Riel rehabilitated: Ottawa’s mayor calls the Metis leader a statesman

(Editor’s Note: The original post said that this was the first time that Ottawa has flown the Metis flag. The story has been corrected to say that it’s the first time the flag has flown since 2010.)

Todd Lamirande
Saturday may be the anniversary of Louis Riel’s execution, but that didn’t stop the city of Ottawa from honouring him and the Metis a day early.

When you think about it, it’s an about face from 134 years ago, at the time of the Northwest Rebellion.

On Friday, the Metis flag was flown at city hall for the first time since 2010.

“And we think we have taken a great step today with the flag and with everyone being here in support of Metis,” said Eric Gjos, president of the Ottawa Regional Métis Council.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson called the moment a proud one for Ottawa.

“It’s a recognition that we have a very vibrant and dynamic Indigenous community, whether it’s First Nations, Metis, Inuit,” he said. “And it’s an opportunity for us to show respect to the Metis community. And to signify the importance of Louis Riel in our country’s history.”

Just steps away from the flag poles is a brick building with a black statue in front of it.

It’s a reminder of Riel being an important figure in history – but for a different reason.

“It’s fascinating there’s an armoury (next to city hall) that generated troops that actually went out and fought in 1885,” said Gjos.

The statue honours two soldiers who fell during the Battle of Cut Knife Hill, Saskatchewan in 1885.

“Louis Riel was also elected a member of Parliament and obviously it was the PM of the day and his cabinet to make the decision to execute Louis Riel,” said Watson.

Today the moment was about honouring Riel as the rehabilitated statesman.

Lately he’s received several honours such as a coin with his likeness that was unveiled in Winnipeg in October.

“And this is the first coin that the mint has ever produced that has Michif,” said Gjos.

As for the Infinity flag, Watson says it will be raised every year.

“And we’d be happy to do it, accommodate (the Metis) on Louis Riel Day,” he said.

Flying the flag in Ottawa was just one of the many events across Ontario with more planned nationwide on November 16th, the anniversary of his execution.

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