4. Louis Riel and Leonard Peltier
Louis David Riel (22 October 1844 – 16 November 1885) was a Canadian politician, a founder of the province of Manitoba, and a political and spiritual leader of the Métis people of the Canadian prairies. He led two resistance movements against the Canadian government and its first post-Confederation Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. Riel sought to preserve Métis rights and culture as their homelands in the Northwest came progressively under the Canadian sphere of influence. He is regarded by many as a Canadian folk hero today.
The first resistance was the Red River Rebellion of 1869–1870. The provisional government established by Riel ultimately negotiated the terms under which the modern province of Manitoba entered the Canadian Confederation. Riel was forced into exile in the United States as a result of the controversial execution of Thomas Scott during the rebellion. Despite this, he is frequently referred to as the “Father of Manitoba”. While a fugitive, he was elected three times to the Canadian House of Commons, although he never assumed his seat. During these years, he was frustrated by having to remain in exile despite his growing belief that he was a divinely chosen leader and prophet, a belief which would later resurface and influence his actions. He married in 1881 while in exile in Montana, and fathered three children.
Riel returned to what is now the province of Saskatchewan to represent Métis grievances to the Canadian government. This resistance escalated into a military confrontation known as the North-West Rebellion of 1885. It ended in his arrest, trial, and execution on a charge of high treason. Riel was viewed sympathetically in Francophone regions of Canada, and his execution had a lasting influence on relations between the province of Quebec and English-speaking Canada. Whether seen as a Father of Confederation or a traitor, he remains one of the most complex, controversial, and ultimately tragic figures in the history of Canada.
Leonard Peltier (born September 12, 1944) is a Native American activist and member of the American Indian Movement (AIM). In 1977 he was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment for first degree murder in the shooting of two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents during a 1975 conflict on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Peltier’s indictment and conviction is the subject of the 1992 documentary Incident at Oglala, a film directed by Michael Apted. Peltier has been identified as apolitical prisoner by certain activist groups. Amnesty International placed his case under the “Unfair Trials” category of its Annual Report: USA 2010 , citing concerns with the fairness of the proceedings. His murder conviction has survived appeals in various courts over the years.
In 2002 and 2003, Paul DeMain, editor of News From Indian Country, wrote that sources had told him that Peltier had said he killed the FBI agents; DeMain withdrew his support for clemency. At the trials in 2004 and 2010 of two men indicted for the murder of Anna Mae Aquash in December 1975 at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, prosecution witnesses testified that Peltier had told them and a small group of fugitive activists, including Aquash, that he had shot the two FBI agents. Peltier issued a statement in 2004 accusing one witness of perjury for her testimony and being a sellout. The two men charged in the murder of Aquash were convicted.
Peltier is incarcerated at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex, Florida. His projected release date is October 11, 2040. His last parole hearing was in July 2009; his request for parole was denied. Peltier’s next scheduled hearing will be in July 2024.