University of Saskatchewan Métis law student, Jesse Donovan, is vocally calling for the return of all artifacts and possessions that once belonged to, or are historically associated with, Métis leader Louis Riel. In his advocacy, Donovan underscores the importance of the Métis people reclaiming these historical artifacts in owning and telling their own stories. Among the artifacts missing, Donovan mentioned possessions of Louis Riel that were stolen in the Red River resistance, and others including Louis Riel’s handcuffs, a lock of his hair, his walking stick which is currently held at the Manitoba Museum.
Amidst arguments that the Red River resistance was a war, regardless of scale, and that spoils of a war goes to the victors, Donovan insists that it is an “argument that rings hollow in an era of reconciliation”. Not only would the Canadian government be breaching its own promises of reconciliation with the Métis, but it would also be violating international law in holding these artifacts.
In a step forward, the RCMP have recently agreed to return some items they had in their collection, which are currently housed in the RCMP Heritage Centre in Regina, including Louis Riel’s crucifix, his knife, and his book of poetry, in 2018 when the Métis Heritage Centre will be constructed in Winnipeg. The official signing of a memorandum of understanding for the return of the artifacts occurred this past September at the Manitoba Métis Federation annual general assembly in Winnipeg. The signing came at the end of advocacy from Donovan in the past year, circulating an online petition in January and speaking with federal officials about the artifacts. At first, the federal government insisted on keeping the artifacts but conceded in March after Donovan threatened legal action.
Donovan emphasizes that “these are very important artifacts to the Métis people because they represent our culture, history and the resistance movement led by Louis Riel”.