Sask. Louis Riel Day events signify continued re-evaluation of once-controversial figure
Flags raised in front of RCMP facilities in Regina, Saskatoon, and Prince Albert demonstrate a vastly different relationship between the federal police force and the Métis Nation 136 years after Louis Riel’s execution.
Just before the break of dawn at the RCMP headquarters in Regina on Tuesday, the Métis Nation flag was raised, replacing the RCMP flag for the duration of Louis Riel Day.
“By doing so, we officially recognize the contributions Louis Riel made to our province and country,” said assistant commissioner Rhonda Blackmore of the RCMP in her remarks after the flag raising ceremony. “We renew our longstanding relationship with the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan.”
Riel is credited with being the founder of Manitoba and the first leader of the Métis as a nation.
"When we speak of a nation and we speak of governance, we speak of leadership," said Wendy Gervais, director for Western Region 3 of the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan. "And as a Métis nation, we look at Louis Riel being our first president."
Métis representatives were present at each ceremony and spoke about how the relationship between their citizens and the RCMP has been complicated in the past but is improving.
“We’ve had our struggles in the past,” said Gervais. “And we’ve acknowledged those struggles. We’ve also acknowledged that true reconciliation is not about pointing fingers, it’s about working together.”
Evidence of this partnership can be found in the 2019 Safety Protocol Agreement between the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan and RCMP F Division. The agreement is focused on ensuring that relations are maintained and sets up a framework to defuse a conflict if one should ever arise.
“This important agreement creates a framework for the Saskatchewan RCMP to partner with Métis communities,” said Blackmore. “To prevent threats to our community safety, to resolve crisis situations and to understand each other’s roles, practices, and traditions.”
Agreements such as this one take on a larger significance given the storied history between the RCMP’s predecessor, the North West Mounted Police, and the Métis Nation’s first few years of existence under Louis Riel.
The North West Mounted Police fought members of the Métis and their First Nations allies during the North-West Resistance led by Riel in 1885. The campaign ended at Batoche and Riel was put on trial for treason in Regina and hung.
Even though the jury that delivered the guilty verdict called for the death penalty to be stayed, Riel’s sentence was carried out at the public gallows near the modern day RCMP Academy Depot Division.
To this day Riel occupies an important part of the Métis Nation’s identity.
“Every day, 365 days a year, is Louis Riel Day for me,” said Gervais. “It’s a day for me, as a Métis citizen, to reflect upon where we are today, and where we were.”
Honoring the father of their nation, to many Métis, is just one step on the road to reconciliation and there is more work to be done in the years ahead.
“Its ensuring that we are walking hand in hand, as partners,” said Gervais. “That’s true reconciliation. It’s how we're going to move forward.”