Louis Riel: A Summary of Man

Louis Riel: A Summary of Man

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Riel A Summary of Man

 

Author: J. A. W.

 

            The Canadian hero Louis Riel shows mankind that life is fraught with controversies and battle with establishment. Moreover, establishment is the very ruin of Mankind. Riel's live was in more ways parallel to the human life cycle than one would guess. From the birth to the death of the notorious Riel, we can see how little control an individual really has over life.

 

Louis Riel started out life living in the sticks far from 'civilization,' caring parents, who taught him the basics of life, raised him. His early home was simple, uncomplicated, his family farmed and hunted on the side to make a living. Like the hunter/gatherer people in prehistoric times, as these people lived mainly of the Wooly Mammoth1, so lived Riel's people of the giant buffalo herds, both people depending with their very life on these beasts. Just as the sudden extinction of the Wooly Mammoth complicated things for early mans' hunting habits, politics complicated Riel's outlook on life. Life got swiftly more complicated as Riel grew up. As the country came into the hands of "civilized people", it's people were forced into a lifestyle which was more complicated than the hunting and gathering lifestyle the Riels and other Metis families were used to. Establishment is the biggest complication in life, Riel fought this all his life, in the end it won. What advances did civilization make in this killing? It benefited them little other than the satisfaction of routing their enemy. Are people satisfied; was that the end? That remains to be proven; people are still fighting to gain amnesty for Riel.

 

Life did not stay simple for people, problems started. As people established customs and started to stray from the hunter-gatherer society things got more complicated. Slave labor was one of the prominent drawbacks of people establishing new cultures. People needed slaves to build the huge monuments that they used to show their power and their allegiance to their Gods. The huge prehistoric stone calendar called Stonehenge2 may be the first example of slave work ever built. Canadians built up the West using methods that were essentially the same; they actualized it at the cost of the Metis' and Natives' lives and their livelihood. Riel's people, because they learned to depend the staples they could get in trade for hides and pemmican, were slaves of buffalo hunt and fur trade, thus slaves of the whites.

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When the fur trade and the buffalo disintegrated, due to excessive hunting and waste by the incoming whites, so did the livelihood of Riel's people.

 

Riel got his chance to bring his learning to a higher level when he was rewarded a scholarship in Montreal at the Collége de Montréal. He expediently traveled to that city along with fellow "potential priestly material" students. The Red River boys sent to the school were benefactors of Madame Marie-Geneviéve-Sophy Masson's generosity; she was the doyenne of a wealthy and influential Quebec family3. There is a story in the bible of a boy whose parents put into the care of the priests in the church, at a very young age, so that he could become a priest4. This young lad, Joash, grew up to become king of the land. Riel's schooling took over the next few years, in most academic skills, he was adamant in his determination, he soon rose above most other students in his school despite the fact that their educational background far excelled his.5 In his head, he built empires of knowledge. The art of poetry, which he had cultivated in school, stayed with him throughout his life. His poems and other musings, which he was continually putting on paper, left a clear trail by which historians track his thoughts. He wrote proverbial poems that reflected clearly how people since the ancient times had felt to their neighbor. The poems Riel wrote were like those written by the oppressed centuries ago and still do today. We have many such examples, the songs of the Israelites in Egypt under the tyrannical Pharaoh and the songs the colored people sang when they were working as slaves in the cotton fields, of songs by the oppressed.

 

Riel also studied religion, which ruled his every move throughout his life. His religious life has many parallels in history. At first, he was an absolutist. Only people of his religion could enter the Heavenly Kingdom, therefor all who were not Catholics were condemned to hellfire. His poems from that time6 reflected this view. We can certainly see the connection to modern and prehistoric man. The Christians in Europe displayed the same type of attitude when they went on crusades, which left trails of corpses in their wake, to try and convert people from paganism to their own belief.7

 

Riel senior died while Riel was in school he did not even find out about the death until long after the funeral. The news of his Father's death struck Riel a hard blow; he suffered for a long time before he regained strength again. He left the clerical path then and started to head home, he had to establish himself as head of his household. Life was hard then, living on what little he could afford to from the jobs he found to help the poor family at home. On that path, he made powerful friends who, in the future, would help him in need. Like the Israelites, he made detours stretching the road home to a long journey. Nothing satisfied him, he only stayed on a job long enough to pay for the next leg of his journey.

 

When he did arrive home he found his homeland plagued by locusts and drought. These plagues could have been divine interference to discourage the strange emigrants from settling the land and taking it from the Natives much like the plagues in Egypt were devised to liberate the oppressed Israelites. Devastation was in everyone's life, no family went unscathed. Louis Riel soon started to lay his hand on the plow to help eke out a living for his family. Fortunately the year he came home was a good year, the locusts did not bother much and enough rain fell. Riel was to be the next plague to strike the immigrants.

