Louis Riel, the Métis, and the Making of Modern Canada

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Map of Rupert’s Land in North America, the extent of the territory administered by the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670-1870. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The recent Hollywood blockbuster The Revenant stars Leonardo DiCaprio as an 1820s fur trader left for dead after a bear attack in the wilds of what are today the states of Montana and South Dakota. While the plot is partially fictional, much of actual North American history is referenced, including the harshness of the conditions surrounding the fur trade of the era. While some French-Canadians have condemned the film for its depictions of French-speaking voyageurs as lawless and immoral compared to the heroic American character portrayed by DiCaprio, the film is a strong contender for Best Picture at the upcoming Academy Awards. But where does the fiction end and the real history begin in this cinematic tour-de-force?

Before we answer that, let’s fast-forward from the 19th century back to the 21st for a moment. If you happen to be walking down the streets of one of Canada’s major cities like Winnipeg or Montreal, you might come across the name “Louis Riel” on certain government buildings and other official landmarks. You might suppose that this Riel fellow was a local hero, perhaps an important statesman or leader of some other kind from the pages of a history book. Given the French-sounding name, you might suppose that Monsieur Riel is somehow implicated in Canada’s origins (in part) as a colony of France. On all of these counts, you would not be wrong. But the deeper truth of Louis Riel’s story is as complex as any in North American history, and, moreover, essential to the establishment of the modern nation of Canada.

Chances are that while walking down the same hypothetical Canadian street, you would also likely be within a few miles’ radius of a certain department store called the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), often referred to today simply as “the Bay.” But, back when this particular company was founded – 346 years ago – it had a slightly longer, more ponderous title, as we will see shortly.

Cover of Chester Brown’s graphic novel Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography

Louis “David” Riel, Jr. (1844-1885) was a Métis (French: “mixed” – compare to Spanish mestizo or Portuguese mestiço), a descendant of both French fur traders and Canadian First Nations peoples such as the Cree. This distinct and semi-nomadic group, now recognized by the Canadian government as an Aboriginal people by the Constitution Act of 1982, represents an important phase of North American and especially Canadian history. For centuries, colonial-era French, Scottish, and English trappers ventured deep into the wilderness of what is now the northern United States and central Canada to supply the aforementioned Hudson’s Bay Company with commodities such as beaver pelts, highly valued in Europe for their quality and utility. Many of these intrepid men married women from the various First Nations groups and settled down with them to start families in small communities near the many lakes and rivers of the region. Such a community was the Red River Settlement, where Louis Riel was born and raised, on the site of what is today the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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Original illustrations by Ronald Searle in the satirical The Great Fur Opera: Annals of the Hudson’s Bay Company 1670-1970

When France’s hold on the North American continent fell suddenly to the British at the culmination of the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Year’s War) in 1763, French-descended and -speaking peoples such as the Quebecois and the Métis were, in many ways, at the mercy of their new colonial overlords. However, in the case of the Métis, many had already moved far to the west of the more populated areas of Quebec and Ontario (then known as Lower and Upper Canada, respectively) into what are today the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. For approximately a century thereafter, the relationship between the Métis and the Hudson’s Bay Company – established by English charter since 1670 as “The Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay” – would continue as it had in the same spirit of “heroic commerce,” as some historians have put it. Therefore, these lands were not yet a part of the soon-to-be sovereign Dominion of Canada, but instead made up an unincorporated territory of the ambiguous “Rupert’s Land,” as the drainage basin of the gargantuan Hudson’s Bay had been called since the British had claimed it via the Hudson’s Bay Company in the seventeenth century.

In 1869, when the newly independent government of Canada – though still under allegiance to the British crown as the ultimate legal authority – began to expand its jurisdiction into territories west of Ontario, including what is now the province of Manitoba, the local Métis, First Nations, and also various European or Euro-descended settlers were presented with a precarious dilemma: fight for independence or become a part of the new nation of Canada?

