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Riel's poems echo through time

While awaiting the hangman's noose for high treason, Mtis leader Louis Riel borrowed a pen
and paper in jail and wrote several short poems about his religious and political convictions.

Some of the final words written by Metis leader Louis Riel have been brought back to Winnipeg
for public display. A series of poems Riel wrote in jail while awaiting execution for treason were
unveiled today by the Manitoba Metis Federation.
(Feb. 16, 2009) (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
By Steve LambertTHE CANADIAN PRESS
Tues., Feb. 17, 2009
Source:
https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2009/02/17/riels_poems_echo_through_time.html

WINNIPEG While awaiting the hangman's noose for high treason, Mtis leader Louis Riel
borrowed a pen and paper in jail and wrote several short poems about his religious and political
convictions.

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More than a century later, as Manitobans yesterday celebrated Louis Riel Day, his long-secret
writings, kept all these years by the family of a jail guard, were unveiled not far from his
gravesite. The poems, contained in two small notebooks now yellowed and frayed with age, offer
insight into a man reviled by many at the time as a mad traitor but who has in recent decades
been heralded as the father of Mtis rights and a significant contributor to Confederation.

"Prophet of the new world, I do the work of the most high. I assert it with no pride. I live in
humility. Is there anyone to side with me?" reads one of the poems, all written in English. "Yes,
sincerity will gather up its recruits and we will soon taste its fruits."

In another poem, Riel writes of a future in which "my works, for all classes, will soon shine as
glasses under a bright electric light."

The poems, written in 1885, were kept by the jail guard's family and were put up for auction last
year. The Manitoba Mtis Federation was determined not to let the poems go into another private
collection and, with donations from local charities, placed the winning $32,000 bid.

"For too long, we've watched some of our great leaders' ... artifacts disappear into foreign soil,"
federation president David Chartrand told several dozen people who gathered to see the poems
yesterday.

"We've seen, in fact, some of our history on eBay being sold ... and we take strong offence to
that."

The poems, which contain no anger and no apology, say a lot about Riel as a person, Chartrand
said.

"There's no hatred. There's no fear. There's just a calm man who has decided that he is willing to
give his life for what he believes in."

Riel was hanged for leading the 1885 Northwest Rebellion in what is now Saskatchewan. A
dispute over Mtis rights and land claims resulted in clashes with the Northwest Mounted Police.
Riel's followers took hostages and cut telegraph lines between Battleford and Batoche. He
surrendered after a lengthy battle at Batoche, which is now a national historic site, and was put
on trial in Regina.

In Manitoba, Riel is considered a father of Confederation for his work in setting up a provisional
government in 1870. The government recognized the rights of both English- and French-
speaking peoples and negotiated the terms under which Manitoba became Canada's fifth
province.

"I think over the years, many people have begun to see the value of Louis Riel, especially in
terms of Manitoba's founding and, of course, the political and social movement that he founded,"
said Rod Bruinooge, a Conservative MP (Winnipeg South) and a Mtis.

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Riel's name and image adorn many institutions in Manitoba, including a library, a school division
and a college. A large statue of Riel stands on the grounds of the Manitoba legislature. His
gravesite is frequently covered with fresh flowers.

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