Saturday, November 12, 2011

Louis Riel & Gabriel Dumont

by Joseph Boyden

There is a lot to like about John Raulston Saul's Extraordinary Canadians series, which consists of short biographies of important Canadians, written by novelists instead of academics.  When the series began, the one that I was most interested in reading was the co-biography of Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, the two Métis leaders who led a rebellion against the Canadian government in 1885.

Boyden manages, in a scant 180 pages, to distill the story of Métis mistreatment at the hands of the Canadian government, and the roles played by these two very different leaders, into a quick moving and fascinating portrait of resistance and strength in the face of an overwhelming tide of political will and demographic force.  Boyden juggles the narrative between the two leaders, highlighting their strengths and shortcomings, while still providing enough background for the motives and actions of the Canadian government, embodied in John A. MacDonald, to come across clearly, if unjustifiably, based on the standards of today.

Reading this, it seems that Boyden has more faith in the ability of Dumont, the last leader of the buffalo hunt, to organize his people and hold off the Canadian forces during the Northwest Rebellion.  Had Dumont led things, Boyden is saying, instead of deferring to Riel's will, things would have ended very differently for the Métis.

Boyden does not shy away from the question of Riel's mental state while running the Exovedate, the provisional government he established in Batoche.  Riel believed himself the Prophet of the New World, and acted accordingly, counting on negotiation with the government over the showing of force through violence.

Riel was a complicated man, while Dumont was not.  Both are heroes to their people, and should be held up as heroes to all of Canada.  They saw that the country's future lay in a pluralistic society, and not in the hands of Orange Order Ontario Protestants.  It is good to see that they are finally, over the last twenty years or so, receiving the recognition they deserve.  It has been 126 years since Riel was executed (as of this coming Wednesday), and nice to see that he is finally being recognized as one of the founders of this great country.

No comments: