The newly elected NDP government of Wab Kinew introduced the Louis Riel Act, a bill that will see the Métis leader given the title of the Honourary First Premier of Manitoba.
“It fills me with a great sense of humility to be able to announce today that our government’s first piece of legislation will honour Louis Riel for what he has always been, the first premier of Manitoba,” said Kinew at the Manitoba Legislature to a crowd full of Métis.
Riel led the provisional government that brought the province into confederation with the Manitoba Act in 1870.
He was then hanged for treason in 1885 for his role in the Red River Resistance and North-West Rebellion.
“At a very true and fundamental level, Louis Riel is the reason that we are Manitobans. And Louis Riel is the reason why we as Manitobans are Canadians,” said Kinew, who was born in Onigaming First Nation in Ontario.
The bill “will ask educators across the province” to teach students about Riel’s contributions to the history of the province.
“The reason that we have articulated things in this way, is we want to honour Louis Riel’s founding role in this province, but we also want future generations to understand that he was not always respected in this way and that it has taken years of a fight on behalf of Métis people to see him properly respected and represented,” said Kinew.
For Manitoba Métis Federation President David Chartrand, the irony was not lost that introducing the bill is the province’s first First Nations premier.
“Why did it take an Indigenous premier to do the right thing, to correct and right wrongs of a man that they murdered in this country, a great leader that we all admire today,” said Chartrand, “It took an Indigenous leader to correct that, why? Is that how far we’re still behind regarding how we respect each other’s different society’s minorities?”
The bill still needs to be put to a vote before it can be official, but the NDP have a majority in the legislature.
Chartrand said he has a warning for anyone who votes against it.
“If you disrespect our leader, that founded this province and got murdered in this country and fought for his country, that died for his country and now you decide to dishonour him again after waiting 153 years, you’ll have an enemy for the rest of your life. I promise you that,” he said.
Closing out the event was a lively jigging session by square dancing group United Thunder, accompanied by Métis fiddler Taylor Fleming and Métis guitarist Keith Ginter.
Some audience members then congregated outside behind the Manitoba Legislature where a statue of Louis Riel stoically stands.
They placed colourful roses at the statue’s feet in remembrance of Riel’s fight for the rights of the Métis people.