Louis Riel and the resistance he led to protect Métis people and their rights during the turbulent events leading up to the creation of the province of Manitoba are being honoured by Canada Post.
A special stamp, featuring Riel and his provisional government councillors, along with an image of Upper Fort Garry in the background, was released on Wednesday.
It was unveiled next to the Fort Garry gate, the last remaining section of the historic structure, which was demolished in the early 1880s in order to straighten Main Street and align it with the bridge over the Assiniboine River.
The stamp’s release comes two weeks after the Royal Canadian Mint issued a new coin featuring a portrait of Riel on Oct. 22 — the 175th anniversary of his birth. It is the first coin to be engraved with Michif, the official language of the Métis Nation.
“I am delighted by the many recent national acknowledgements of the Métis Nation,” said Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand.
“Their contributions to Manitoba and to Canada are finally and justifiably becoming fully known and appreciated.”
The stamp was illustrated by Gérard DuBois, who based it on an 1848 lithograph of the fort by Henry James Warre and an 1870 photograph of Riel and his provisional government.
“I hope everyone in Canada buys this stamp and that it goes all over the world. It is a form of visibility and presence that will memorialize [the Métis] people’s struggle for land, sovereign rights and for the integrity of our distinct culture,” Chartrand said.
Riel has a complicated legacy. Convicted and hanged as a traitor to the country, he is now seen as a Métis hero.
In 1992, the Canadian government officially recognized him as a founder of Manitoba, and many are pushing for him to be formally acknowledged as a father of Confederation.
Riel was born in St. Boniface, Man., and was 25 when he emerged as a leader for the Métis people.
The Red River Resistance — also called the Red River Rebellion — followed the Canadian government’s purchase of Rupert’s Land, a vast northern and western swath of what is now Canada, from the Hudson’s Bay Co.
The Canadian government began surveying Métis land in Red River for future settlement, ignoring those who lived on and farmed the land.
Riel stopped surveyors and declared that any attempt by Canada to assume authority in the area would be contested unless Ottawa first negotiated terms with the Métis.
He created a provisional government after seizing control of Fort Garry in November 1869. It was there that Riel created a list of rights and conditions passed on to Ottawa as terms for the province entering Confederation.
It was also where Riel imprisoned a contingent of men who opposed his governance and unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow it.
The Riel-led Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia was the first elected government in the Red River settlement and functioned from March 9 to June 24, 1870.
His resistance was ultimately quashed when the Canadian militia arrived, with Riel already having fled to the United States.
The flashpoint was the execution of Thomas Scott, an Ontario-born member of an anti-Riel faction, in March 1870. The execution prompted Ottawa to send the military expedition to enforce federal authority in Red River.
However, the Manitoba Act that formally established the province included many of the conditions set out by Riel. He was officially recognized by the Parliament of Canada and the provincial legislature as a founder of Manitoba in 1992.
“I’m an individual who believes in afterlife, and I believe that Riel is still watching over his people,” Chartrand said.
“I’m sure he’s smiling upon us today and proud of his Métis nation still standing strong.”
Riel’s U.S. exile ended in 1884 when the Métis in Saskatchewan called on him to help protect their rights. That resistance again became a military operation when Canadian troops arrived, culminating in the Battle of Batoche.
Riel was captured and faced a trial in Regina.
On Nov. 16, 1885, at the age of 41, he was hanged for high treason.