marrying a Métis woman: Marguerite Monet, dit Bellehumeur. They later had two children: Jean-Louis and Marie-Angélique. He became a schoolteacher in 1883. He returned to Canada in 1884 when the Métis called him back to lead them in a battle for control with the federal government
The Métis living in the North-West Territories wanted to retain control over their community and to preserve their way of life as more white settlers moved into the region. Louis Riel demanded land grants, responsible government, and representation in Ottawa, among other things. The federal government failed to act so he established himself as the leader of a provisional government once again in March 1885. Louis Riel then sent armed clashes against the police on the advice of his military advisor, Gabriel Dumont. The federal government sent in troops to put down the North-West Rebellion following the death of forty combatants at Batoche and Duck Lake. Louis Riel and a group of supporters held out against the army for six weeks before surrendering on May 15, 1885 after the fall of Batoche.
After surrendering, Louis Riel was taken to Regina, Saskatchewan to stand trial for treason. He rejected attempts by his defense to prove he was guilty by reason of insanity. Many believed he suffered from megalomania, modernly known as narcissistic personality disorder. His defense also ignored Louis Riel’s requests to cross-examine the witnesses...

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