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Reconciliation sought at Riel commemoration

By Andréa Ledding


At a reconciliation event held Nov. 16 commemorating the anniversary of the hanging of Louis Riel, the Francophone Federation of Saskatoon gave Métis performers their official sash, while the Gabriel Dumont Institute presented the Francophone Federation with a commemorative Métis sash. (Photo by Andréa Ledding)

SASKATOON — The Gabriel Dumont Institute and the Francophone Federation held a joint event on Nov. 16 at Station 20 West, commemorating the death of Louis Riel, celebrating Métis culture and heritage, and working on reconciliation between the two communities.

Elder Norman Fleury recounted the story of Josette Tourond, a contemporary of Riel and an example of the matriarchal system. “This is who we are,” said Fleury. “Our mothers and grandmothers were the powers in our communities.”

Madame Tourond was widowed at an early age with many children. Even so, the family ranched peacefully at Batoche until 1885. She lost three sons that year, and most of the rest in a tragic seven-year period that followed. All but one sick son and another who died at the age of three had been married with children. Tourond outlived them all, dying at the age of 97 in 1928.

“This is a survivor we’re talking about,” said Fleury. “Most of us are survivors.”

This is true of all indigenous peoples, he stated, whether it be the effects of war, genocide, the 60s Scoop, or the inter-generational effects of the residential schools.

The area of Tourond’s farm was known as Fish Creek, or Tourond’s Coulee. The Battle of Fish Creek on April 24, 1885, was a decisive victory for the Métis under Gabriel Dumont, but the farm was looted during the fighting. Incensed, Tourand crossed enemy lines to demand the return of her wagon and horses, which she needed for her elderly mother and infirm son. Awed by the actions of this fearless 52-year-old widow, the government troops gave them back.

Tourand was one of the first people Riel visited when he arrived in Batoche. He came to offer condolences to the widow on the loss of her husband and to seek support and encouragement for his own cause.

“We don’t have to pray for strong leaders like Josette Tourond,” Fleury said. “She’ll pray for us. We’re the ones that need prayers. So we ask in the spirit of Josette that something good happens this evening amongst us. We’re trying to repair those differences and those hurts.”

After the more solemn half of the evening, there was a break for food, followed by entertainment that included guitar music, jigging, fiddling, and dancing.

Before performing, Scott Duffee, who is related to Riel on his mother’s side, spoke about Riel’s gentle kindness, passed on through family stories. “What he brought was a spirit of inclusiveness and interconnectedness,” Duffee said. “He wanted us to live together and respect our distinct cultures, and relate to each other in a good way as fellow human beings.”

Duffee contrasted Riel’s spirit of inclusivity and compassion with the aggression and intolerance of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald and his supporters in Protestant Ontario. “He shall hang,” Macdonald declared of Riel, “though every dog in Quebec bark in his favour.”

The evening included messages of reconciliation and peace, acknowledging the commonalities between the two communities, and ending with an exchange of sashes. The Francophone Federation gave all the Métis performers their official sash, while Karon Shmon of GDI presented the Francophone Federation with a commemorative Métis sash.


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