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Ariane-Li Simard Côté: Louis Riel. You probably recognize the name and know that he was a political leader of the Métis people towards the end of the 21st century. After leading two Métis resistances against the government, he wanted to defend the way of life of the indigenous people west of present-day Canada. He was hanged for treason at the age of 41.

The story of Louis Riel is an important part of Canadian history but gets covered differently in schools across the country. Some may remember him as a hero… others a traitor. Recently, his name was in the news for being put forward as the first honorary premier of Manitoba.

The trial of Louis Riel – leading up to his hanging – is what gets romanticised. There are regular re-enactments that take place in Regina at the RCMP headquarters making it the longest running play in Saskatchewan. But there’s a different moment that is worthy of the attention: when Louis Riel’s forces faced off against the North-West Mounted Police at Duck Lake – it is a moment that could have changed the future of Canada.

Welcome to Canadian Time Machine, a podcast that unpacks key milestones in our country’s history. This podcast receives funding from the Government of Canada and is created by The Walrus Lab. I’m Ariane-Li Simard-Côté.

In this episode – we’re talking about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in honour of their 150th anniversary. To understand the complex history of the RCMP, we have to go back to its inception. It was formed by combining Canada’s two armed forces: The Dominion Police (mainly in Eastern Canada) and the North-West Mounted Police — or NWMP. But this may have never happened if it wasn’t for Louis Riel and the battle at Duck Lake.

The year is 1885. On the cool winter morning of March 26th, about 100 NWMP officers and armed civilian volunteers approached Duck Lake, Saskatchewan – an area about an hour north of Saskatoon. The land was inhabited by Métis people.

An armed conflict was about to break out between the police and the North-West Resistance – which was an armed movement by the Métis people, led by Louis Riel. Louis Riel had amassed a sizable force of Métis and Cree who had occupied the village – and definitely outnumbered their rivals on the scene.

Riel was not only fighting for the Métis, but all Indigenous people, in a landscape that was rapidly changing by colonialism.

On a snowy plateau with trees and log cabins, just outside of Duck Lake, there was a breakdown in negotiation between Riel’s forces and the NWMP. Shots were fired.

Six of Riel’s people were killed that day, along with 12 of the North-West Mounted Police. The police retreated.

The battle lasted only 30 minutes – but it’s believed Riel was victorious not only because of the size of the Northwest Resistance, but also because of the strategic use of the tree line and cabins that his forces knew so well.

Louis Riel kept a journal of the events that took place during the resistance – he used language to describe himself and the people he was defending that would be considered offensive in today’s language. His tone was always shrouded in religion. These were his exact words, read by a Métis voice over artist, David Allard, which is a distant member of the Riel family.

Clip Louis Riel: The spirit of God made me hear the important question to ask the warriors. They have not seen any savages, I suppose?

Louis Riel surrendered to government forces after the Battle of Batoche on the 15th of May 1885.

Riel’s defense team was trying to have him released on the grounds of an insanity plea – or what’s known today as ‘not criminally responsible’. It was Riel’s closing statement that sealed his fate – with the Jury having no choice but to convict him of treason. Riel addressed the court in English – these words have been translated to French and read by the Métis voice over artist once again.

CLIP: Your Honors, gentlemen of the jury: It would be easy for me today to play insanity, because the circumstances are such as to excite any man, and under the natural excitement of what is taking place to-day, under the excitement which my trial causes me would justify me not to appear as usual, but with my mind out of its ordinary condition. I hope with the help of God I will maintain calmness and decorum as suits this honorable court, this honorable jury. (FADE OUT)

The entire closing statement is quite lengthy and moving – but it is clear that leading the North-West Resistance was a calculated decision.

CLIP: If you take the plea of the defense that I am not responsible for my acts, acquit me completely since I have been quarreling with an insane and irresponsible government. If you pronounce in favor of the Crown, which contends that I am responsible, acquit me nevertheless. You are perfectly justified in declaring that having my reason and sound mind, I have acted reasonably and in self-defense, while the government, my accuser, being irresponsible, and consequently insane, cannot but have acted wrong, and if high treason there is it must be on its side and not on my part.