Louis Riel was the most prominent leader of the camp in opposition to these expansionist plans envisioned by Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. Riel had been educated in Montreal and thus spoke English and was well-versed in the political dynamics of the time. When the surveying of the land began, Riel immediately was able to begin negotiations with the mostly Ontario-based prospectors and administrators that sought to establish the Red River area as a new province. At one point, Riel was even elected to Canadian Parliament in Ottawa. As Riel would soon find, however, these newcomers’ plans did not consider the specific rights, cultures, and land claims of the original and historical inhabitants. Moreover, much of the Canadian government’s plans included displacing the mostly Catholic Métis with white, Protestant Ontarians. Conflict seemed inevitable.

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Louis Riel circa 1884. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Riel fought against the standing powers more with his voice and his pen than with any physical violence for the more than fifteen years of his involvement in the conflict. To avoid threats to his life, he spent long stretches of time in exile at the Métis settlement of Pembina, just across the U.S. border in Montana. However, because of his implication in the controversial public execution of an Anglophone settler named Thomas Scott in 1870, Riel was eventually convicted of high treason against the British crown in 1885 and was executed later that month by hanging. Meanwhile, back east, a majority of the Francophone population of Quebec seethed in opposition to such severe sentencing.

Though Riel was executed, his story and that of his people were integral to the cultural and ideological foundations of Canada, including its French, British, and First Nations heritages (and the mixtures thereof). In recognition of the man who is now considered the Founder of Manitoba, in 1992, the Canadian Parliament established the third Monday of February as Louis Riel Day, a statutory holiday celebrated in Manitoba that coincides with Family Day celebrated in other Canadian provinces. This year, Louis Riel Day falls on Monday, February 15, 2016.

The historian Thomas Flanagan writes, “Louis Riel is perhaps the most prominent name in Canadian history. In his brief political career, he personified the enduring antagonism of Canadian history: French against English, native against white, West against East. Not surprisingly, there is intense controversy over the significance of his life. He has been called a rebel and a patriot, a villain and a hero, a madman and a saint – and still the debate continues.”

As for the Hudson’s Bay Company, today it stands as the oldest merchandising company in the world.

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The Hudson’s Bay Company’s flagship store in Toronto, Ontario, 2012. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

For more information about Louis Riel, the Métis, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the founding of Canada, check the links shown above as well as the following books available through the University of Illinois Library:

Adams, Christopher, Gregg Dahl & Ian Peach (Eds.). 2013. Métis in Canada: History, Identity, Law & Politics. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: The University of Alberta Press.

Andersen, Chris. 2014. Métis: Race, Recognition, and the Struggle for Indigenous Peoplehood. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: UBC Press.

Bliss, Michael (Ed.). 1974. The Queen v Louis Riel. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Bown, Stephen R. 2009. Merchant Kings: When Companies Ruled the World, 1600-1900. Chapter 5: “Empire of the Beaver: Sir George Simpson and the Hudson’s Bay Company.” New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Flanagan, Thomas. 1992. “Louis Riel.” Historical Booklet, No. 50. Ottawa: The Canadian Historical Association.

Huel, Raymond (Ed.). 1985. The Collected Writings of Louis Riel/Les Ecrits complet de Louis Riel, Volume 1: 29 December 1861 – 7 December 1875. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: The University of Alberta Press.

Rich, E.E. (Ed.). 1958. The History of the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670-1870, Volume 1: 1670-1763. London: The Hudson’s Bay Record Society.

Sprague, D.N. 1988. Canada and the Métis, 1869-1885. Waterloo, ON, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

The Gist of Jewish Studies

Shalom! Are you curious about the way our university frames Jewish Studies? Here’s a list of the top 10 things to know about this discipline across campus at the University of Illinois.

  1. The Program in Jewish Culture & Society’s course listings are inherently diverse.
A screenshot of the University of Illinois’ Program in Jewish Culture & Society's website’s homepage.

A screenshot of the University of Illinois’ Program in Jewish Culture & Society’s website’s homepage.

There are courses with content addressing the Jewish diaspora from several disciplines on campus including English, German, Hebrew, history, religious studies, social work, and Yiddish. Given all types of immigration due to conflict, displacement, immigration, voluntary and involuntary exiles, and the establishment of Israel, Jewish populations are found all over the world. These international Jewish communities and their histories of cross-cultural contact explain why Jewish Studies are rich and broad and why searching the Enterprise course catalog under all of the following headings is a good idea: ENG, GER, HEBR, HIST, RLST, SOCW, and YDSH. (Soon you will be able to search exclusively under “JS” for “Jewish Studies.”)

