As to the historical legacy of Louis Riel -

As to the historical legacy of Louis Riel


Conservative MP Peter Goldring has managed today the rare feat of uniting the Liberal party and the Prime Minister’s Office in scorn.

“This document is absolutely not, in any way, an initiative of our government or our party,” said Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in an emailed statement. “This is a personal initiative of MP Goldring which we strongly disapprove of. Louis Riel is a historical and controversial figure. But he played an important role in the development of Canada and in the protection of the rights and culture of the Metis and Francophones in Canada.”

Conservative Shelly Glover, a Metis, calls Mr. Goldring’s published views unjust, inaccurate and unfortunate. The newsletter in question is here.


As to the historical legacy of Louis Riel

  1. And so will anything be done to discipline Goldring?

    Public hanging, anyone?

    • You stay classy.

  2. Wow. I'm starting to wonder if there is any Conservative MP that isn't a tool.

  3. So if I murder a government official, start a rebellion against Canada (twice), costing the lives of my own people, of Canadians, and probably indirectly dooming the future of the French language in the west can I get called a folk hero? Is it any wonder that English Canadians have no sense of identity, when historical discourse is designed largely to avoid offending Quebec.

    My Metis ancestors would probably disagree with me on this one, but Riel was rightly hanged. Hell, he wasn't even a good leader of the Metis. He was a religious nutcase who prevented his general from fighting in a way that he could actually succeed.

    • You say "government official" I say "Racist Orange Order sh*t-disturber"….

      No arguing your last point though – he really was a religious nutcase :)

      • Thomas Scott wasn't a governmen official. He was an Orange bigot who opposed Riel's provisional government in Manitoba. He was an irritant and an idiot, probably, but he was also killed on Riel's instructions possibly simply out of personal animus or at most as a means of intimidating Canadian loyalists in Manitoba into silence.

        Riel, however, was not executed for that incident, but for treason to Canada. He may not have deserved hanging (after all, the government pardoned Gabriel Dumont, his military commander) but he was guilty of treason. And no government today would consider an armed uprising that resulted in the deaths of over a hundred people to be acceptable behaviour, no matter how sincerely motivated.

        • Historically speaking your right Thomas Scott was "no rose in the garden." However, Riel didn't have to execute him he could have kept him in jail. But instead he pulled him outside lined him up against a wall and killed him. That says a lot about Riel's character and why he isn't the saint that you make him out to be.

          • Get the facts, people:

            "…Meanwhile a force of some of the Canadians who had escaped, mustered by Schultz and surveyor Thomas SCOTT and led by Canadian militia officer Charles Boulton, gathered at Portage la Prairie, hoping to enlist support in the Scottish parishes of Red River. The appearance of this armed force alarmed the Métis who promptly rounded them up and imprisoned them again in Ft Garry. The Métis convened a court-martial at which Boulton was condemned to death. Smith intervened, however, and the sentence was remitted. But, at a court-martial presided over by Riel's associate, Ambroise Lépine, the obstreperous Scott was sentenced to death. This time Smith's appeals were rejected and Scott was executed by firing squad on 4 Mar 1870…"


            Note the bit about the amnesty that arrived the day after Scott was executed.

            Note that the jury which tried Riel found him guilty of treason but recommended clemency.

            It's a complicated matter, which makes it so much fun to argue about. Was Riel insane, or just a bit unstable? Was he the leader or the mouthpiece for the Metis?

  4. Surely Canada is mature enough that we don't expect all our MPs to have the same views on Canadian history.

    • Is Canada supposed to shut up about it, too?

    • It would be nice if MPs were rational enough to admit their view of history might not be the one and only possible interpretation. Do we need historical fundamentalists, too?

  5. Some alien starts surveying the commons at the edge of my family's land without saying a word to anyone about anything I'd probably be checking my powder too.

    • I feel the same way about Upper Canadians, too.

  6. He managed to write 3 1/2 pages without mentioning a single reason why Riel and others rebelled. Just that he rebelled, therefore he deserved his punishment accorded by the law.

    Black and white. There is no reason or context, only polar opposites and a simple world.

    Revisionism indeed.

