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Province observes Louis Riel Day

Monday a statutory holiday

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Monday is Louis Riel Day, a statutory holiday in Manitoba, like Christmas, New Year’s Day, Labour Day or Good Friday.

This is the fourth year the province will observe the date that celebrates Manitoba’s 19th century Métis leader.

Officially, Manitoba sees Riel as the Métis of the Red River provisional government 1869-70.

Riel is now celebrated as the province’s champion of Métis rights.

A century ago, that championship branded Riel a traitor and led to his hanging after the 1885 Northwest Rebellion.

To the Métis, Riel is the father of a nation; the holiday, an emblem of long-awaited recognition.

This year, the University of Manitoba hosted its first MétisLearning Day, "Why Celebrate Louis Riel"  to look at why Riel’s life is important more than a 125 years after his execution.

""We all know Louis Riel was a public figure but do we really know Louis Riel, the man?" said Deborah Young, the university’s executive lead for indigenous achievement.

"He was a fascinating man and this was timely. We’re having Louis Riel Day Monday," Young said.

The event is part of the U of M’s pathways to indigenous achievement, a series of events university president David Barnard promised in his statement of apology and reconciliation to aboriginal people in Halifax last year.

"Louis Riel wasn’t just a leader. He was a real person with a complicated identity," said Shirley Delorme Russell, the cultural and education resource coordinator for the Manitoba Métis Federation’s education authority, the Louis Riel Institute.

Russell was one of two main speakers at the Louis Riel event held Thursday.

"Louis Riel was the oldest son of a family of 11 that lost their father.  He’d been jilted in love in Montreal. And he was incredibly young and new to home when he came back to Manitoba."

At 14, Riel had been sent to Montreal to study for the priesthood and he was gone 10 years.

"Within a year, this man, was democratically elected as leader and created the province of Manitoba," Russell said.

The birth of the province, rested on the shoulders of a 24-year-old.

"We tend to make our leaders — Louis Riel, Stephen Harper, Barack Obama — one dimensional. But they’re not. And Riel was a young man, who was not married and he’d just come back from another country," Russell said.

Russell said she will visit Riel’s grave at the St. Boniface cemetery with her children Monday and the check out The Forks, the Festival. "I hope to make it an outdoor day."

The Métis federation doesn’t plan special events to mark the day, preferring to keep it as a time for families.

The Festival du Voyageur is holding a Look-a-Like Louis Riel contest at Voyageur Park. Contestants can chose to copy one of three separate looks, from historical photos  posted on the Festival website at http://festivalvoyageur.mb.ca/festival-du-voyageur/special-events/

Remember, government offices are closed and check the city’s website (below) for notices on what’s open and closed.

For a listing of cultural events, click on http://www.tourismwinnipeg.com/upcoming-events/date:2012-02-20

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

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