  1. Hebrew and Yiddish, too!

The below video features Dr. Sara Feldman describing her experience with developing expertise in Jewish Studies.

We are a privileged lot here at the U of I: we have the opportunity to learn two languages spoken within Jewish communities. Dr. Sara Feldman teaches both Hebrew and Yiddish on campus. She points out that while Hebrew has its origins in the Near East, Yiddish was born in Europe to groups that came to be known as Ashkenazi (see #10). The Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship, available to undergraduate and graduate students, encourages the study of less commonly taught languages and has the potential to support the study of both Hebrew and Yiddish.

  1. Cinema, anyone?
An image of the cover art used to promote the film Yossi & Jagger, a cinematic production that largely addresses LGBTQ issues. Photo Credit: José Vicente Salamero

Cover art from the film Yossi & Jagger, which largely addresses LGBTQ issues. Photo Credit: José Vicente Salamero

As with most any other cultural group, a rich body of cinema has been produced that speaks to the unique experiences and struggles known to the Jewish community. For example, the Jewish Studies Program recently screened A Borrowed Identity at the Art Theater, which was followed by a question and answer session for the broader Urbana-Champaign community. This semester, Dr. Feldman and Israeli visiting scholar Dr. Vered Weiss have initiated a film series that introduces selected works, each of which will be followed by a discussion.

  1. The Illini Hillel Center
Exterior of the Illini Hillel Center at the University of Illinois.

The exterior of the Illini Hillel Center at the University of Illinois.

The interior of the Illini Hillel Center at the University of Illinois.

The interior of the Illini Hillel Center at the University of Illinois.

Just as we have ethnic cultural houses on campus on Nevada Street, a cultural center based around Jewish identity and culture is found not far away, on John Street. It has its own library, free coffee, a terrace, and weekly cultural events including Shabbat (see #10) services and meals open to anyone in the U of I community.

  1. The Israel-Palestine Conflict
A map outlining occupied territories of Israel-Palestine. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A map of Israel-Palestine. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Tensions between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians have been volatile for at least six decades now. Some think that the inherent difficulties— territorial, religious, cultural, ethnic, economic, and more—are the most complex and the least resolvable of our time. To help to navigate these issues, the library has created a LibGuide on the Arab-Israeli Conflict. This resource offers answers to frequently asked questions and access to our related holdings. While on that topic, know that this A-Z Lib Guide database allows you to choose keywords to yield additional guides to help orient you in your research.

  1. Sayed Kashua

Below: Sayed Kashua’s series Arab Labor is reviewed by commentators on the television channel KCET.

Our campus community includes a successful Israeli-Palestinian screenwriter and author by the name of Sayed Kashua. His work, written in Hebrew, addresses the difficulties experienced by inhabitants of Israel-Palestine who pursue an ethos of tolerance but are nonetheless impacted by the violence, debates, and conflicts that have become synonymous with the region. Explore the library’s holdings credited to this artist including novels like Dancing Arabs and the television series, Arab Labor. Note: When looking for works by this author in our catalog, use this transliteration of his last name: “Qashu.” Just last week Kashua gave a reading of his new book, Native, at the Urbana Free Library.

  1. A major, a minor, or a graduate certificate

As with many of the cultural studies programs on our campus, the Program in Jewish Culture and Society offers varying levels of involvement. Both undergraduate and graduate students can participate in the courses offered and different credentialing options are available, depending on status. Director Brett Kaplan reports that the program is actively growing the minor and is reaching out to classes, sororities and fraternities, and Hillel in order to expand its reach.

  1. Listserv & Social Media
An image of the Program in Jewish Culture & Society’s Director Dr. Brett Kaplan

An image of the Program in Jewish Culture & Society’s Director Dr. Brett Kaplan

By e-mailing the Program in Jewish Culture and Society’s Director Brett Kaplan (bakaplan@illinois.edu), you, too, can sign up for the program’s listserv and stay abreast of various community and campus events like film screenings, community talks, and local conferences that deal with themes of the Jewish diaspora, identity, and culture. The program also has a Facebook page.

  1. Our Library Specialist
An image of Dr. Celestina Savonius-Wroth, a librarian and expert in religious studies on the University of Illinois campus.

