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Editorial: The controversial Louis Riel

In this issue of the Cascade we cover the celebration of Métis day at UFV, which is also essentially a celebration of the life of Louis Riel, the most famous Métis – a man who was hanged by the Canadian government for treason, yet is celebrated by the Métis and many francophones today as a freedom fighter. It is interesting to note that if he were active today, Louis Riel would be labelled a terrorist. In fact, it often seems that a terrorist is simply a soldier without enough money to buy a uniform. While we currently honour the likes of Nelson Mandela or Ché Guevera, these men were also labelled as terrorists by the governments which they fought against.

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by Jed Minor (Editor-in-Chief) – Email

In this issue of the Cascade we cover the celebration of Métis day at UFV, which is also essentially a celebration of the life of Louis Riel, the most famous Métis – a man who was hanged by the Canadian government for treason, yet is celebrated by the Métis and many francophones today as a freedom fighter. It is interesting to note that if he were active today, Louis Riel would be labelled a terrorist. In fact, it often seems that a terrorist is simply a soldier without enough money to buy a uniform. While we currently honour the likes of Nelson Mandela or Ché Guevera, these men were also labelled as terrorists by the governments which they fought against.

So at what point does a terrorist become a freedom fighter? Perhaps when the cause which they fight for succeeds, or when the tide of public opinion eventually sways in favour of that cause through the benefit of hindsight.

This issue recently came to the forefront when a ship carrying Tamil refugees, the MV Sun, travelled to Vancouver this past summer. Immigration minister Vic Toews stated that the Canadian Navy had boarded the ship to search for “criminals and terrorists,” as the Tamil Tigers, a Tamil militant organization, are labelled as a terrorist organization by the Canadian government. People with associations to terrorist groups are not allowed entry to Canada as refugees, although this issue becomes cloudy when you consider that many Tamils have relatives who are Tamil Tigers, so what does “association” really mean?

I am not trying to defend all of the actions of the Tamil Tigers in their fight against the Sri Lankan government, but often “terrorist” groups have legitimate grievances against the government which they fight. If we just continue with the status-quo of labelling any oppressed people which takes up armed action against the government which oppresses them as “terrorists” then we will probably end up hanging the next Louis Riel all over again.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Paul

    January 29, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    Well, ultimately history is written by the victors, and in so many cases, unless you are personally involved there is no way to know %100 for sure you is a terrorist and who is a freedom fighter and in the end, trying to dichotomize something like that into black and white categories is futile. Is Che really worthy of the praise he gets? What do we judge? the intentions? The means? Of course, it’s naturally a mix and the part of a person’s fight we highlight will be written by the winner.

    This is all old news though, an interesting perspective to take would be to look at how modern technology, like facebook etc. will redefine how we remember these historical figures. How will the prolific dissemination of information — take Wikileaks as an example — shape our growing views of world leaders and others on the grand stage of life?

    Terrorist? Freedom Fighter? Time will tell, but no answer is ever final. The Victors change too.

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