New book explores the legacy of Louis Riel

By Terry Lusty

(ANNews) – The posthumous journey of Louis Riel from Canadian enemy to Canadian hero is as riveting as it is paradoxical. A new title published by University of Alberta Press examines this roller coaster journey.

In The Riel Problem: Canada, the Métis and a Resistant Hero, University of Alberta Professor Emeritus Albert Braz maps out the national metamorphosis of Louis Riel from a wicked foe of Canada to the epitome of Canadian hero. He does so mainly by examining a series of watershed cultural and scholarly commemo­rations of Riel since 1967, from a large-scale opera about his life, through his published extant writings, to several statues in his honour. In the process, it shows that a country’s conversion of a former enemy into a national icon is complicated but achievable.

Through a variety of essays, prose and narratives by notable authors and even Riel himself, Braz examines why modern-day Canadians are so invested in celebrating Riel as a national hero.

In the collection of chapters, the reader comes to understand that almost every important cultural work that portrays Riel as a Canadian hero also presents reservations about either his Canadian-ness or his character. Another paradox is that fictional representations of Riel do not appear to possess the imaginative power of nonfictional ones.

Tracing Louis Riel’s metamorphosis from traitor to hero, Braz demonstrates that, through his writing, Riel resists his portrayal as both a Canadian patriot and a pan-Indigenous leader. After being hanged for high treason in 1885, the Métis politician, poet, and mystic has emerged as a quintessential Canadian champion.

Braz also probes how aspects of Riel’s life and writing can be problematic for many contemporary Métis artists, scholars, and civic leaders. Analyzing representations of Riel in light of his own writings, the author exposes both the structure of the Canadian nation-state and the magnitude of the current historical revisionism when dealing with Riel.

“Albert Braz examines the transformation of the former ‘rebel’ Riel into a ‘Canadian’ figure through post-World War II artistic representations,” writes Christopher Dummitt, Trent University. “This indispensable work delves into the complex challenges facing modern Métis artists and leaders, revealing how Riel’s Catholicism and Frenchness complicate efforts to present him as a pan-Indigenous champion.”
“Professor Albert Braz traces the recent evolution of Louis Riel in the Canadian imagination, from traitor to revolutionary hero,” writes Atilla Berki, in a Quill & Quire Review. “Recent commemorations in art and monuments seem at odds with aspects of his writings and life, which many Métis scholars and leaders regard as problematic. The Riel Problem looks at the reasons for Riel’s redemption, and how it interacts with the project of Canadian nation-building.”

The Riel Problem looks at Louis Riel’s complicated life from many points of view and charts how he has been commemorated since 1967, demonstrating his transformation from a traitor to a Canadian hero. It is a must read for Métis scholars and anyone who is interested in Canadian history and this larger-than-life Indigenous icon.

The Riel Problem (ISBN 978-1772127331) was published by University of Alberta Press and is available at your favourite bookseller. For more information visit 

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