An image of Dr. Celestina Savonius-Wroth, a librarian and expert in religious studies on the University of Illinois campus.

If you are researching geography, history, politics, religion, sociology, or other topics related to Jewish society, Dr. Celestina Savonius-Wroth (cswroth@illinois.edu) of the History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library has rigorously studied questions of Jewish identity and is available to help you shape and build your research. Also, if you prefer to do some independent exploring, check out these resources:

Holocaust in Context

Index to Jewish Periodicals

Jewish Studies

  1. A Beginner’s Vocabulary
An image of a Jewish couple's marriage ceremony. Photo Credit: Robert Faerman

An image of a Jewish couple’s marriage ceremony. Photo Credit: Robert Faerman

Here are some of the terms that novices and experts will encounter at any stage of study in this field:

  • aliyah: (n.) one of many successive waves of immigration to Israel
  • Ashkenazi: (n. and adj.) Jewish people of European descent, excluding regions like Spain, Portugal, and Greece
  • Israel-Palestine: (n.) a hotly contested land in the Near East that regularly struggles with issues of sovereignty
  • Mizrahi: (n. and adj.) Jewish people of Middle Eastern descent
  • Sephardi: (n. and adj.) Jewish people who historically resided in the Iberian Peninsula, especially up until the 15th century, including those who were later expelled from the region
  • Shabbat: (n.) Known as “(the) Sabbath” in English, this is a holy day of rest that comes at the end of the week for Jews.
  • Orthodox, Haredi: (n. and adj.) These terms refer to conservative, observant Jews who attempt to respect traditional precepts of religiosity.
  • Yiddish: (n.) A language used within many Jewish communities that is of Germanic origin

Bonus: Author’s Pick

The University of Illinois' Library's Catalog record for Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less

The University of Illinois’ Library’s Catalog record for Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less

Also, to begin framing your understanding of Jewish Studies, consider checking out Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, which grapples with issues of identity and heritage and comes in graphic-novel form.

For more posts like these, be sure to like the International & Area Studies Library’s Facebook page.

May The Force Be With You

As a child, I was enthralled by the original three films (A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi) and dutifully played the video games when they were released. In fact, I fondly remember completstarwars tatooely blowing two summers on Tie Fighter, a flight simulator game that allowed you to fly for the Empire. I could beat the game on expert, getting every medal including acing the extra missions. My love of the Empire, and the game in particular, would lead to my Star Wars tattoo (see tattoo of the symbol for the Empire to the left).  When people ask, do I love Star Wars or Star Trek, my answer is yes. I’ve been a fan of both since I was a small child. They both tell narratives that are timeless and have cross cultural appeal.

There is something about the story of coming of age, falling, and resurrecting that is timeless. George Lucas knew what he was doing when he penned the original screenplays as he consulted Joseph Campbell, of Hero with a Thousand Faces fame, heavily. When the three prequels (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith) were released, I greeted them with great joy, only to be disappointed by how bad they were. They were deeply childish and fraught with racism. It is with great trepidation that I greeted the news of The Force Awakens (TFA), a sequel to the first six films. TFA picks up thirty years after Return of the Jedi.  Luke, Han, Leia and everyone else are much older now and the next generation of heroes and villains are poised to take over the story from the originals. While there is trepidation in my heart, the fact that TFA is being directed by J.J. Abrams gives me hope. Abrams is one of the best guys in the entertainment industry right now and if anyone could do a good job of rebooting the Star Wars franchise, it would be him.

As Star Wars mania hits a frenzied crescendo, including Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square in London beind decorated as a lightsaber, I haven’t purchased a ticket for opening night. Personally, though my love of Star Wars is literally inked into my skin, I don’t want to battle the crowds. Besides, my local movie house tells me that they are sold out for Thursday and Friday already. I would really like to see the film opening weekend though and I might try to go during the day on Saturday or Sunday. The world over, the love of Star Wars, even before TFA, has always been present. You have no further to look than Australia declaring “Jedi” to be a nationally recognized religion, or a Stormtrooper dancing in Tokyo, or the international 501st Legion (a fan based cosplay group that had its origins in creating Stormtrooper armor), or Star Wars themed weddings and funerals. Closer to home, the Star Wars mania manifests in my own family in a variety of ways including decorating cookies with a young cousin a few years ago who was humming “Jingle Bells” and when I hummed a few bars to the “Imperial March”, he immediately switched over without realizing it, much to the delight of everyone at the table. For me, it’s Star Wars Legos. I have dozens of sets, including the Death Star playset which was my graduation present to myself when I got my Masters in Science in Information from the University of Michigan.