    • You act like John A. Macdonald personally executed Riel with a broken bottle. Riel was tried and found guilty of treason, a crime punishable by death that he was most certainly guilty of. Context gives people a bit of latitude in the courts, sure – there is a difference between manslaughter and murder. However it is utterly ridiculous to suggest that pure motives make much difference when the trial is one for treason.

      • Oh come on, context is completely relevant here. Consider all the racist government policy and court rulings of the day.

        • So you are arguing that only racism resulted in Riel's execution? That if he had been 8/8ths white (instead of 7/8ths, which he was), he would have not have been found guilty of treason?

          • He was labelled and considered himself a Metis, that's all that mattered.

          • The jury that found him guilty also recommended clemency.

    • Of course, we cannot start revising history. That would be utterly absurd. Goldring's written piece is not about the rebellion as such but is about the findings (an outcome) of a court case in it's time. All court actions happen within a specific time frame. Never again can we stand in front of such a time.

      If anyone believes we can stand in front of history, then whatever we do now, today, would all be for naught. Read Goldring's piece again and you might actually be able to read what his precise argument entails.

      Why is comprehensive reading so difficult for some people?

      • "If anyone believes we can stand in front of history, then whatever we do now, today, would all be for naught"

        Umm…what on earth does this statement mean??

        • you seriously don't understand?

          How can anyone even suggest we go stand in front of history. History comes down to us as facts. The events leading into such facts can never, ever be entered into again. One can comment upon facts once deposited by history, but one does so then from a different perspecitive.

          So, if we make decisions today, let's assume it to be court decisions, and we could supposedly revise those court decisions after today, let's say tomorrow, or next year, or a century hence, we would then be able to nulify whatever it was we had decided upon today. So, yes, if that were possible we would do all things today for naught., exactly.

          • I'm pretty sure that EH Carr would disagree with pretty much everything you just wrote.

          • A sincere thanks, Richard, for introducing me to EH Carr.

            Certainly interesting to read up on the man. I quickly glanced at what wikipedia has to say about him (now, could you tell me where to find more than 24 hrs in a day – that would help! :) )

            Carr's revelations about history and fact, etc relate to this blog's topic. Wikipedia on Carr:

            Carr argued that individuals should be judged only in terms of the values of their time and place, not by the values of the historian's time and/or place.[243] In Carr's opinion, historians should not act as judges.

            Though Carr made it clear that he preferred that historians refrain from expressing moral opinions, he did argue that if the historian should find it necessary then such views should be best be restricted to institutions rather than individuals.[243] Carr argued that such an approach was better because the focus on individuals served to provide a collective alibi for societies for instance blaming McCarthy those in the United States who blamed McCarthyism exclusively upon Senator Joseph McCarthy.

            I will certainly agree with Carr on that.

          • But it is important, when coming to an understanding of the meaning of history, present and fact, to also include the meaning of future.

            The human mind is inherently tied up within this framework of history, present and future. The present would be where history gives way to future, but what would we call the instant when future gives way to history?

          • There is an expression that states that history is written by the victors. I'm not sure that facts are always black and white. 'History' can actually change as we learn more about the events of the past and more facts are uncovered.

            As an example ask any of the people who have been exonerated after being wrongfully acquitted of a crime. Before there exoneration the historical record would be dem,onstrably different than the historical record after…

          • Yes, but the timespan in which the corrections are made is very short. (I know, I know, it doesn't feel like that for the person who's been wrongfully convicted). Certain evidence may not have been presented in court the first time around or the court proceedings were ruled outi of order, for instance. But the mind set of the times in which the wrongfully convicted is cleared of all charges, is dealt with within a timeframe considered to be current.

            Exactly, facts are not always black and white, that's why we consider facts into the future. But the fact remains, however.

  7. Lets contrast the case for Riel as a nation-builder versus the case for him as a nation-breaker.

    The case for:
    1. Following the 1870 rebellion, in negotiation with the government, Manitoba become a province, entering confederation.