Ariane-Li Simard Côté: You can see why this is a popular moment to be romanticised. His words are so captivating.

But the battle of Duck Lake was a notable conflict between what would become the RCMP and the Métis People. Leading up to the resistance and in the years that followed, tension grew between Indigenous people and the Canadian Government. Work is still being done to make amends for past wrongs.

Sam Karikas [CARE-kiss] is the CEO of the RCMP Heritage Centre. She addresses their current stance on the need for reconciliation.

Please note: she does not speak French, but we have translated her words to be read by a French voice over artist.

CLIP 06 – Follow-up interview with Sam Karikas (DUBBED)
As a museum and working to become a national museum, I believe that’s exactly where we can and should have these conversations….And overwhelmingly we’ve heard from people that they’re, they want a place to explore these aspects of our history, um, and to have that dialogue. So, you know, we can hold space for two things at once. We can honour sacrifice and service and celebrate what it is that’s uniquely Canadian, um, about a world renowned police service like the RCMP, uh, while also acknowledging the harmful impacts of colonial policies and societal issues like bias, racism. In an ideal situation, you know, as we continue in our collective healing journey, I really hope that there’s space for both. And I think it’s actually a really rich space for, um, exploring, exploring that very complex kind of cross section of Canada.

We are now joined by Andrew Carrier, Vice-President for the Winnipeg Region, for the national government of Métis federation of Manitoba and Minister for French and Michif Language Protection, the Métis Community Resource Department and Residential & Day Schools for the Manitoba Métis Federation, the National Government of the Red River Métis.

Ariane-Li Simard Côté: Andrew – can you please tell us a bit about the history of the Manitoba Métis Federation?

Andrew Carrier: The Métis Federation was founded in 1967. Today we have over 1000 employees and 30 departments. We are truly the National government of the Métis of the Red River and have been elected representatives of our citizens. Here in Winnipeg we have over 25 000 citizens, and across the province of Manitoba we have over 50 000 citizens equally registered with our government.

This is to say that there are more Métis of the Red River but we hold a number of registered people and have declared a federation. As I explained they are elected, the representatives, the president, the vice president, and the two regional directors and the seven regions of Winnipeg. Our heritage is very rich in culture.

To understand the flag – the infinite – to say it’s a blue flag with the white infiniti symbol that represents the Indigenous community and the community of the group. So this flag was put in use in 1816 at the battle of the Plaines de Grenouillère. In these times we recognized these lands as the Northwest Territories – this was before the creation of Canada and before the formation of Manitoba. We need to recognize as well in 1870 the laws of Manitoba promised to our descendants – the Métis of the red river – parcels of land – We were first promised 1.4 million of hacres for the descendants.

But after the law. In effect, the federal government of Canada began the reign of terror, that is to say they sent the Canadian army to demoralize and denigrate the Métis of the Red River. Then the people who founded Manitoba are made possible. Western economic expansion was due to terror.

The houses of the Métis were destroyed and the houses promised by law to be given back to my ancestors – The land was taken and was handed over to most of them to the English who came from the East. So, we’ve been talking about it for a long time, but we shouldn’t. We must also recognize that in 1960, there was a Métis community here in Winnipeg. The city of Winnipeg began to destroy the Métis community to prepare for the expansion of the 1967 Pan-Am games. So our Métis community lost a lot of land and we were located to make a port for the English and the French from the East.

We must also recognize that the election of our president David Chartrand – was elected in 1997 – and when elected had only 3 employees. During the last 27 years we have grown our government. We are responsible for 330 million dollars of property. Lastly, we have a budget of 132 million dollars annually for over one thousand people that we employ at our government. So the Métis foundation – we started small. We have been here for a longtime, and finally we have been recognized in 2013 as the official government for Métis citizens.