 

Soon he was in politics. This era, when he started politics, we could compare to the era when the Israelites got involved in politics and appointed Solomon their first King. We could also compare it to the last plague the Egyptians faced when Riel killed "Brother Thomas Scott"8. The killing of Scott did not quite have the same impact, but it did stir the Orange Clan, a powerful Protestant group from Western Ontario, up some. The political life Riel led in Winnipeg can compare loosely to the Israelite' kings. The Canadians chased Riel with intentions to kill even after the people in Red River settlement elected Riel leader of the new province. Jealous King Solomon in reign at the time also chased the anointed David9 from his homeland. During their exile, both these men created alliances with powerful people who would support them during difficult times during their reign. Both resulted to devious means to stay free. David hid in caves and helped protect the nearby shepherds, while Riel resulted to hiding in a lunatic asylum and pretending to be insane so that people would not bother him10. In fact, both men resulted to acting like madmen to elude capture and fool their enemies.11 Then Riel established a provisional government, and for a limited amount of time, he was as successful as King David (whose name he integrated into his own) was. For a time it looked good for Riel, he was leader of his government and it looked like he could begin negotiations with Prime Minister John A. Macdonald to establish the rights of his people. The first bill of rights he made up had many articles on it12 some that the government would find hard to except. Which, in fact, it did not, Macdonald's government culled a lot of points and stuck only to those that it found convenient to adhere to. Israelites who found it hard to obey the multitude of laws they tended to cut corners too. Was it just coincidence that the bill of rights he made up at his second attempt at government in St. Laurent13 passed with ten articles on it?

 

            Both Riel and King David had one great sin that plagued them for life. The grave sin Riel committed was in the eyes of the Orange clan and most of Ontario, when he executed Tomas Scott14, a bullying, insulting, crude Orangeman whom Riel's government court-martialed and executed for treason against the provisional Manitoba government. King David sinned in the eyes of God when he transgressed against the commandments with Bethseba15 who was the beautiful wife of Uriah. David arranged to kill Uriah in war, so that he could claim Bethseba for his own. These misdemeanors caused great difficulty for both leaders. For David, it meant the loss of his four oldest sons,16 in punishment, and for Riel, this sin plagued him for the rest of his years, eventually it meant the loss of his life.

 

People condemned Riel without ever having seen his face; they sentenced him in their minds without Judge or Jury. He was chased out of his homeland without mercy. The whole Orange clan came out in high rage at Riel, the Mob ruled, it was like a disease, a few contacted the germ of hatred and, on their breaths in speech, they passed it on to whoever would listen. This still happens all the time in the modern world. Politicians use it with great success and not only politicians but also conservationists and people of all types who need public support. As with the Devils Lake problem, where the Americans want to dump their water into the Red River water ways and are creating a huge public outcry against the Canadians because they don't want it. The truth is not being said about how much potential damage it could do to the Red River watershed and the ecosystem around it. Just as the people who were agitating the Orange clan did not say the truth about Scott, people are not telling about the water proposed to be brought into Canada which has potential to do more damage here than it has already done in United States.

 

The Canadian government refused to honor their promises to give Riel and his associates in the provisional government amnesty from their past actions. Right after he had promised to negotiate with the provisional government Macdonald sent out troupes to destroy Riel's uprising. Some historians claim that Macdonald let the North West Rebellion happen because he foresaw that, to quell the rebellion he would need to get in troupes fast, for this his beloved railroad, this would be an advantage. This had more implications than just using the rails, Macdonald saw that, if the people realized how fast he stopped the rebellion, it could rescue his rails from bankruptcy. 17This is another clean example how society can crush culture in the name of establishment. These troops, together with a reward for his head from the orange clan, forced Riel in exile to the neighboring states. Deceit and bigotry plagued his life. The Canadians took over the government seat Riel had abandoned; they were oppressive and hard on the Metis people. Riel's exile from his homeland happened at the same time, as tyrannical bigots ruled Manitoba. These people from Canada had different beliefs than Riel, they treated Riel's people like dogs, they were convinced that their own race was superior to the Metis and the Natives. Bigotry ruled the people who called themselves Christians, they did not stop to consider that the people they were condemning had a better sense of justice and rights than they had. Thus, morally, The Metis and the Natives had a more advanced culture. The Canadians were undermining the quality of life in the province by their coming. The flood of whites washed out the Metis from their homeland to Saskatchewan.

 

Riel spent his time elsewhere while the Canadians ruled his people. He was campaigning to take the country again and deliver it from the forces that oppressed them. Riel was depressed by the discrimination of his own race under the whites. At the same time the buffalo herds were disappearing, they also lost their land to hungry land speculators, furthermore, the assembly did not recognized them. In the meantime, Riel was busy talking to the United States president and other prominent people to bring about the annexation of the Manitoban province to the United States. Riel had little success just as the Israelites tried for years without success to leave Babylon.

