Silver coin marks 175th anniversary of Louis Riel’s birth

A silver Proof dollar celebrating the 175th anniversary of the birth of Louis Riel and designed in partnership with the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) was unveiled by the Royal Canadian Mint this morning in Winnipeg.

Born 175 years ago in Saint-Boniface, in the former territory of Rupert’s Land, Riel was central to the effort to protect Métis rights when the land that would become the province of Manitoba was transferred to the Dominion of Canada. He’s known as the founder of Manitoba after negotiating the terms under which the newly created province entered Confederation in 1870.

“Louis Riel is both an iconic figure and an aspirational role model not only for the Métis Nation, but for all Canadians. He protected Métis self-determination, stood strong for language, religious, and Indigenous rights, and resisted injustice,” said MMF President David Chartrand, who was one of several dignitaries on hand to unveil the coin today at the Fort Garry Hotel.

“With his provisional government leadership, the Métis Nation became ‘Canada’s Negotiating Partner’ in Confederation and the ‘Founder of Manitoba.’ We are proud that the Royal Canadian Mint has worked closely with us to commemorate ‘President Riel’s’ 175th birthday. We welcome them, and indeed all Canadians, in our very special celebration.”

Chartrand was joined by Métis National Council President Clément Chartier plus Métis artist David Garneau, who designed the coin, which – for the first time in Canadian history – also features Michif, the official language of the Métis Nation.

“‘My people will sleep for 100 years, and when they awake, it will be the artists who give them back their spirit.’ While scholars have yet to determine when or if Louis Riel said this, it is a sentiment that motivates many Métis artists, including me,” said Garneau.

“Political action woke the Métis in the 1960s-80s and drove the leadership to have us recognized in the Constitution. It is now up to the painters, sculptors, poets, musicians, authors, filmmakers, beaders, and other cultural workers to awaken the Métis spirit and deepen the expression of contemporary Métis identity. I feel this responsibility keenly. I am honoured to have participated in this coin design. It remembers and honours not just our leader, but also the resilience of the Métis people.”

Artist David Garneau, Royal Canadian Mint Senior Director of Manufacturing Tom Roche, Manitoba Métis Federation President David Chartrand and Métis National Council President Clement Chartier unveiled the silver coin on Oct. 22 in Winnipeg.

The reverse of the coin features a portrait of Riel wearing a fur-trimmed buckskin jacket adorned with traditional floral beadwork. The Coventry sash encircling his portrait forms one looped half of the emblem of the Métis Nation: an infinity sign represents the unification of two cultures and the immortality of the Métis Nation.

The trilingual inscription of Riel’s title found on the lower band of the sash reads, “NIIKAANIIW POOR LA NAASYOON LII MICHIF – MÉTIS NATION LEADER – CHEF DE LA NATION DES MÉTIS.” The coin also features an engraving of Riel’s signature.

“The Royal Canadian Mint’s coin pays fitting tribute to the eternal leader of the Métis Nation,” said Chartier, who added Riel’s “vision and sacrifice not only shaped the struggle of the Métis people to secure their place within the Canadian Federation but also gave birth to western Canada itself.”

The effigy of Queen Elizabeth II by Susanna Blunt is found on the obverse of the coin, which has a weight of 20.86 grams, a diameter of 36 millimetres and a mintage of 15,000 pieces.

  • The current decade (2011-20) has been declared the “Decade of the Métis Nation.”
  • In Manitoba, the third Monday of every February is a provincial holiday known as Louis Riel Day.
  • According to the 2016 census, the Métis population in Canada includes more than 587,000 people. Métis Nation citizens, originally of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry, emerged as a distinct Indigenous nation in the northwest in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, the Métis Nation Homeland encompasses the Prairie Provinces and a contiguous part of British Columbia, Ontario, the Northwest Territories and Northwestern U.S.
  • The earliest recorded use of the Métis flag was on June 19, 1816, at the Battle of Seven Oaks.
  • The multi-use “ceinture flechée” worn by the voyageurs during the fur trade era evolved into the now-iconic garment of the Métis Nation, whose history and identity are expressed through each pattern and colourful strand. Featured on this coin, Riel’s sash is a Coventry sash, a popular style that was mass-produced on a loom in Coventry, England.

‘175 RIEL’

Born on Oct. 22, 1844, Riel was the leader of the Métis Nation and the founder of the province of Manitoba.

Honoured as the father of Manitoba, Riel named the province and became the first leader of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia, the legislature established under the provisional government that brought Manitoba into Confederation in 1870.

Riel was responsible for creating the “List of Rights,” the contents of which formed the basis of the Manitoba Act and emphasized cultural, linguistic and minority rights.

Riel was elected as an MP to serve in the House of Commons in Ottawa three times. Although he took an oath of allegiance to Queen Victoria and signed his name in the register, he was unable to assume his seat due to political pressures.

Despite his numerous successes, Riel made sacrifices in his life for the greater good of the Métis Nation but also for the First Nations, English and French within Manitoba. He led two resistance movements in defence of Métis political and land rights (in Manitoba in 1869-70 and in Saskatchewan in 1885). Today, Manitobans celebrate Riel on the third Monday of February each year—a provincially recognized holiday.

Across Canada, people also honour Riel on Nov. 16, the day he gave his life for the Metis Nation.

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