Remembering Riel

Original story from:

Remembering Riel
Representatives from the city and the
MNO Niagara Region Métis Council joined hands
for a prayer during a flag raising ceremony
recognizing Louis Riel Day in Welland.

On Friday, two days ahead of November 16—Louis Riel Day—Derrick Pont, MNO Niagara Region Métis Council (NRMC) President, members from the MNO NRMC, Paul Grenier, Welland City Councillor, Mark Carl, Deputy Mayor, and other representatives met in front of the Welland City Hall to raise the Métis flag. Councillor Grenier said the city is proud to be recognizing this special day for the fifth year running.

November 16 marks the day in 1885 when Louis Riel was executed by the Canadian government for treason for his role in the Northwest Resistance that took place that same year. Due to the Northwest Resistance as well as the earlier Métis resistance at the Red River in 1870, Métis were widely considered traitors, especially in Ontario.

“Across Canada they scattered,” said Pont. “At that point every Métis became a criminal in the eyes of many.”

Pont explained that many Métis disappeared into large urban centres where they could deny or hide their heritage, or moved to remote areas to found small communities. “Most hid in plain sight,” said Pont.

Pont recalls that his grandmother would never admit her Métis heritage. “Even my parents wouldn’t talk about it,” said Pont, understanding now as an adult that there were clues to his hidden heritage. He remembers his father arguing with his mother because there was no milk in the fridge. Now that Pont knows about his heritage, he understands its importance. At that time in the 1960s—the residential school era—government officials could make a case for the state taking guardianship over a Métis or First Nations child if there was not milk in the fridge.

“They called it the ‘60s scoops’,” said Pont, who would finally discover his heritage in the 1940s as he connected with cousins from Manitoba who informed him of his Métis roots. At first that discovery prompted excitement, then in some ways sadness, as Pont started to notice the stigma surrounding aboriginal peoples in Canada.

Pont joined the MNO NRMC to start learning about his heritage; he stayed to start sharing it. “A lot of my own family’s history was lost,” said Pont, underlining the impact of the decades of stigma and hiding of the Métis population. “Generations of our culture were lost,” he said.

Over the last 20 years, with the vindication of Riel and the recognition of the Métis as one of Canada’s three official aboriginal groups, things are improving.

Pont noted that he visits schools to teach children about the role of the Métis in Canada’s history. His grandson—in contrast to his grandmother—is able to feel pride of his Métis roots. “He’s going to grow up knowing his culture,” said Pont. “It makes me feel good about the whole thing…he doesn’t get ridiculed, he doesn’t have to worry about that.”

Pont explained that Louis Riel Day, which in some provinces is a statutory holiday, is a day to reflect on the journey of the Métis and remember the importance of the leader. “We look to Louis Riel for inspiration,” said Pont.

See ALL news articles