    1. However, Manitoba was going to become a province soon anyway, and could have become one with far less bloodshed.

    The case against:
    1. If Riel had his way, he would have prevented CPR surveyors from doing work necessary for the construction of the very railroad that gave Canada effective control of the west, all to defend an outdated system of property.
    2. Riel fomented rebellion against Canada, consigning his own people (and Canadian soldiers) to die in a hopeless war that was only made more hopeless by his policies as Metis leader.
    3. Riel's actions poisoned English-French relations, a problem that continues to plague Canada today.
    3a. Most directly, the 1885 rebellion probably led to the Manitoba Schools act by reducing the political likelihood of a compromise, which ended the prospect of a Canadian west settled by French alongside English Canadians, generating yet another English-French grievance.

    • You're presuming that all nation-builders are self-consciously setting out to build a nation. Surely the criterion is whether one's actions contribute, objectively, to the building of a particular nation; even if one intended to destroy it. I would say the 1885 rebellion was also nation-building, not least in the fact that it actually brought the Métis attention and led to the settling of their grievances, almost immediately!

      To take up your case against:

      1. Addressed above. Clearly Riel was not meaning to build today's Canada, or even 1890's Canada. But Sir John A. wasn't intending to build today's Canada either. Your characterisation of his motive as "to defend an outdated system of property" is quite ignorant. His motive was to secure compensation for himself and the Métis for what they had not been paid out of the 1870 settlement and secondarily to get scrip for their Saskatchewan lands too.

      2. Riel's cause succeeded even as he was hanged, the other leaders imprisoned or exiled, and some casualties sustained — because Métis grievances were looked into (as they had repeatedly asked Ottawa to do) as soon as the Rebellion was put down.

      3. It is not Riel's fault that his actions divided Canada, it is Canada's fault for reacting to his saga almost exclusively in terms of ethnic identity politics.

      3a. I find it hard to imagine that the French language would ever have been given parity with English in the colonisation of the West, given the mood of English Canada in general, long before 1870. Perhaps if the francophones had been Protestants, but anti-Catholicism was so strong and anti-French sentiment correspondingly vehement that French was never going to be allowed equality. But this is also not Riel's fault.

      • The creation of the Manitoba provisional government is not the reason Riel is considered a traitor. He was never prosectuted for that incident, and there were no charges outstanding against him. And there was very little bloodshed involved in the creation of Manitoba. Riel, of course, ran for parliament twice after the admission of Manitoba and was not prohibited by the federal government from taking his seat. His concern was an outstanding warrant in Ontario relating to the death of Thomas Scott. He could have simply faced that charge and might very well have won his case (although on moral ground the judicial murder of Scott is very hard to defend).
        It is Riel's pointless, bloody and ultimately destructive rebellion 15 years later that was the cause of his death – much as his execution may have been motivated by a lingering wish to revenge the death of Scott.

        • Riel felt that the sale of the HBC land to Canada was not legitimate in that it did not take into account the inherent natural rights of the people living on that HBC land. That was the cause of the 1870 rebellion. It was solved by the compromise of Manitoba's entry into Confederation and the paying of scrip to the Métis. But scrip was not adequately paid and the Métis were forced to go West to make new lives for themselves, all the while seeking redress peacefully. When they came to actually starve in the winter of 1884, they brought Riel in as a negotiator: give us the scrip you owe us and we're all good. They sent petitions. They sent warnings. Everything was unheeded. Since the Government was in violation of its own agreement in 1870, the terms by which the HBC sale had proceeded peacefully were violated; thus (Riel reasoned) Canada had no right over the Northwest, any more than it would have had in 1870. He did not acknowledge Canada's right to that territory. The Government, of course, did regard its claim to the Northwest as legitimate and hanged Riel on that basis; but the question of whether it was objectively justified in doing so is a real point of dispute.

          • In fact, Tom Flanagan considers Aboriginal people of Canada to be no more than immigrants to this land than any others who came 500-600 years ago. so they don't deserve any special recognition; Aboriginals were just the first immigrants, even though there might have been a huge difference in time; you know, when Indigenous people crossed the Bering Strait.

            This is why partly why he was a policy advisor to Harper a couple years ago; neither of them will admit that this advising continues, but ya never know.

          • Flanagan has testified for the Crown as an expert witness on Indian land claims, despite the fact that he is not expert on any aspect of First Nations history. He claims knowledge of aboriginal history, but that means he's studied Riel and testified on Metis land claims.

