Born: October 22, 1844
Died: November 16, 1885
Place of Birth: St. Boniface, Manitoba
Louis Riel was hanged by the government of Canada but is generally regarded by many as the "Father of Manitoba".
Riel was one of 11 children in a French Canadian-Métis family living in the Red River Settlement where his father and mother were both very much respected.
The Red River Settlement was an area inhabited by several First Nations tribes and the Métis who were people of mixed Aboriginal and European backgrounds.
In 1858, after receiving his early education in the Settlement and becoming familiar with Métis life, Riel was sent to Montreal to further his education and possibly qualify for the priesthood.
Events changed, however, when Riel's father died in 1864, Riel left college and worked for a few years in a Montreal law office.
A few years later, Riel moved back to Red River to help support his family and, at a relatively young age, was thrown into a political leadership role.
The Red River Settlement once was part of what was called Rupert's Land, which was a large stretch of land from present day Ontario to Alberta owned by the Hudson Bay Company.
In 1869, the Hudson Bay Company agreed to sell this territory to Canada without any consultation with the local tribes and Métis whose livelihood depended on these lands.
Canada sent out a survey team who used a method of surveying that disregarded the Métis property lines and were even surveying prior to HBC having transferred the land to Canada.
Louis Riel had the education, a Métis background, and was bilingual; qualities which brought him to the leadership of a Provisional Government that would negotiate with Canada.
In February, 1870, Riel established the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia which had authority to pass laws.
Another group called the Red River Canadians, led by John Shultz, welcomed Canada's takeover and plotted against the Provisional Government.
Riel had a small army which captured Shultz and some other members of his party including an Ontario man named Thomas Scott who was very antagonistic, anti-Catholic and anti-French.
A short while later, Scott and some others escaped from Upper Fort Garry, where Riel had imprisoned them.
Scott was later re-captured and sentenced to death for defying the authority of the Provisional Government; a move which upset many people in Ontario.
After Riel turned down appeals on his behalf, the defiant Scott was executed by a firing squad on March 4, 1870.
The Provisional Government was able to negotiate with Canada and brought out a Métis List of Rights which formed the basis for what was called the Manitoba Act and Canada then accepted Manitoba into confederation on May 12, 1870.
Canada, however, did not agree upon any amnesty regarding the actions of Riel or his representatives and sent a force to regain control of the area.
In addition, Louis Riel discovered there was a bounty put on him by the Ontario government so he fled to the United States in August, 1870.
Finally, in 1875, Riel received an amnesty from Parliament for his "crimes" provided he accept being expelled from Canada for five years.
Recognized for his efforts by the people of Manitoba, Riel was elected three times as a Member of Parliament in Ottawa but was never able to serve.
Probably as a result of the turmoil in his life, Riel suffered a mental breakdown in 1876 and was committed to two Quebec insane asylums until his release in 1878.
Riel felt he had a mission to help the Métis but he returned to the United States, as he was still under exile from Canada, where he became an American citizen.
In June 1884, Riel was sought out by a group from Saskatchewan headed by Gabriel Dumont, who felt the Métis and the French were being treated unfairly in that region.
As in Manitoba, Riel suggested setting up a Provisional Government and drew up a "Bill of Rights" to present to Ottawa.
Petitions were sent to Ottawa outlining the concerns of the Métis, the French, and the English farmers but received little positive action.
Riel later held a meeting of the concerned parties and a motion was passed that the group take up arms to support their cause under the military direction of Dumont.
The English did not favour the idea of using arms and the group's unity began to waiver but it was decided to capture Fort Carlton.
Dumont had initial success but the Canadian government made use of the recently built CPR lines to quickly transport troops to the area and put down the rebellion.
After the Battle of Batoche, Riel surrendered on May 15, 1885 to vastly more superior forces and Dumont fled to the United States.
Riel was brought to trial for treason and, after ignoring his attorneys advice to plead insanity, was found guilty; subsequently, he was hanged on November 16, 1885.
In 1992, the Canadian Parliament officially recognized Louis Riel as the Founder of Manitoba.
In 2008, the Province of Manitoba established a provincial holiday in each February to be called Louis Riel Day.
Louis Riel was a political activist whose defense of the Métis and both French and English settlers is a remarkable chapter in Canada's history.
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