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Louis Riel's latter-day legacy in politics and pop culture

Louis Riel A comic-strip biography. Artwork by Chester Brown

The Métis leader's evolving place in history is contested ground over the past 20 years. Below are a few events in Louis Riel's historical evolution.

Nov. 16, 2010: New Democrats Pat Martin and Thomas Mulcair call on the government to support their private-member's bill, An Act Respecting Louis Riel. Bill C-248 would reverse Riel's treason conviction, as well as recognize him as the founder of Manitoba and a hero to the Métis people. Several similar bills have been tabled since 1992, but without success.

Feb. 19, 2010: The Prime Minister's Office joins the opposition in condemning a Conservative member of Parliament who called Riel a "villian" in a brochure. In the pamphlet, Peter Goldring (Edmonton East) also maintains that Riel was responsible for the deaths that occurred during the Northwest and Red River rebellions in the mid- to late 1800s.

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Feb. 18, 2008: Manitobans celebrate the first Louis Riel Day, which is held on the third Monday of every February.

2004: Former prime minister Paul Martin vows that his government will rethink Mr. Riel's role in Canadian history

Oct. 23, 2003: Chester Brown's graphic novel Louis Riel: A Comic Biography hits the stands as a single volume. (The first instalment appeared in 1999). Its well-researched content and artwork by Seth was appreciated by critics and comic connoisseurs alike.

Oct., 23, 2002: A web poll after a televised CBC mock trial finds Riel not guilty of high treason. Some Métis leaders slammed the CBC, calling the program misleading. Some also complained that Métis people were not included in its production, a claim that CBC denied. Out of 9,657 votes cast, a whopping 87 per cent were for a not-guilty verdict.

March-May, 1998: Two Liberal MPs launch a private-member's bill to overturn Riel's conviction. While it gains the support of all federal parties and the blessing of the Riel family, Métis leaders said it did nothing to advance Riel's causes.

March 11, 1992: A motion honouring Riel as founder of Manitoba was passed unanimously. However, the motion does not include a posthumous pardon.

April 30, 1985: The Globe and Mail looks into the debate about Riel on the 100th anniversary of the Northwest Rebellion. Some, such as Donald Maclean, a researcher with the Gabriel Dumont Institute in Regina, say former prime minister John A. MacDonald sent an agent provocateur to cause trouble in a quest to raise more money for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Thomas Flanagan, a political scientist at the University of Saskatchewan, said giving Riel a posthumous pardon would be "quite wrong."

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Sources: Globe archives, The Canadian Press, Reuters

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