Indigenous led opera tells story of Métis leader Louis Riel 

A nearly sold-out show about Louis Riel at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg is spoken and sung in five languages.

It explores a part of the Métis leader’s life that isn’t often talked about.

The opera called Li Keur: Riel’s Heart of the North, is a celebration of Riel’s life, Métis women and culture.

“It seems to be often it’s a very political narrative and it’s very masculinist,” says Suzanne Steels who wrote the opera and is Métis about how Riel is often discussed. “I wanted to look at Riel as a human being and someone who was passionate.

“I wanted to look at how Riel not only loved the land but in particular I wanted to talk about a love affair at the centre of the story that very few people know of.”

Riel was the founder of the province of Manitoba. He led two resistance movements against the Canadian government and was eventually hanged for treason in 1885.

This week, the government of Manitoba, led by Anishinaabe Premier Wab Kinew, introduced a law that would make Riel the first honorary premier of the province.

The show is spoken and sung in southern Michif, French-Michif, Anishinaabemowin, French and English.

“This is really an Indigenous approach to telling opera,”says Steele. “We have a 21-Century student whose kind of stressing about identity and she gets a mystical visit from her mémère who is a trapper and shooter and someone who reminds the young girl about who she is. Her mémère  tells stories about the buffalo hunt in 1870 and about Riel and especially about the women.”

Steele’s daughter Ella Speckeen was alongside her mother through years of research for the project.

“I’ve been with my mother since the beginning,” she says. “In 2017 we took a 10,000 km road trip through the heartland of Métis country. We spent time at St. Peters in Montana looking at the ruins of the school where Riel taught. We worked in the archives together. For me though as a Métis woman, it’s really exciting to see our story being told.”

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