The first resistance was the Red River Rebellion of 1869–1870. The provisional government established by Riel ultimately negotiated the terms under which the modern province of Manitoba entered the Canadian Confederation. Riel was forced into exile in the United States as a result of the controversial execution of Thomas Scott during the rebellion. Despite this, he is frequently referred to as the "Father of Manitoba." While a fugitive, he was elected three times to the Canadian House of Commons, although he never assumed his seat. During these years, he was frustrated by having to remain in exile despite his growing belief that he was a divinely chosen leader and prophet, a belief which would later resurface and influence his actions. He married in 1881 while in exile in Montana, and fathered three children.
Riel returned to what is now the province of Saskatchewan to represent Métis grievances to the Canadian government. This resistance escalated into a military confrontation known as the North-West Rebellion of 1885. It ended in his arrest, trial, and execution on a charge of high treason. Riel was viewed sympathetically in Francophone regions of Canada, and his execution had a lasting influence on relations between the province of Quebec and English-speaking Canada. Whether seen as a Father of Confederation or a traitor, he remains one of the most complex, controversial, and ultimately tragic figures in the history of Canada.
The formerly widespread perception of Louis Riel as an insane traitor, especially outside of the Métis and French Canadian community, weakened considerably since the late 20th century. Riel is regarded by some as a heroic freedom fighter who stood up for his people in the face of racist bigotry, and those who question his sanity still view him as an essentially honourable figure. Riel nevertheless presents an enigma, although as historian J.M.S. Careless has observed, it is possible that Riel was both a murderer and a hero.
On 18 February 2008, the province of Manitoba officially recognized the first Louis Riel Day as a general provincial holiday. It will now fall on the third Monday of February each year in the Province of Manitoba.
Arts, literature and popular culture
In 1925, the French writer Maurice Constantin-Weyer who lived 10 years in Manitoba published in French a fictionalized biography of Louis Riel titled La Bourrasque. An English translation/adaptation was published in 1930: A Martyr's Folly (Toronto, The Macmillan Company), and a new version in 1954, The Half-Breed (New York, The Macaulay Compagny).
Portrayals of Riel's role in the Red River Rebellion include the 1979 CBC television film Riel and Canadian cartoonist Chester Brown's acclaimed 2003 graphic novel Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography.
An opera about Riel entitled Louis Riel was commissioned for Canada's centennial celebrations in 1967. It was an opera in three acts, written by Harry Somers, with an English and French libretto by Mavor Moore and Jacques Languirand. The Canadian Opera Company produced and performed the first run of the opera in September and October, 1967.
For more on the subject, see Métis Awareness Day and "Hanging" Louis Riel T-Shirts Offend Métis.