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‘He has always been the first premier of Manitoba’: Riel to be recognized by new legislation

Louis Riel is set to be recognized as Manitoba’s honourary first premier.

Current premier Wab Kinew, along with Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) president David Chartrand and other dignitaries, announced the legislation — the new government’s first — Thursday at the Manitoba Legislative Building.

Formally recognizing Riel was a campaign promise by the new NDP government, and was reiterated by Kinew last week at a ceremony recognizing the 138th anniversary of Riel’s death, as well as in the throne speech Tuesday.

“Our government’s first piece of legislation will honour Louis Riel for what he has always been — the first premier of Manitoba,” Kinew said.

“When we see the cultural renaissance of the Métis nation and the reassertion of its rightful role here in Manitoba, we know that is because of Louis Riel. When we see the fact that so many of us speak French today in this province and that French Immersion schools are among the most popular for all children, we can say that is because of Mr. Louis Riel.

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“At a very true and fundamental level, Louis Riel is the reason that we are Manitobans and Louis Riel is the reason that we as Manitobans are also Canadians.”

Click to play video: 'Manitoba premier honours Métis community, legacy of Louis Riel'

Manitoba premier honours Métis community, legacy of Louis Riel

Although Riel, who was elected to the House of Commons twice but was unable to take his seat in Ottawa, never formally received the title of premier in his lifetime, Kinew said his leadership in forming the first provisional government — and to negotiating with the government of Canada to enter into Confederation — needs to be recognized.

Riel, long a polarizing figure in Canadian history, was at the epicentre of a pair of 19th-century rebellions against the federal government in his quest to defend the homelands of the Métis people.

Well over a century after he was hanged for treason, Riel’s legacy has been reconsidered, and today he’s seen as a local hero, founder and the namesake of landmarks across Manitoba.

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Kinew said the legislation not only bestows the honourary title on Riel, but also asks educators across the province to continue teaching about his contributions to the province and country — especially the fact that his name wasn’t always given the respect that it holds today.

“It has taken years of a fight on behalf of Métis people to see him properly respected and represented.”

Click to play video: 'Legacy of Louis Riel continues to loom large over Manitoba, leaders say'

Legacy of Louis Riel continues to loom large over Manitoba, leaders say

Chartrand said it took 153 years to get justice for Riel, and called it a proud day for all Manitobans. He also expressed frustration at how long it has taken for the late Métis leader to finally get his due.

“How do I feel about what is happening in the centre of our government and legislative assembly, reading out in the throne speech of Riel? I was proud. If a heart can show pride, I’d be glowing as I walked out of the building,” he said.

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“But I also… was sad, because why? Why did it take an Indigenous premier — the first First Nations premier — to do the right thing, to right the wrongs of a man that they murdered in this country, a great leader that we all admire today?

“Is that how far we’re still behind regarding how we respect each other as different societies and minorities?”

Click to play video: 'St. Boniface Museum: Exploring Louis Riel’s past'

St. Boniface Museum: Exploring Louis Riel’s past

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