SASKATOON — Across the province, commemorations were held in honour of Louis Riel on the 132nd anniversary of his hanging Nov. 16. The first event in Saskatoon took place at 10:30 a.m. at the statue of Gabriel Dumont on the riverbank in Friendship Park. Bagpipes accompanied the procession to the statue. St. Michael’s School children sang the Métis anthem.
“We are proud of our partnerships with the school systems,” said Shirley Isbister, president of CUMFI (Central Urban Metis Federation Inc.), who helped preside over the gathering before inviting everyone back to CUMFI headquarters in the inner city for a program and lunch. “We have worked since 2003 to cultivate those partnerships so that we could have Métis culture and history taught in our schools. St. Michael’s was the first school where we raised the Métis flag. I remember standing there thinking, ‘I wonder if Louis Riel ever thought this would happen.’ ”
Elders Nora Cummings and Norman Fleury led the gathering in prayer at the lunch.
“Lord our God, thou art the father of mercy and consolation,” read Fleury from Riel’s own prayer. “Grant that we may not be covered with confusion, ever defend us from this. Enlighten us in our darkness of doubt, encourage us in our trials, strengths, in our weakness and success.”
St. Michael’s students have a fiddle program, and participants accompanied their indoor version of the Métis anthem for those gathered for the lunch and program. Newly elected president of the Métis Nation — Saskatchewan, Glen McCallum, addressed the crowd.
“Our identity, culture and values are important to us,” he said. “The wording of that song covers most everything about the Métis in regard to what we have gone through and what we need to do yet in regard to reconciliation with our federal government and the provincial government.”
Also present was a special guest: the Bell of Batoche, “Marie Antoinette,” and the Keeper of the Bell, Billyjo Delaronde.
“The Bishop of Prince Albert, Albert Thévenot, and Shirley Isbister, blessed this bell, one in the traditional Catholic way, and Shirley smudged and blessed the bell and welcomed it home,” said Delaronde.
He addressed the controversy surrounding the bell — the claims that it is not the true bell of Batoche — pointing out the gatling gun marks on the exterior, along with other proofs.
Delaronde’s dream is for the bell to return to Batoche, from where it was taken by soldiers as a spoil of war in the spring of 1885, a few months before Riel was tried by a stipendiary magistrate and a hastily assembled six-person jury under pressure from the prime minister, John A. Macdonald, and the anti-French, anti-indigenous, anti-Catholic prejudices of the time.
Delaronde joked that, personally, he was not a repatriator, just a rebel who wanted to re-bell Batoche — a thief who stole back what had been stolen.
“I did it for the children and the elders,” he said.
Delaronde’s motivations are not unlike Riel’s when he sought justice for his people when they found federal surveyors staking out Métis lands prior to the 1885 resistance at Batoche. Many injustices had been redressed at the founding of the province of Manitoba after the first Northwest Resistance of 1869 - 1870, but many promises made by the federal government at that time remain outstanding.
Riel was elected three times to the House of Commons but was declared an outlaw and was never allowed to take his seat — though he did manage to sign the parliamentary register once before being expelled from the House.
Events commemorating Louis Riel and celebrating Métis culture were also held in other locations on Nov. 16, including La Ronge and Regina.