Ariane-Li Simard Côté: So it’s a big job – and a long job to get this recognition. And really, justly for the recognition Louis Riel was very important to the history of Canada. His role was important for the recognition of the Métis community. Can you talk to us a bit about his role?

Andrew Carrier – Absolutely, we have to recognize Louis Riel as the father of Manitoba, the father of the confederation. He led the Métis of the Red River to form the Provincial government in 1869 and he negotiated with the Canadian federal government to guarantee the rights of the Métis people of the Red River and other First Nations living in the region. As well as like Louis Riel, a Métis, an Indigenous person who helped create Manitoba in 1870. So his leadership of that time, it was the northwest, was fueled by the decision to prevent federal employees from carrying out unauthorized removals of Métis lands of the Red River, that is to say that the government of Canada sent people to declare the land of its region without permission of the people. So, Louis Riel put his foot down and he didn’t promise the removals of those lands here in Manitoba. So the Prime Minister had to recognize that the rights of the Indigenous people and the rights of the Métis people of Manitoba must be held responsible for us as a people.

Ariane-Li Simard Côté: Actually, that’s it. It was still very important, the role that the government played at that precise moment.

Andrew Carrier : Yes, because don’t forget that the United States had plans to come to the North. And then Canada is to the east of the rest of us to the west. So, Louis Riel did a large part in recognizing Manitoba to become the fifth province of Canada. The rest of us recognize Louis Riel as a leader of great importance. We recognize November 16th, as Louis Riel Day. That is the day Riel was executed in Regina. And this day, the rest of us, we meet, we raise the infinity flag and we recognize that Louis Riel gave his life for the Métis citizens of Manitoba.

Ariane-Li Simard Côté: There was also the RCMP which played an important role in the dynamic between the Métis, the government, the RCMP itself, can you tell us more about it?

Andrew Carrier: Yes, but it must be recognized that the RCMP did not exist before that time. The police force was known as the Northwest Mounted Police which was formed in 1873 – So it was them who arrested Riel as Canada’s representative and took Riel to Regina after the Battle of Batoche. So, we recognize that today, it is the RCMP. But we also recognize that at the time, the name was the North-West Mounted Police.

So the rest of us recognize the other representatives of the Government of Canada.

Ariane-Li Simard Côté: In 2017, the RCMP signed an agreement to return certain artifacts that belonged to, or were linked to the Métis people and Louis Riel. Can you tell us a little bit more about it and its importance?

Andrew Carrier: Yes, uh, finally, uh, it’s very very – I remember that day. Where did we receive things from Louis Riel. A poem that had been written and what really touched me. It’s because they kept Louis Riel’s beard. The day of execution. They removed his beard, they kept it in a box. – It was given to the family of Louis Riel’s – his descendants, that is to say his nephews and great nephews and nieces. And It was incredible that they kept personal things from Louis Riel and it was given to the Métis community. We received a sword. We received his rosary and then everything was recognized as the owner of Louis Riel.

So it really touched us that they returned the artifacts – these things for the rest of us, to recognize – and to recognize the story of Louis Riel.

Ariane-Li Simard Côté: Yes, it’s still impressive that it has been preserved all this time. It’s still beautiful that it has been preserved. Moreover, we have a law which says that he is the first honorary Indigenous Prime Minister of Manitoba. So why is this recognition being done now and how does it contribute to the path to reconciliation?

Andrew Carrier: For me, it’s a foundation of respect. Because Louis Riel was elected three times to the Crown. He was never able to go to Ottawa and take his seat as Manitoba’s representative.

