For National Indigenous History Month, I want to share one legacy of researching and writing the Gill book. I believe many of the real stories of Canada's people have been obscured by the myth of our nationhood. I believe that in building a nation our leaders, deliberately or not, have taken a thread of racism and stitched together an Eurocentric quilt of overriding unfairness. It has been perpetuated under that great sense of advancing civilization with propriety and honour that most of us English descendants take for granted as our country's origin story.
We have always had the Americans to criticize for how they have behaved toward the Indigenous Peoples south of the border. However, in exploring our own history through Gordon's Métis eyes, and related reading, my sense of what our ancestors, and particularly our politicians did, leaves much to be desired in our own country's self appraisal.
There are many good history books on the massacres and dirty dealing on the American side of the Medicine LIne. Specific biographies of Indigenous leaders like Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, Little Crow, Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce, and Geronimo are all worthwhile and interesting reading. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown is still a bestseller 50 years after it was published. That book examines the "American Indian" experience while Thomas King's The Inconvenient Indian shares a more continental look at the dishonourable mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples, including some Canadian examples. Recent reads The Northwest is Our Mother; The Story of Louis Riel's People, The Métis Nation by Jean Teillet, The Trial of Louis Riel; Justice and Mercy Denied by George Goulet, and Big Bear, by Rudy Weibe all both reflect poorly on white actions, and especially white honour. These are all, in my view, important, mind altering reading for all members of our society as we try to figure out a future that is fair and equitable to all peoples.
I personally was surprised and offended by the so-called justice meted out to Louis Riel. It is a story which differs so much from the "Riel as Traitor (and Probably Insane)" story that most European descendants learned growing up in Canada. It is a story which needs to be told and re-told, so that history is better understood and does not have to repeat itself.
John S. Milloy's A National Crime tells the story of our country's treatment of the most vulnerable, children in residential schools. It too is an important book.
Researching the Gill book took me down a path which revealed treatment of Indigenous Peoples and the Metis, that was duplicitous, dishonest, fraudulent, dishonourable and illegal. These actions by many (not all) of Canada's leaders and bureaucrats were carried out as the representatives of Canadians including my own ancestors, whether they knew it or not.
The Trial of Louis Riel, Justice and Mercy Denied, by former Calgary lawyer and Métis descendant George R D Goulet is a detailed, painstakingly reasoned and explained, and heavily footnoted account of the trial of Louis Riel for Treason against Her Majesty (Victoria R) under an English Statute from the 1300s, (under which no other participant in the Resistance was charged). The conclusion seems clear that Riel's trial, appeal and hanging was in fact unfair, and in reality the state sponsored judicial execution of Riel at the behest of John A MacDonald.
Big Bear is a biographical history of the chief of the band, some of whom committed the Frog Lake Massacre north east of Fort Edmonton during the Riel Resistance of 1885. Rudy Weibe's account is of a good and honest man who refused to bow down before the government's illegal acts and misrepresented treaty promises. Big Bear also tried to stop his angry young men from taking out their frustration on some apparently pompous white traders and a priest. This account and others lead to the conclusion that signatures on the various treaties Canada relies on, were obtained by misrepresentation, and duress, and not performed as called for, that is, Canada was in breach of contract. This same conduct is used in courts of law to void (or enforce) general contracts, which are of a less solemn nature than Treaties between supposedly sovereign nations, as Canada deemed Indigenous peoples at the time.
All the things
We didn't know
We didn't know...