  8. Why did this take so long to surface?

  9. Peter Goldring, first member of the Wild Rose Alliance (Federal) Party!!!

    That is, of course, assuming that this is not one of Harper's classic keep-the-base happy moves. Like, for example, have Polievre out to bash the First Nations people on the day of his apology in Parliament.

  10. Why is this a big deal?

    • It certainly shouldn't be.

      • What's wrong with Canadians arguing about Canadian History?

  11. Did taxpayer dollars fund this newsletter?

    • I suppose that's the prior question. I'd assumed this was a private venture of Goldring's, but perhaps not.

  12. Scott was hung at Fort Garry following a vote by a seven-man court marshal of the provisional government headed by Riel. The vote was four in favour of execution and two opposed. The presiding officer, Ambrosie Lepine, ruled that Scott be executed as determined by the court majority (4-2). Justice, however sad and divided at the time, took its course. Riel later was executed for his role in the so-called Second Rebellion, which happened two decades after the execution of Scott, in a place we now call Saskatchewan. Those who died in both rebellions did so in defense of their respective communities, which have since become one. Let us remember the dead and never forget that their sacrifice, on all sides, was for justice. Peter Goldring, like too many others with their backward-looking notions of right and wrong, disgrace our history and those who forged it. Thankfully, our country no longer sanctions execution by government, though I imagine Goldring and his ilk wish it were otherwise.

    • I don't think Goldring's use of the term "villain" is particularly called for, since Riel, in the second rebellion was clearly suffering from some degree of mental illness. And I don't agree with capital punishment, so his execution was both immoral (although not within the standards of the times) and unwise politically.
      He did, however, receive a fair trial by the standards of the day. Scott did not, by any standards.
      But in recognizing the causes of the Metis rebellion we should not make the mistake of accepting violence as a legitimate way to seek redress of grievances, however sincerely felt. Killing soldiers and policemen to assert your political beliefs is not acceptable in a democracy, and was as unacceptable in 1885 as it would be today. Approving of Riel's actions because he is long dead is simply patronizing nonsense.

  13. These are not new comments from Goldring. If you do a newspaper search going back several years, you will find that he has expressed the same sentiments on more than one occasion while in Opposition. This latest pamphlet seems to be a basically a minor reworking of one I received a few years ago. My recollection is that his view of history was not reviled at the time, nor should it be now. He seems to be focusing on those who believed they were acting in the interests of the government of the day, and who were killed by Riel's people during the course of the rebellion. That is consistent with Riel's conviction for treason.

    We live in a democracy. Goldring is entitled to his opinion, based on his view of the facts of history. Perhaps his major mistake was thinking he could say the same thing as a government MP as when he was in opposition. Give him credit for being consistent in his perspective, which is by no means an unreasonable review of the facts of the time.

    • You are right, we live a democracy and Mr. Goldring is entitled to his opinions. However, we are entitled to criticize his opinion as wrongheaded. We are also entitled to ask whether tax money was used to pay for his publication.

  14. Since when have facts ever got in the way of political representations in history?

    Even today political parties still try to write "truthiness" into their version of events. Ask Mr. Colvin – who was actually summoned to answer questions at a parliamentary committee – but is branded as a "Whistleblower" by the Conservatives as if it were a terrible crime and he should be discredited. Misrepresentation still happens today.

    The real crime is perpetuating historical (especially political) myths when the contrary facts are well known and accepted today. Goldring should be ashamed.

  15. Conservatives get tough on Crime rotflmao

  16. And, of course, had Riel's second rebellion been successful (an absurd prospect which undermines any attempt to justify his use of violence) the independent republic of the prairies would have survived no longer than the Republic of Hawaii did. There has always been some thought that Riel was urged to go back to Canada to lead his revolt with the backing of American interests who hoped to undermine the British presence in North America.
    In any case, his arguments are no better, or perhaps no worse, than those raised by the Mohawks in Caledon. If they started shooting police and soldiers I doubt that many people, even in the PMO, would be too willing to forgive them or hold them up as examples for the nation. Riel's crimes may look innocuous because of the passage of time, but treason is treason.

  17. In order to understand about MacDonald you have to google Thomas McGee the Canadian politican and friend of MacDonald who was murdered by Irish Feinians. Then you will have a better understanding why MacDonald had him hung.

