Louis Riel

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Deeds are not accomplished in a few days, or in a few hours. A century is only a spoke in the wheel of everlasting time.

Louis David Riel (22 October 184416 November 1885) was a Canadian politician, a founder of the province of Manitoba, and leader of the Métis people of the Canadian prairies. He led two resistance movements against the Canadian government in 1869 and 1885. He spent much of his life in exile in the United States due to his rebellions.

Quotes[edit]

We must cherish our inheritance.
We may be a small community and a Half-breed community at that — but we are men, free and spirited men, and we will not allow even the Dominion of Canada to trample on our rights.
  • Rome est tombeé.
    • Rome has fallen.
      • Announcing the North-West Rebellion (18 March 1885), quoted in Louis 'David' Riel: Prophet of the New World (1885) by Thomas Flanagan, p. 158
  • In a little while it will be all over. We may fail. But the rights for which we contend will not die. A day of reckoning will come to our enemies and of jubilee to my people. The hated yoke of English domination and arrogance will be broken in this land, and the long-suffering victims of their injustice will, with God's blessing, re-enter into the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions.
    • Letter from Batoche, N.W. T. to The Irish World (6 May 1885), also published as " An Appeal for Justice" in The Gibbet of Regina : The Truth about Riel, Sir John A. Macdonald and His Cabinet Before Public Opinion, by One who Knows (1886) by One who knows, Napoléon Thompson, p. 186
  • Deeds are not accomplished in a few days, or in a few hours. A century is only a spoke in the wheel of everlasting time.
    • Quoted in The Montreal Weekly Star (22 August 1885), and War in the West : Voices of the 1885 Rebellion (1985) by Rudy Henry Wiebe and Bob Beal, p. 2
  • We may be a small community and a Half-breed community at that — but we are men, free and spirited men, and we will not allow even the Dominion of Canada to trample on our rights.
    • As quoted in The History of Canada (1970) by Kenneth William Kirkpatrick McNaught, p. 143
  • My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.
    • As quoted in The Defiant Imagination : Why Culture Matters (2004) by Max Wyman, p. 85
  • I have nothing but my heart and I have given it long ago to my country.
    • Immediately before his execution in 1885, when a guard asked him for a souvenir, as quoted in Fifty Mighty Men (1977) by Grant MacEwan, p. 45
  • We must cherish our inheritance. We must preserve our nationality for the youth of our future. The story should be written down to pass on.

Address to Grand Jury (1885)[edit]

