The new Louis Riel coin features a message in English, French and Michif, the language of the Métis. Photo courtesy Royal Canadian Mint

Mint pays tribute to Riel with coin

  • November 2, 2019

The Royal Canadian Mint is honouring the contributions of Louis Riel and the Métis Nation to Canadian history with a silver special edition proof dollar.

It’s the first Canadian legal tender coin to feature Riel, the devout Catholic and former seminarian, and the first to feature the Michif language. It was released Oct. 22 in Winnipeg at the Manitoba Métis Federation’s annual celebration of Riel’s life, 175 years to the day that Riel was born in St. Boniface in what would later become the fifth Canadian province when Manitoba joined Confederation in 1870, largely due to the efforts of Riel following the Red River Resistance of 1869-70. Riel led the provisional government of Assiniboia which negotiated Manitoba’s entrance into Confederation, a deal that was contingent on recognizing Métis and religious rights as well as land claims. 

The 99.99-per-cent-pure silver Louis Riel: Father of Manitoba coin marks the contributions of Riel and the Métis Nation to the story of Canada, commemorating the Métis’ cultural legacy and resilience as it has struggled throughout the years to find its place in Canadian society.

“The Royal Canadian Mint’s coin pays fitting tribute to the eternal leader of the Métis Nation,” said Clément Chartier, president of the Métis National Council. “Louis 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 special edition coin was designed by Métis artist David Garneau and features a portrait of Riel wearing a traditional Métis buckskin jacket, a Métis sash, the infinity symbol representing the unification of Indigenous and European cultures and an engraving with the words “Metis Nation leader” in English, French and Michif, the language of the Métis. It also includes an engraved reproduction of Riel’s signature.

“The Mint plays an important role in crafting coins that tell stories of the people who have shaped the course of Canadian history,” said Marie Lemay, president and CEO of the Royal Canadian Mint. “We are proud that our newest collector coin recognizes that Louis Riel’s leadership and tireless advocacy for the Métis Nation made an undeniable contribution to Manitoba and Canada.”

History has been both cruel and kind to Riel. To some he was the treasonous outlaw who led two rebellions against the Canadian government, the first of which led to his exile in Montana, the second which would end in defeat against federal troops and claim his life when he was hung in the gallows at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Depot Division in Regina, Sask., Nov. 16, 1885.   

On the flip side, he’s a folk hero to Francophones, Catholic nationalists and the Indigenous rights movement.

To Canada’s Métis, people of mixed Indigenous and European settler ancestry, Riel is an important symbol of a nation that only in recent years has begun to reclaim and flaunt its ethnicity.

“Louis Riel is both an iconic figure and an aspirational role model not only for the Métis Nation, but for all Canadians,” said David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Métis Federation. “He protected Métis self-determination, stood strong for language, religious and Indigenous rights and resisted injustice.”

A number of events have and will be held across Canada to mark Riel, including the celebration of his 175th birthday on Oct. 22 in Winnipeg and the 14th annual Louis Riel Day celebration Nov. 16 in Vancouver.

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