    Riel was a murderer! Hadn't he committed murder he likely would have been given a seat in the Senate. He got what he deserved!

    • Whatever Riel was, MacDonald did not "have him hung".

      As the holder of the Crown's "prerogative of mercy", he declined to interfere with the Finding of the jury and Order of the court (the National Parole Board didn't yet exist – they are the current holder of the Crown's "prerogative of mercy").

      After the conviction, an appeal was made to MacDonald and MacDonald (as was Riel's right [or his representatives]) to make. It was not granted.

      There is little direct or any evidence that Riel physically murdered anyone,

      He was convicted of treason, mostly because he, when he changed citizenship from British subject to US citizenship,
      made a secret deal with the Americans for money, guns and ammunition, and in return he would "hand over the new republic " to the Americans, and be the puppet leader of the new territory. It was this act that he was convicted of.

      Riel was at best, a religious fanatic who heard voices and thought he was a new prophet and like so many religious zealots, he spoke forcefully and convincingly.

      He did not "found" Manitoba, but he did try to start up a US dependent republic, calling it Assinaboya , after the Assinaboine river.

      MacDonald, mindful of the 1840 – 1950 previous American claims to the 54th [54-40 or fight] parallel (and the subsequent loss of the west banks and the mouth of the Columbia river [Oregon] to BC and Canada) and the American claims to "manifest destiny" had little choice in the matter but to rid Canada of Riel.

      Goldring's mistake, is that he fails to understand that his ancestors would never have been invited to homestead in Canada, except for the very much a villain, Louis Riel.

      As a Canadian descendant of those settlers (since 1892) I celebrate Louis Riel as the motivator in getting my people out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and into a place where neither the extreme left wing National Socialist Germans or the very extreme left wing Communist Russians could kill them.

      Thank you Louis!

  18. History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren't there.
    -George Santayana

  19. Some of the reaction might be because many people were afraid that an Indian war was starting, such as happened in the US in many places; and both the government and the First Nations wanted to avoid that. Riel and the Metis did try to bring in the First Nations, but they did not bite

    The CPR was built on the prairies in 1883 but there no large numbers of settlers came in until the 1890s and later, mainly because US homesteads had not all been taken. The US has longer growing seasons and so its farm land was more desireable than Canada's. In the 1910s Canadian scientists developed Marquis wheat which grew faster.

  20. Some of what you say is incorrect. The NWMP were sent in 1873, probably to help keep the US out and get rid of the whiskey trade and lawlessness which had led to events like the Cypress Hills Massacre. Treaties 1 to 7 were signed froom 1871 to 1877; in winter of 1879 the buffalo pretty well disappeared from Southern Alberta, and the various First Nations settled on their reserves to receive rations, as the only way to keep from starving to death (some settled earlier as buffalo in their areas got scarce). One of the things that contributed to the killings at Frog Lake and elsewhere was First Nations' frustration over recent government cutbacks of rations.

    So Riel did not cause the First Nations to settle on reserves, but the government used the 1885 rebellion to crack down on First Nations even though almost all of them had been loyal or neutral, with repressive laws. The First Nations were the biggest victims of the Rebellion.

  21. There was no government in the north-west territories when Riel and his commission took control and set up provisional government. Thomas Scott was a loud, foulmouthed instigator who went too far in opposing this government. The Canadian Government, under John A., was clearly not interested in negotiations, but opted for a military solution. Of course they won out, with the help of many English soldiers, BUT DON'T EVER SAY THEY WERE RIGHT. And I wish some of these revisionists would buy a dictionary and learn to spell.

  22. why was my comment deleted?

  23. louis riel was a hero to the matis my brothers or u call it half-breeds right ? WRONG ! lol but any wayz if i was like riel i wouldn't try rise a rebellion but i would give a message to the gov. i would juss walk to john a. ass wut im gonna call talk to him reason with him and never try fight like what my old Anishinaabe teacher said to me violance ain't to sovle the problem.

  24. Hi Crit_Reasoning thanks for such an amazing comment.

    "Surely Canada is mature enough that we don't expect all our MPs to have the same views on Canadian history."

  25. I just knew as seldom legacy of Louis Riel

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