Final Statement of Louis Riel at his Trial in Regina (31 July 1885) - The Queen Vs. Louis Riel : Accused and Convicted of the Crime of High Treason. Report of Trial at Regina (1886), p. 147
I believed that I had a mission, I believe that I had a mission at this very moment.
The agitation in the North-West Territories would have been constitutional and would certainly be constitutional to-day, if, in my opinion, we had not been attacked.
When I see British people sitting in the court to try me, remembering that the English people are proud of that word "Fair play," I am confident that I will be blessed by God and by man also.
I will perhaps be one day acknowledged as more than a leader of the Half-breeds, and if I am I will have an opportunity of being acknowledged as a leader of good in this great country.
I do not wish for my satisfaction the name of prophet. Generally that title is accompanied with such a burden, that if there is satisfaction for your vanity there is a check to it.
  • It is true, gentlemen, I believed for years I had a mission, and when I speak of a mission you will understand me not as trying to play the role of insane before the grand jury so as to have a verdict of acquittal upon that ground. I believe that I have a mission, I believe I had a mission at this very time. What encourages me to speak to you with more confidence in all the imperfections of my English way of speaking, it is that I have yet and still that mission, and with the help of God, who is in this box with me, and He is on the side of my lawyers, even with the honorable court, the Crown and the jury, to help me, and to prove by the extraordinary help that there is a Providence to-day in my trial, as there was a Providence in the battles of the Saskatchewan.
  • I have not assumed to myself that I had a mission. I was working in Manitoba first and I did all I could to get free institutions for Manitoba. They have those institutions today in Manitoba and they try to improve them, while myself who obtained them, I am forgotten as if I was dead. But after I had obtained with the help of others a constitution for Manitoba, when the government at Ottawa was not willing to inaugurate it at the proper time, I have worked till the inauguration should take place and that is why I have been banished for five years. I had to rest five years. I was unwilling to do it. I protested. I said : Oh my God ! I offer you all my existence for that cause and please to make of my weakness an instrument to help men in my country. And seeing my intentions, the late Archbishop Bourget said "Riel has no narrow views, he is a man to accomplish great things" and he wrote that letter of which I hope that the Crown has at least a copy. And in another letter when I became what Drs. believed to be, insane, Bishop Bourget wrote again and said "Ye be blessed by God and man and take patience in your evil." Am I not taking patience I Will I be blessed by man as I have been by God?
    I say that, I have been blessed by God and I hope that you will not take that as a presumptuous assertion. It has been a great success for me to come through all the dangers I have in that 15 years. If I have not succeeded in wearing a fine coat myself I have at the same time the great consolation of seeing that God has maintained my views; that he has maintained my health sufficiently to go through the world and that he has kept me from bullets when bullets marked my hat.
  • I am blessed by God. It is this trial that is going to show that I am going to be blessed by man during my existence, the benedictions are a guarantee that I was not wronged when by circumstance I was taken away from my adopted land to my native land.
  • When I see British people sitting in the court to try me, remembering that the English people are proud of that word "Fair play," I am confident that I will be blessed by God and by man also. Not only Bishop Bourget spoke to me in that way, but Father Jean-Baptiste Bruno, the priest of Worcester, who was my director of conscience, said to me: "Riel, God has put an object into your hands the cause of the triumph of religion in the world, take care, you will succeed when most believe you have lost." I have got those words in my head, those words of J. B. Bruno and the late Archbishop Bourget.
  • But last year, while I was yet in Montana, while I was passing before the catholic church, the priest, the Revd. Father Frederick Ebeville, curate of the church of the Immaculate Conception at Benton, said to me "I am glad to see you, is your family here?" I said yes ; he said "Go and bring them to the altar, I want to bless you before you go away " and with Gabriel Dumont and my family we all went on our kness at the altar, the priest put on his surplice and he took holy water and was going to bless us. I said will you allow me to pronounce a prayer while you bless me; he said yes, I want to know what it is. I told him the prayer, it is speaking to God "My father bless me, according to the views of thy Providence which are beautiful and without measure." He said to me : "You can say that prayer while I bless you " Well he blessed me. I pronounced that prayer for myself, for my children and for Gabriel Dumont. When the glorious general Middleton fired on us during three days and on our families and when shells went and bullets went as thick as mosquitoes in the hot day of summer, when I saw my children, my wife, myself and Gabriel Dumont were escaping, I said that nothing but the blessing without measure of Father Frederick Ebeville could save me, and that can save me to-day from these charges.
  • Even if I was going to be sentenced by you, Gentlemen of the Jury, I have this satisfaction that if I die, I will not be reputed by all men as insane, as a lunatic. A good deal has been said by the two Revd Fathers André and Fourmond. I cannot call them my friends, but they made no false testimony. I know that a long time ago they believed me more or less insane. Father Fourmond said that I would pass from a great passion to great calmness, that shows great control under contradiction and according to my opinion and with the help of God, I have that control.
  • The agitation in the North-West Territories would have been constitutional and would certainly be constitutional to-day, if, in my opinion, we had not been attacked.
  • I know that through the grace of God I am the founder of Manitoba; I know that though I have no open road for my influence, I have big influence concentrated, as a big amount of vapour in an engine. I believe by what I suffered for 15 years, by what I have done for Manitoba and the people of the North-West that my words are worth something, if I give offence I do not speak to insult. Yes, you are the pioneers of civilization, the Whites are the pioneers of civilization, but they bring among the Indians demoralization. Do not be offended ladies, do not be offended. Here are the men that can cure that evil, and if at times I have been strong against my true friends and Fathers, the Reverend Priests of the Saskatchewan, it is because my convictions are strong. There have been witnesses to show that immediately after great patience, I could come back to the respect I have for them.
  • As to religion what is my belief? What is my insanity about that? My insanity, Your Honors, Gentlemen of the Jury, is that I wish to leave Rome aside inasmuch as it is the cause of division between the Catholics and Protestants. I did not wish to force my views because, in Batoche, to the Half-breeds that followed me I used the word Carte blanche. If I have any influence in the New World it is to help in that way and even if it takes two hundred years to become practical, then after my death that will bring out practical results, and then my children will shake hands with the Protestants of the New World in a friendly manner. I do not wish those evils which exist in Europe to be continued as much as I can influence it, among the Half-breeds. I do not wish that to be repeated in America, that work is not the work of some days or some years it is the work of hundreds of years.
  • I am glad that the Crown have proved that I am the leader of the Half-breeds in the North-West. I will perhaps be one day acknowledged as more than a leader of the Half-breeds, and if I am I will have an opportunity of being acknowledged as a leader of good in this great country.
  • I prefer to be called one of the flock. I am no more than you are, I am simply one of the flock, equal to the rest. If it is any satisfaction to the doctor to know what kind of insanity I have, if they are going to call my pretentions insanity, I say, humbly, through the grace o£ God I believe I am the prophet of the New World.
    I wish you to believe that I am not trying to play insanity, there is in the manner, in the standing of a man, the proof that he is sincere, not playing. You will say, what have you got to say? I have to attend to practical results. Is it practical that you be acknowledged as a prophet? Is it practical to say it. I think if the Half-breeds. have acknoledged me, as a community, to be a prophet. I have reason to believe that it is beginning to become practical. I do not wish for my satisfaction the name of prophet. Generally that title is accompanied with such a burden, that if there is satisfaction for your vanity there is a check to it.
  • The ministers of an insane and irresponsible Government and its little one the North-West Council made up their mind to answer my petitions by surrounding me slyly and by attempting to jump upon me suddently and upon my people in the Saskatchewan. Happily when they appeared and showed their teeth to devour, I was ready; that is what is called my crime of high treason and for which they hold me to day.
  • If you take the plea of the defence, that I am not responsible for my acts, acquit me completely, since I have been quarrelling with an insane and irresponsible Government. If you pronounce in favour of the Crown, which contends that I am responsible, acquit me all the same. You are perfectly justified in declaring that having my reason and sound mind I have acted reasonably and in self-defence, while the Government, my accuser, being irresponsible and consequently insane, cannot but have acted wrong, and if high treason there is, it must be on its side and not on my part.