In my many travels around the world, I’ve always found Star Wars fans, even when we didn’t speak the same language, all I had to do was raise my sleeve and show them my tattoo and there was an instant connection that transcended cultural barriers. That transcendence is one of the reasons that I, and so many others, love Star Wars. I’d say the iconography is the other reason. Many fans instantly recognize any shot in any film that looks like the throne room scene at the end of A New Hope. The image is iconic, though not many people realize that Lucas was mirroring the work of Leni Reifenstahl, the brilliant Nazi propaganda director who directed the infamous Triumph of the Will. The in jokes and controversies are another reason to love Star Wars, including Yodaisms and yes, Han shot first.

rbmlWant to know more about Star Wars? The University Library has a whole host of books and films about the entire franchise, just check the catalog! The Rare Book and Manuscript Library also currently has a small exhibit to commemorate the new film, including a manuscript from A New Hope that proves definitively that Han shot first. The exhibit is up for a short time and will be taken down on December 23rd 2015.

 

Interview: The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)

This week we sit down with IAS Library Head/Interim Japanese Studies Librarian Steve Witt to discuss the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). Professor Witt is the current editor of the IFLA Journal, among other functions he has served therein. We also discuss how interested parties might become involved in IFLA.

SteveCroppedGlocal Notes: What is your role in IFLA?

Steve Witt: I’ve been the Editor of the IFLA Journal since August of 2014.  IFLA Journal is an international journal publishing peer reviewed articles on library and information services and the social, political and economic issues that impact access to information through libraries.

In the past I’ve served on IFLA Professional Committee and Governing Board plus some of the professional sections such as Social Science Libraries, Library Theory and Research, and the Library History SIG.

 

GN: What is the University of Illinois Library’s general relationship with IFLA?

SW: The University of Illinois is an institutional member of IFLA and has a long-standing history of leadership in the association that goes back generations of librarians. I recall being a Graduate Assistant in the 1990’s and working with Robert Wedgeworth, who was the President of IFLA at the time. Lynne Rudasill, Global Studies Librarian, just served as the Chair of IFLA’s Professional Committee, and Susan Schnuer of the Mortenson Center was awarded the IFLA Scroll in 2015. Many librarians in IAS and throughout the library are active in different IFLA sections.  IFLA’s annual conference attracts many U of I Librarians; there is a long standing joke that many of us only see each other at IFLA.

 

GN: What are some of the recent, popular trends in IFLA?

SW: Over the past few years, IFLA has transformed itself into a key player in advocacy globally for information policy issues that range from access, privacy, transparency, and intellectual freedom. The impact of this work directly contributed to the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (http://www.wipo.int/treaties/en/ip/marrakesh/). The IFLA Trend Report provides an excellent overview of some of the issues that IFLA is currently focusing on: http://trends.ifla.org/. These include the way new technologies expand and limit access to information; online education as a democratic and yet disruptive force in global learning, boundaries in privacy and data protection; and the transformation of the global information environment.

 

GN: What can you tell us about the IFLA fellows program?

SW: The ALA’s IFLA Fellowship program is an excellent opportunity to attend this year’s conference, which will take place in Columbus, OH. Another opportunity for support to attend the conference in Columbus is to volunteer. The organizing committee is recruiting hundreds of librarians and library science students to provide volunteer help during the conference.  For more information on this, I’d suggest visiting: https://library.osu.edu/news/ifla-volunteers/.

 

GN: What is a simple way to get involved with IFLA?

SW: Show up! The best way to get involved with IFLA is to attend a conference and show up at one of the professional section meetings. These groups are always have interesting projects that might provide an opportunity to get involved in IFLA’s work. As an organization, IFLA presents an excellent networking opportunity to engage with librarians and leaders in the field from all over the world. Some of my closest colleagues and friends are people I’ve met through IFLA.

For more information, check out IFLA’s main site: http://www.ifla.org/.