The False Traitor: Louis Riel in Canadian Culture

Article excerpt

Albert Braz, The False Traitor: Louis Riel in Canadian Culture (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), xi + 245pp. Cloth. £35. ISBN 0-8020- 4760-2. Paper. £15. ISBN 0-8020-8314-5.

Louis Riel has recently attracted a great deal of attention in literature, film and television, but, as this stimulating book proves, this was not always the case. Riel was much written about in the years following his execution but this was followed by a long period of neglect in the first half of the twentieth century. Much of the early writing was unsympathetic to Riel and fiercely supported the volunteers from the anglophone and francophone communities who had put down his rising. Riel, with his ambitions for a Métis state to the west of Ontario and his messianic ideas of his own role in that state, had been seen as a real threat by both the Orangemen of Ontario and the French Canadians in Quebec. Neither community accepted him, and both were soon to forget him. When, after the Second World War, he re-emerges as a major figure from the Canadian past, attitudes to him have changed. Riel is seen as the champion of two peoples (the Métis and the First Nations, in particular the Cree) about to be dispossessed by the advancing whites. As Professor Braz shows, Riel was not very interested in the First Nations as he assumed that they would rapidly disappear, assimilated by intermarriage into the Métis. His own bloodline was only one-eighth Indian, as he had one Chipewyan ancestor. As a result he was not seen by the Cree, the Blackfoot and the Bloods as a natural ally, which helps to explain why his support among the tribes was extremely limited. …