Address on sentencing (1885)[edit]

Address on his sentencing (1 August 1885)
I consider myself only as others, yet by the will of God, by his Providence, by the circumstances which have surrounded me for fifteen years, I think that I have been called to do something which at least in the North-West nobody has done yet, and in some way I think that to a certain number of people the verdict against me to day is a proof that maybe I am a prophet.
  • The Court. has done the work for me, and although at first appearance it seems to be against me, I am so confident in the idea which I have had the honor to express yesterday, that I think it is for good and not for my loss. Up to this moment, I have been considered by a certain party as insane, by another party as a criminal, by another party as a man with whom it was doubtful whether to have any intercourse. So there was hostility and there was contempt, and there was avoidance To-day, by the verdict of the Court, one of these three situations has disappeared.
    I suppose that after having been condemned, I will cease to be called a fool, and for me it is a great advantage.
    I consider it as a great advantage. If I have a mission, I say "If " for the sake of those who doubt, but for my part it means "Since," since I have a mission, I cannot fulfil my mission as long as I am looked upon as an insane being-human being, at the moment that I begin to ascend that scale, I begin to succeed.
  • I wish to take notice that if there has ever been any contradiction in my life, it is at this moment, and do I appear excited? Am I very irritable? Can I control myself?
  • I am contradicted at this moment on politics, and the smile that comes to my face is not an act of my will, so much it comes naturally, from the satisfaction that I prove that I experience seeing one of my difficulties disappearing. Should I be executed, at least if I were going to be executed, I would not be executed as an insane man, it would be a great consolation for my mother, for my wife, for my children, for my brothers, for my relatives, even for my protectors, for my countrymen. I thank the gentlemen who were composing the Jury for having recommended me to the clemency of the Court. When I express the great hope that I have just expressed to you, I don't express it without ground, my hopes are reasonable, and since they are recommended, since the recommendation of the Jury to the Crown is for clemency.
  • I think the verdict that has been given against me is a proof that I am more than ordinary myself, but that the circumstances and the help that is given is more than ordinary, are more than ordinary, and although I consider myself only as others, yet by the will of God, by his Providence, by the circumstances which have surrounded me for fifteen years, I think that I have been called to do something which at least in the North-West nobody has done yet, and in some way I think that to a certain number of people the verdict against me to day is a proof that maybe I am a prophet, maybe Riel is a prophet. He suffers for it.

External links[edit]

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