Letter: Response to Ward-Schur’s Coyote Tails column on Riel

Riel’s leadership record differs, depending on old history text books, or perspective of the Métis.

LOUIS Riel

I read with interest in the Nov. 16 Advocate about Asooahum Crossing (Housing, culture project about 30 per cent complete) and also Tanya Ward-Schur’s Coyote Tales Riel was a good leader that never backed down. I congratulate the Red Deer Native Friendship Society for undertaking this long-awaited project and the City of Red Deer for facilitating a suitable location.

As a former Manitoban, I’m well aware of the controversies about Louis Riel. Known as the “Father of Manitoba,” this Métis leader led two resistance movements against the Canadian government. The Red River Rebellion of 1869-70 and the provisional government established by Riel ultimately negotiated the terms by which Manitoba entered into Confederation. The North-West Rebellion of 1885 in Saskatchewan was unsuccessful and resulted in Riel hanged for treason in Regina.

Growing up in Winnipeg in the ’50s and ’60s, the only observations I had of indigenous people was when we had to drive along Main Street north of Portage Avenue beside the beer parlours. I saw a different view when I travelled up north in the ’80s for the Manitoba government, inspecting water treatment plants and instructing native operators in chlorine testing and water sampling. Back then, Métis communities were served with a central water treatment plant with standpipes, but no distribution system. If you wanted water, you brought your bucket to the “pail-fill” and carried it home. It beat chopping a hole in the ice in the wintertime, but the lack of running water and modern plumbing in the home made it difficult to maintain hygiene. Judging from the news reports about water systems on Indian reserves, I suspect not much has changed.

Since then I’ve been privileged to work with Métis and indigenous colleagues, of who I have much respect for.

Bill Franz, Red Deer

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