 

When Riel was called back by his own people18. He went willingly back to his homeland and started to rebuild his government. Just like Naemiah19 rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, Riel wanted to enforce the sovereignty of his own race. Both Riel and Naemiah had to contend with internal strife. Naemiah had problems with his priests exacting high taxes from his own people and undermining the peoples strength, similarly, Riel had to wrangle with people of his own race and his cousins, the Half-breeds. These people were opposed to him starting another provisional government. Both got around the problem by convincing their people by peaceful means to reconsider.

 

Then  we have a miniature reformation period where Riel starts to denounce the Pope and look for a better, less corrupt type of religion. Riel claimed that he was a prophet like those in the Old Testament; everything he did was divinely inspired. He struck out at the established forces of religion, the Pope, he said, was not infallible, he also said that the Catholic Church was corrupt. Riel wanted to form his own church and cleanse it from evil. He wanted to change the names of the days (perhaps because they are derived from the names of things that were being worshiped by pagan cultures, ex. Saturday20 derived from the Roman God Saturn.). When his troupes fought the Canadian army, instead of fighting, he prayed. Then he gave in when there was no other way; he let the enemy lay hands on him. It was his last hope that the enemy would act reasonably and perhaps even fairly. Sealing one old proverb in truth, "don't judge others by yourself" and proving the other wrong "do onto others as you would have them do unto you". Riel judged that the enemy would treat their prisoner as he had done. This was a great folly.

 

            In the end, Riel would talk himself into death. All his actions were for the good of his people, when one thing failed he would do another to cover up and fix the prior mistake. This cycle is running in the real world at our age too. We are working to improve our lives by animating everything, but are forgetting to count the cost. We are forgetting to look ahead and look for consequences. Every move we make to improve our physical world we are moving two steps backward and one step closer to ruining our world.

 

REFERENCES

 

Conrad, Margaret.  Finkel, Alvin.  Jaenen Cornelius.  (1998).  History of the Canadian People Beginnings to 1867.  Toronto:  Copp Clark Ltd. 

 

Men's Devotional Bible {NIV}  (1993).  Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

 

1Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia.  [Computer Program] Redmond, WA:  Microsoft Corporation.

 

Shilliday, Gregg. (Ed.)  (1993).  A History Manitoba Rupert's land to Riel.  Winnipeg Manitoba: Great Plains Publications.

 

Siggins, Maggie.  (1994).  Riel A Life of Revolution.  Toronto, Canada: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.

 

Sprague, D. N.  (1988).  Canada and the Métis.  Waterloo: Sir Wilfrid Laurier Press.

 

Endnotes

 

1Shilliday, Gregg. (Ed.)  (1993).  A History Manitoba Rupert's land to Riel.  (P31)  Winnipeg Manitoba: Great Plains Publications.

2"Stonehenge," Microsoft(r) Encarta(r) 98 Encyclopedia. (c) 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

3 Siggins, Maggy  (P46) Riel A life of revolution

4 Men's Devotional Bible {NIV}  2 Kings 11,4

5 Siggins, Maggie.  (1994).  Riel A Life of Revolution.  (p51)  Toronto, Canada: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.

6 Siggins, Maggie.  (1994).  Riel A Life of Revolution.  (p57)  Toronto, Canada: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.

7 Conrad, Margaret.  Finkel, Alvin.  Jaenen Cornelius.  (1998).  (p45)  History of the Canadian People Beginnings to 1867.  Toronto:  Copp Clark Ltd.

8 Siggins, Maggie.  (1994).  Riel A Life of Revolution.  (p164)  Toronto, Canada: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.

9 Men's Devotional Bible {NIV}  (1993).   1 Samuel 16

10 Siggins, Maggie.  (1994).  Riel A Life of Revolution. (p179)  Toronto, Canada: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.

11 Men's Devotional Bible {NIV}  (1993).    1 Samuel 21, 12-13

12 Siggins, Maggie.  (1994).  Riel A Life of Revolution.  (p452)  Toronto, Canada: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.

13 Siggins, Maggie.  (1994).  Riel A Life of Revolution.  (P452)  Toronto, Canada: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.

14 A History Manitoba P187

15 Men's Devotional Bible {NIV}  (1993).     2 Samuel 11

16Men's Devotional Bible {NIV}  (1993).  2 Samuel 12,18,  2 Samuel 13,28-28,  2 Samuel 18, 14  1 Kings 2, 25

17Sprague, D. N.  (1988).  (p175)  Canada and the Métis.  Waterloo: Sir Wilfrid Laurier Press.

18"Riel, Louis David," Microsoft(r) Encarta(r) 98 Encyclopedia. (c) 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

19 Men's Devotional Bible {NIV}  (1993).   Naemiah 3

20"Saturday," Microsoft(r) Encarta(r) 98 Encyclopedia. (c) 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
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