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Group marks Louis Riel Day, anniversary of the 1885 execution of Métis leader

'Métis are a unique people,' says LU's Métis outreach co-ordinator

Exactly 132 years after Louis Riel's death, Sudbury's Métis community gathered Nov. 16 to celebrate the life of the polarizing figure in Canadian history.

Riel was a Canadian politician, founder of the province of Manitoba and leader of the Métis people of the Canadian Prairies.

He led two rebellions against the government of Canada and its first post-Confederation prime minister, John A. Macdonald.

Riel sought to preserve Métis rights and culture as the northwest came under the Canadian sphere of influence.

After being convicted for high treason, Riel was hanged Nov. 16, 1885, at the age of 41. His historical reputation has been polarized between portrayals as a rebel against Canada and a hero who fought to protect his people.

Louis Riel Day, held every Nov. 16, marks the day of Riel's execution, and is a celebration of Métis culture.

Locally, the event involved a proclamation and flag-raising at Tom Davies Square, followed by a lunch and traditional Métis musical entertainment at the McEwen School of Architecture. 

It was organized by the Métis Nation of Ontario, Sudbury Métis Council and Laurentian University's indigenous student affairs department. 

Riel is still remembered more than a century after his death because he was an advocate for the Métis people, said Bobbi Aubin, Métis outreach co-ordinator with Laurentian University.

“He was executed by the government because he fought against them,” he said. “He didn't want to go with what they wanted to do, which was build a railroad. He wanted the First Nations and Métis people to keep the lands.”

There's at least 6,000 Métis people who are registered in this region, Aubin said, although he adds there's likely a lot more who haven't come forward or been able to prove their lineage.

“Métis are a unique people,” Aubin said. “We have European ancestry and First Nations ancestry. We're two nations coming together.”

Dale Xilon, the healthy babies, healthy children worker for the Métis Nation of Ontario, said she didn't know she was Métis until she was a teenager, when her father started looking into it.

She comes from the village of Killarney, where much of the community identifies as First Nations or Métis. Because of the rural nature of the area, she grew up hunting, fishing and spending a lot of time out on the land.

“I didn't know I was living a traditional life, I was just living life,” Xilon said.

For Xilon, Louis Riel Day is about pride in her cultural heritage as a Métis person. “Quite often we're a forgotten people,” she said. “We're being acknowledged, we're being known.”


Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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