Riel Talk by Alex Snider

Originally posted May 22, 2012:

I've been led to understand that not everyone knows as much about the birth of Manitoba and the conflict between Métis people and the newly formed Canadian government as I do (no one's perfect!) so what better day for a crash course than on Manitoba's provincial holiday Louis Riel Day.                                                                                  

The Dominion of Canada was formed out of three British colonies in 1867. The country was divided into four provinces: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. John A MacDonald was the first Prime Minister. He was a drunk and would later prove to be super into trains. He is on the ten dollar bill.

The Hudson's Bay Company owned Rupert's Land, a huge freakin' expanse which covered all of what we now know as Manitoba and parts of Saskatchewan, Alberta, Nunavut and Ontario (even the tops of some of the northern American states). There were A LOT of hunter-gatherer Indigenous Nations who lived there, and had lived there for many thousands of years – mostly they didn't have a lot to do with the HBC. Then there were the aboriginal Métis people (whose roots were mixed with both French and British/Scottish descent) who had lived in the area we now know as Manitoba for a couple generations. Some farmed, some were worked as trappers for the HBC and others still took part in the annual buffalo hunts. Plus, there were non-Aboriginal settlers who either worked for the HBC or farmed. The community in Southern Manitoba, where Riel was from, was called the Red River Settlement and was comprised of both Métis and non-Aboriginal people.

In 1868, the HBC sold Rupert's Land to Canada arranging for the transfer to happen in 1869 and the consummation to happen in '70 (sexy!). Of course, Canada effed it up and sent in surveyors early. The people of Red River (most of the people) were already pissed because of the lack of communication from both the HBC and Canadian government – they had no idea what was going to happen to their land rights, and then the surveyors coming in and just tramping across their farms? Hell no. Unfortunately for Canada (and the surveyors) the farm they happened to be surveying was that of young Riel's cousin and young Riel was just back from college in Montreal.

What did he do? He fucking stepped on the survey chain! Then he made speeches denouncing the surveyors, the Canadian government's underhandedness and the HBC. He united the English Métis, the French Métis, the non-Aboriginal Red Riverites, got the support of a number of Indigenous communities, formed a provisional government, stormed Fort Garry, got hostages, let them go, arrested other rabble-rousers, tried to be patient, finally gave the go-ahead to execute one particularly nasty fellow, Thomas Scott, who tried to choke him out... All while corresponding with Prime Minister MacDonald about trying to ensure that the people of Red River (particularly the Aboriginal people, everyone knew the white folks would be a-ok) retained their rights. He was opposed vehemently by the annoying Empire Loyalists (who I count among my ancestors!), by Ontarians and by angry Protestants. To name just a few.

Long (but interesting!) story short, Riel and his party, the Métis National Committee, finally won out and the Manitoba Act was born as well as Manitoba the province. Unfortunately, the Canadian Militia (this was pre-Canadian Armed Forces) was on it's way to execute Riel so he had to go into exile to the States. He did get elected to Parliament, something like four times, despite being exiled.

Despite the win in Manitoba and because this is Canada (a fucked up country intent on fucking over Aboriginal people whenever possible), the Métis people were granted only token victories and eventually had to move further West where, fourteen years later, there was the North-West Rebellion. Riel returned to help lead again, but this time it was a way more horrible, tragic story. The Saskatchewan Métis were eviscerated and Riel was hanged for treason. Fuck, and they were super close to winning, too.

(Fun fact: Ambroise Lépine, Riel's lieutenant was arrested and tried for the execution of Scott. And then executed himself. Awful stuff. But the guy who turned him in? Francis Cornish, the first mayor of Winnipeg. My great-great-great-great-I don't know how many greats GRANDFATHER. My reconciliation with that little tidbit? A major in Aboriginal studies. Riel talk.)

Bonus: Are you familiar with R Kelly's* bizarre, border-line-abusive spoken word missive "Real Talk"? Because I rewrote it to be a one-sided conversation between our dude Louis Riel and that racist drunk John A MacDonald:

Do I know your surveyor who?
With a club?
No, who was there?
Boy I wouldn–
Wait a minute calm down.
I hit who with a club?
Get the fuck...
Man you know what, John I ain't about to sit up here and argue wit you and have you call me no names. Riel talk
See John, only thing I'm trying to establish with you is not what's right and what's land
but whose rights and whose lands. Riel talk
Just because your Grits say they saw me hit 'em wit a club with some other Michif speakers
Sitting round the lower Fort Garry, occupyin' it and kickin' it
Tell me this now, did he say there were other Métis there?
Did he say there were other Métis there?
Were there other Métis there?
Well tell me this how the fuck he know there was any brutality?
When the whole prairies dark –
Wait a minute let me finish what I got to say
I been corresponding with you five months and you listening to mo-fo Empire Loyalists
I don't know why you fuck with them jealous, no-land having assholes anyway. Riel talk
Always accusing me of some old bullshit when I'm just tryin to assert Métis rights
"Riel you did this", "Lou I heard you did that" don't you think I got enough bullshit on my mind. Riel talk
Hold, hold up didn't I just release John Christian Shultz just the other day, hmm your ass was smiling then. Riel talk
Ah, gave who some damn money? You ain't gave us no damn money, boy is you tweakin?!
See what your problem is you're always running off at the mouth telling yo mounties our muthafucking business
When they don't eat with us, they don't drink with us, besides, what they eat would make us shit! Riel talk
You called mon maman's house and what? Mac, maman don't need to screen no pony express for me! Riel talk
And watch your mouth
Fuck me?! Dude, fuck you! I don't give a merde about your settlers I'm sick of this bullshit
I'm going home and getting my shit and getting the fuck up out of Rupert's Land
You don't gotta worry about me no more and the next time the Métis rise up go cry to one of your funky-ass British friends
Hell you're probably already doing that anyway
You're gonna burn what?
I wish you would burn the Red River Settlement down!
With your Canadian Party!
You bogus, man!
Lépine! Start your horse warming up get ready to take me home this asshole has lost his muthafucking mind

*R Kelly the person is an abusive, predatory piece of trash and I discourage anyone from buying, promoting or supporting him.


Alex Snider is a Manitoban. This post originally appeared on her blog. Follow her on Twitter.


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