And after all this time, we must recognize Louis Riel – Métis. Indigenous, was speaking English well, French and the Michif and Native language. He was a man who was truly dedicated to the people. So when Wab Kinew the Premier of Manitoba – in fact – recognized by law which was that Louis Riel was the honorary Premier of Manitoba. And why honorary, Ariane, to remember that it was never recognized to a foundation of racism that was established in the time of Sir John A McDonald and continued for one 154 years of finally being recognized in the real position as the first and father of Manitoba Confederation. Why not recognize, thanks to these challenges, the work done in is Manitoba, so he is the only Prime Minister of the Indigenous province. And then Wab Kinew the Premier of Manitoba, Aboriginal, First Nations. He did that, the law, it affected us. Incredible, because finally, after all this time, we are recognized at home, in our house.

Ariane-Li Simard Côté: What you say is having an impact on me. I can completely understand this big sentiment that has been carried for so many generations. Ah, in terms of the ongoing efforts for reconciliation and the relationship between Métis people and the RCMP, what do you actually hope the future holds?

Andrew Carrier: First, we must recognize that the work of the RCMP is not an easy job in our community. For several generations of debates and terrible situations the RCMP has been part of their work. We recognize that the RCMP is a very difficult job, that we must have respect for the RCMP.

Just as an example, President Chartrand declared a memorandum of understanding with the Métis Federation of Manitoba and Canada, recognized partner in confederation negotiations. That is to say that finally, after 150 years, we recognize that the RCMP there was work to be done and it was not an easy job.

So to recognize the past, we go to the future to work together. It’s not an easy path, that is to say that we recognize that we have a Métis history and an RCMP history and we can have the respect and collaboration to work together.

The president Chartrand supports the RCMP if you remember there was a monument that was from the RCMP that was broken and the Federation supported the RCMP to recognize that history. We must recognize the history of the RCMP and move forward positively with the future. Because the work of the RCMP and the Indigenous police is very important for the community to be better. So we would really believe that the RCMP has a positive relationship with the RCMP
Ariane-Li Simard Côté: And how did you describe it, this current relationship between the RCMP and Indigenous peoples, and even with the Manitoba Métis Federation? How did you describe it?

Andrew Carrier: But as a partner – we have a community program. In Thompson, for example, it is in northern Manitoba and also northwest ports and between the lakes. We have partners with the RCMP across the province and these are programs to strengthen the capacity of the Métis community and offer solutions in exchange for justice and recognizing culture and everything. So this is work that is being done at this time, but it didn’t start yesterday. We have been working with the RCMP for several years to recognize our history and recognize their history with respect.

Ariane-Li Simard Côté: It’s so important. I am happy to see that you are currently working as partners. Thank you so much for sharing. In fact, the interview is coming to an end. Our exchange is coming to an end. Is there anything you would like to add regarding the situation?

Andrew Carrier: No, it’s just the reality of the History of the RCMP. It’s very difficult to receive orders. You have to imagine that the RCMP was responsible for the destruction of Métis homes, Métis families. They hunted, they killed people from the Métis community and… after orders of the Government of Canada. So they do their work. Unfortunately, the reign of terror that I spoke about during this time affected my family personally, for several generations. We are a people a little lost who wanted to hide their Métis identity, to call themselves French-Canadian or English.

And so – This culture which has survived several challenges. But we were able to keep our culture, our language intact.

Ariane-Li Simard Côté: Thank you very much for teaching us more about the importance of Louis Riel’s place in the Métis community and whch means that today it guided us towards recognition in the process of reconciliation.

Thank you very much for taking this time with us Mr. Carrier. Thank you so much. It’s very appreciated.

Thank you for listening to Canadian Time Machine. This podcast receives funding from the Government of Canada and is created by the Walrus Lab. Like all our episodes, the transcripts will be available in both English and French. To read the transcripts, please visit
This episode was produced and edited by André Proulx. Sound design was by Nathara Imenes. Amanda Cupido is the executive producer.

And – a special note about this episode – it has a counterpart on the English feed for this show! So if you’re bilingual and want to listen to more about the history of the Mad Trapper and the RCMP, head over to the podcast called Canadian Time Machine.

For more stories about historic Canadian milestones, visit

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