The photo below was taken 130 years ago today (May 16).
This is Louis Riel in the foreground, the day after he gave himself over to the Canadian government’s army at (or near) the Métis settlement of Batoche, in what is now Saskatchewan.
Riel’s surrender brought to a halt (in whole or in part)
- a direct action we now call the Northwest Resistance
- the last “war” to occur on this soil (led by Gabriel Dumont, a man you really need to know about, if you don’t already)
- a push for Métis sovereignty, freedom, and land rights after being repeatedly, resoundingly ignored by the federal government
- the existing way of life of a community, of a society.
The Métis, whom John A. Macdonald called “the pemmican eaters,” came to also be known as “the road allowance people,” referring to the land available to them after the Resistance, after this photo was taken.
The days of the week match up this year, so it was Saturday in this photo, just like it’s Saturday as I write this.
Items on Riel’s person in this photo right now sit in the RCMP museum in Regina, which is the place where Riel was hanged exactly six months after this photo was taken. (Got a little poem about that, in fact.)
I find it interesting that everyone in this photo is reacting to Peters’ camera except Riel. I imagine the depth of Riel’s thoughts on this, the day after he gave himself over to the Canadian government. Dumont claimed that Riel knew how time would treat the two leaders: “‘I know that I will be pardoned by God, but not by men. Gabriel will be pardoned by both God and men'” (see Gabriel Dumont Speaks, page 24).
I’m going to guess that that’s the North Saskatchewan River behind the soldiers in the background. And I’m going to guess, based on accounts from that time, it’s still quite frozen. The banks of the North Saskatchewan are high and at Batoche they are right now busy receding. People at the national historical site that now sits where Batoche sat are worried that this land, the land on which Riel stands in James Peters’ photo, the land where Gabriel Dumont and so many other Métis are buried, the land which came to be a site of last resistance, might one day disappear.