The events of the Northwest Rebellion eventually led to the surrender, by Riel, against overwhelming odds. He felt this would save further blood shed and that the ensuing trial would provide a platform from which to air the grievances of the Metis people. He did not wish his actions to be known as those of a “madman”, the defense’s main tool. This did not help him. After pleading the case of the Metis for an hour, the judge finally lost patience and along with the jury, sentenced him to be “hanged by the neck until dead”. The arm of the law could not be seen as weak.
I often ponder the many aspects of the Riel situation. I think about my grandmother, Josephine Daigneault and how she must have heard the story many times as a child; perhaps there were still relatives living who were affected by the death of their relative.
I think about Riel’s situation; how he was thrown into a situation he may not have been fully prepared for because he was educated and religious. His father was a man of strong opinion and ambition and probably gave him a strong sense of responsibility towards the community.
Talk of his sanity brings to my mind the religious raptures that the nun, Marie L’Incarnation experienced as she went through the trials of establishing a convent in the New World. We are taught that we must put our faith in God when we are overwhelmed with fear. Belief can overcome. That is what it would take to face the strong possibility of death.
I think Riel’s life is an example of being swept up by forces out of our control, about fighting against greed, deceit and inhumanity. Rest in Peace, cher cousin.