This performance based on original transcripts from the 1885 Regina trial of Louis Riel (pictured, c. 1875) on a charge of high treason has been around for over 40 years. But this year marks a special occasion. That’s because if you do the math you’ll see that 2010 is the 125th anniversary of the North-West Resistence in which Riel played a leading role.
Until recently, in fact, the resistence was actually named after him. It was also generally referred to as a “rebellion”. That implies an unlawful uprising against legitimate government authority. Outside of hardcores on the Conservative right, it’s now acknowledged that the ragtag group of Metis and First Nations people that engaged Canadian troops in battle had legitimate grievances against the federal government and were not unjustified in trying to protect themselves from further oppression.
Several years ago, I spoke with a Metis artist in Regina who also took exception to the resistence being named after Riel. Scholars have cast doubt on Riel’s mental health. By identifying him as the sole leader of the armed uprising, it implies that the Metis and First Nations were the dupes of a meglomaniac without the capacity to act in their own best interest, while simultaneously ignoring the desperate circumstances that drove them to take up arms in the first place.
The Trial of Louis Riel runs July 14-16, 21-23 and 28-31 at 7:30 p.m. at the MacKenzie Art Gallery. For more info call (306) 728-5728.