Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly 33:3 (Summer 2013)
In the late nineteenth century, Métis leader Louis Riel led two rebellions against Canadian state expansion on the North American prairies. The 1869 Red River Rebellion led to the creation of the province of Manitoba. The 1885 North-West Rebellion, in present-day Saskatchewan, led to Riel’s state execution, by hanging. But Riel’s legend goes beyond the facts of these nineteenth-century conflicts toward the generation of the most omnipresent and complicated mythology in Canadian politics and culture. It is complicated because Riel has been read in many, often contradictory, ways: as a Canadian founder, an Indigenous anticolonial rebel, a fighter for Western sovereignty, a messianic prophet, a lunatic, a statesman, and a founder of the new Métis nation.
Thus, Jennifer Reid has taken on a tough task, for what is there new to say about Riel? Reid leverages Riel’s mythological fluidity and hybridity into her own claim that his legend speaks to a defining truth about the story of Canadian political and cultural development and the meaning of Canadian identity. In this sense, the book is not fundamentally about Riel himself, for even while Reid offers a meticulous, well-researched history of Riel and the rebellions he led, scholars on the subject are not likely to find anything new in an empirical sense. But that is not the book’s point: Louis Riel and the Creation of Modern Canada at base is about the role of collective memory in the production of Canadian national identity, with Riel standing as the central figure in that mnemonic production.