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Remembering Louis Riel and Métis Veterans

By Karon Shmon

Nov 2, 2021

Posted in: ,

Louis Riel Day, November 16th, marks the day in 1885 that Louis Riel was hung.  Both the morality and legality of what led to this outcome will be discussed for years without consensus. Most can agree that to lose your life for a cause is the ultimate sacrifice.  Standing up for the rights of the Métis cost Riel his life.  Some non-Métis assume November 16th is Riel’s birthday or the date of a remarkable victory in our history.  They are somewhat taken aback to learn it is the date of his execution, a day we commemorate Riel’s courage and commitment to the Métis.  Remembrance Day is a similar day commemorating Canadians who died in service to Canada from the South African War to current missions. It is held every November 11th.  Métis fought bravely to defend their families, lands, and rights in 1885, in both World Wars, the Korean War, and still defend Canada in current conflicts.  We remember their sacrifice as well.

A few years ago, I had the privilege to be at St. Peter’s Mission in Montana, the place where Louis Riel and his family lived while he was teaching school there.  It is also where Gabriel Dumont and a small delegation of Métis went on horseback to urge Riel to come, once again, to help the Métis defend their rights.  Being on-site made me realize what a challenging decision Riel had to make and what a sacrifice it was for him to agree.  It is a place surrounded by natural beauty.  I can only speculate, but I wonder if Riel thought to himself, “My family is safe here.  We live peacefully among our relatives, and I am doing work I love, work that enables me to provide for my family.  Should I go back to an unknown future?  Should I risk losing the good life, la bonne vie, I am currently living?”  I am sure this is a question many soldiers have asked themselves as they enlist.

For me, Louis Riel Day and Métis Veterans Honour Day is a mix of solemnity, solace, and celebration.  It is always hard to recall our losses, especially of our loved ones.  We can take some solace that they will always be remembered.  Personally, I am touched that we continue to pay homage to Riel and the Métis veterans who fought in 1885 and every instance since they were called to defend the rights and freedoms of Canada and others.  We must always remember the Métis, their courage, and their sacrifice.  Louis Riel Day is also a time to celebrate that our culture is thriving because some of our heroes stepped up to make sure it was protected.  I like to think Louis Riel and the rest of the Métis veterans would be pleased to know we will always remember them.

This year, as we continue to face another life and lifestyle-threatening enemy, the COVID-19 virus, I will continue to remind myself of the bravery of those who went through a war. They are heroes because they put their lives at risk on our behalf. Whether it was at home or abroad, peoples’ lives were at stake, and what we had before was forever changed. Wars result in the loss of people who are loved and cared about. Those out of any immediate threat are asked to be supportive in any way possible.

 I will resist underplaying the severity of the pandemic and resist overplaying the worry and inconvenience that has come with it. After all, we are here because those who came before us faced our enemies with courage and sacrifice. In remembrance of this, I can be courageous and make the necessary sacrifices with much less hardship than those who fought in and endured wars.

Lest we forget.

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Gabriel Dumont Institue

GDI is a Saskatchewan-based educational, employment and cultural institute serving Métis across the province

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