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'Correcting history': Louis Riel's portrait as Manitoba's honorary 1st premier unveiled

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew, left, and Manitoba Métis Federation President David Chartrand unveiled a new plaque for Louis Riel's portrait at the legislature on Monday. (Gilbert Rowan/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew, left, and Manitoba Métis Federation President David Chartrand unveiled a new plaque for Louis Riel's portrait at the legislature on Monday. (Gilbert Rowan/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The head of the Manitoba Métis Federation says his nation has reached "the turning point" of its history as Louis Riel's portrait at the legislature was updated to recognize him as the province's honorary first premier Monday.

MMF President David Chartrand and Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew spent part of Louis Riel Day unveiling the portrait of the Métis leader, who led a provisional government and led negotiations that paved the way for the province's entry into Confederation in 1870.

"We waited 154 years for this, and we never gave up on correcting the wrong," Chartrand told guest host Cory Funk on CBC's Information Radio Monday, before the unveiling.

"This is about correcting history, and the shame and the hardship we have faced."

Riel was hanged for treason at age 41 in 1885 after leading two Métis resistances, and has sometimes been a controversial figure in Canadian history, but is now widely celebrated for his leadership.

Kinew and Chartrand were also at Riel's gravesite at the St. Boniface Cathedral later Monday to present The Louis Riel Act, which Kinew introduced last year to recognize the Métis leader as Manitoba's honorary first premier.

"The reason why I wanted to do that is because they called me the 25th premier of Manitoba," Kinew told gatherers near Riel's grave.

"I've been called a lot of things in my career in politics — 25th premier is not the worst, but I thought it was important that before they call me the 25th, that we call Louis Riel the first."

Kinew previously introduced The Louis Riel Act when he was Opposition leader. The bill was introduced four times but never passed.

WATCH | Louis Riel Day celebrated in Winnipeg: 

The legislation also says Manitoba school curriculum must include the contributions Louis Riel has made to the province and to Canada.

Kinew said the gathering at Riel's gravesite was a moment to reflect on how to remember the Métis leader "in our hearts and our minds going forward."

"This is the opportunity for us to tell future generations of Manitobans who we are as a people, as a province," he said.

"I would also suggest that we should take this message far beyond Manitoba's borders and tell the rest of Canada this story as well, so that the father of Manitoba is also recognized for who he is nationally, which is a father of Confederation."

Riel was declared founder of Manitoba in 1992 and officially recognized as the first leader of Manitoba in 2016, but the MMF has been pushing for Riel to be honoured as the province's first premier for decades.

"This is not just for [the] Métis … this is for all Manitoba," Chartrand told Information Radio.

"When you start looking at our place in Confederation — our place in history — this is the turning point."

Gavin Boutroy/Radio-Canada
Gavin Boutroy/Radio-Canada

Manitobans also enjoyed their time off at The Forks on Monday.

Andrew Cyr said he took his family to The Forks to celebrate Louis Riel Day "in the most Manitoban way possible, which is getting outside and enjoying winter."

He says the statutory holiday is to recognize Manitoba's Métis and francophone culture.

"That's a really important part of the identity of our province, and I think it's important that we celebrate that."