I had the honour of standing and providing the BC Green Caucus response to the Ministerial Statement for Louis Riel Day.
November 16th is Louis Riel Day. It was on this day in 1885 that Riel was hanged for treason for his role in leading the Red River Rebellion.
I would like to first start by acknowledging the Métis leaders and Elders that are with us in the gallery today viewing the proceedings here. As well, I raise my hands in acknowledging that today is proclaimed Louis Riel Day. And to all the Métis Nation and the 90,000 Métis people living in British Columbia today, I stand in recognition of Louis Riel Day.
On November 16, 1885, Louis Riel was hung for treason and for his role in leading the North-West Resistance in the Red River Rebellion. Louis Riel is a complex and important figure in Canadian history. He was both a political and cultural leader of the Métis people and a founder of Manitoba. He resisted the Hudson’s Bay Company’s corporate sale of lands to the Dominion of Canada and stood in defiance of a Crown government that was imposing and encroaching on Indigenous people and their territories.
For decades, Riel was treated by Canada and historians as a traitor. As a result, this unfortunately reflected on all Métis people, as my colleagues have previously stated, stigmatizing them as traitors and rebels. We now see Riel for what he is — someone who stood up against a government acting unlawfully. Standing in recognition of days such as this keeps the sacrifices of leaders such as Riel in the front and centre of our minds and forces the governments of Canada and British Columbia to come to terms with the history of European settlement of these lands and territories.
It is important that Canadians and British Columbians know and understand our history. Today is an important learning opportunity for us all. In fact, today this preparation for this statement allowed me to reflect on our history and to come to a deeper understanding of those pivotal moments in our history that led us here today.
It’s important that we do not view this as an annual exercise, a performance of government officials going through the motions of acknowledging the past, with little or no intention to do much about it. Rhetorical speeches don’t replace meaningful action. Even as we stand here today and say these words of remembrance, commemoration and recognition, the struggles of Indigenous peoples continue every day in British Columbia, in the north, the south, the east and the west.
The conflict over land that was at the heart of Louis Riel’s defiance is ongoing in this country and in this province. Even though politicians in this place easily throw around words to appease and confuse the public, words like “titleholders,” “rights holders” and “sovereignty,” those words have real meaning, and they should not be used if those who utter them have no real intention of breathing life into them.
Louis Riel Day marks a tragic day in the history of our country, when a person’s life was extinguished for standing in defiance of a government acting unlawfully. Let’s never forget the courage, sacrifice and leadership of Louis Riel, and let us, in this place, ensure that we do everything we can to reconcile the conflict over land and stand in defiance when the acts of this institution ignore the commitments that we have made to all Indigenous people in British Columbia.
HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM. Thank you.