Friday, November 17, 2006

Riel Day (Plus One)

One hundred twenty-one years ago yesterday -- sorry for missing it by a day but I was only reminded of it by an email this afternoon -- the canadian state hanged Louis Riel. It is the day that his people have chosen to honour his contributions to resistance.

Riel was a leader of the Metis people, and he was central to efforts by some Metis in what is now the province of Manitoba, in alliance with other indigenous peoples, to resist the westward expansion of a canadian state committed to the control of indigenous lands by English-canadian capital, white settlers, and Protestant Christianity, and the consequent cultural genocide of the indigenous inhabitants.

I'm told that in the past, local Metis groups in Sudbury have done a flag raising and a smudging ceremony in front of city hall in honour of Riel Day. There were rumours of such a thing last year, and L, myself, and a friend turned up in hope, but it was not to be. But it is commemorated every year at other sites across Ontario and western canada, according to the Metis Nation of Ontario.

And stolen from this post, here is a poem (with introduction) written by Riel for his jailer, three weeks before he was hanged:

Robert Gordon! I beg your pardon for so having kept you waiting after some poor verses of mine. You know, my English is not fine. I speak it; but only very imperfectly.

The snow,

Which renders the ground all white,

From heaven, comes here below:

Its pine frozen drops invite us all

To white -- keep our thoughts and our acts,

So that when our bodies do fall,

Our merits, before God, be facts.

How many who, with good desires,

Have died and lost their souls to fires?

Good desires kept unpractic'd

Stand, before God, unnotic'd.

O Robert, let us be fond

Of virtue! Virtues abound

In every sort of good,

Let virtue be our soul's food.

-- Louis (David) Riel Oct. 27, 1885 Regina Jail

Thanks to CB for the reminder, and the pointer towards the post with the poem!

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