Aftermath of the North-West Resistance: Trial and Execution of Louis Riel


On 6 July 1885 Riel was charged with high treason for his leadership in the North-West Resistance. His trial began on 20 July 1885. Riel could not afford a defense attorney, so money was collected from his supporters in Quebec and François-Xavier Lemieux and Charles Fitzpatrick (two prominent Quebec defense lawyers) were hired to defend Riel. The defense strategy was to prove that Riel was insane, as denying the charge of high treason was, at the time, viewed as implausible. Various witnesses were called that either upheld Riel's sanity or considered him 'insane.' Riel's final speech ended any prospects of acquittal. Riel spoke eloquently and passionately, justifying the reasons behind the resistance. After thirty minutes of deliberation, the jury arrived at a decision of guilt in relationship to the charge of high treason, with a recommendation for clemency. Judge Richardson disregarded the request for clemency and sentenced Riel to death by hanging in Regina on 18 September, 1885.



Riel's Lawyers appealed this ruling in the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench as well as the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council but neither altered the original verdict.  Riel was executed in Regina on 16 November, 1885. The extreme punishment and exodus of Metis leaders after the resistance, like Gabriel Dumont who fled to the U.S., represented a great loss of Metis political leadership within "Rupert's Land" and Metis Nationhood. It demonstrated to Metis and First Nations people across the plains that asserting sovereignty and self-determination would be met with a swift and oppressive colonial hand; while this did not stop Indigenous peoples, policies and laws implemented after the resistance made it exceptionally more difficult to organize, resist, and protect their nations. The establishment of the NWMP and Indian Agents on Western reserves aimed to curb inter-community organization and acted as state surveillance. 



The Queen vs. Louis Riel, accused and convicted of the crime of high treason: report of trial at Regina: appeal to the Court of Queen's bench, Manitoba: appeal to the Privy council, England: petition for medical examination of the convict: list of petitions for commutation of sentence, Ottawa: 1886. pp. 192-199.

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Trial and Execution of Louis Riel