ENGL 407 B1: Studies in Text and Culture: Louis Riel

A. Braz

Nationalism is a problematic phenomenon, as is well known. While people often wax poetic about the organic unity of their homelands, there is much evidence that nation-states tend to acquire their cohesion through the exclusion of groups within their own borders. Moreover, there are times when they subsequently adopt as national heroes the very individuals who opposed them, and whom they ignominiously vanquished. This is clearly the case of Canada's treatment of Louis Riel. The nineteenth-century Métis political leader, poet, and mystic twice clashed militarily with the Canadian state and for that was hanged for treason in 1885. Curiously, within less than a century, he would be transformed into the most iconic figure in Canadian culture, easily eclipsing the country's founding Prime Minister and his nemesis, Sir John A. Macdonald. Yet the Canadian embrace of Riel is now being contested by contemporary Métis writers, artists, and scholars, who pointedly question what was the nation (and nationalism) championed by Riel. In this course we will explore the contradictions when a country claims as its own an individual and a people it once deemed enemies. More precisely, is it a gesture of solidarity or the ultimate example of cultural and national erasure?


Among the texts for this course, to be supplemented with a Coursepack with excerpts from Riel's own writings and essays on nationalism, collective memory, and literary history, will likely be Chester Brown's Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, John Coulter's Riel, Marilyn Dumont's The Pemmican Eaters, Mavor Moore, Jacques Languirand, and Harry Somers's Louis Riel, and Gregory Scofield's Louis: The Heretic Poems.


Andersen, Chris. "Métis": Race, Recognition, and the Struggle for Indigenous Peoplehood. UBC Press, 2014.

Boyden, Joseph. Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont. Penguin Canada, 2010.

Ens, Gerhard J. and Joe Sawchuk. From New Peoples to New Nations: Aspects of Métis History and Identity from the Eighteenth to the Twenty-First Centuries. U of Toronto P, 2016.

Flanagan, Thomas. Louis "David" Riel: "Prophet of the New World." Rev. ed. U of Toronto P, 1996.

Gaudry, Adam. "The Métis-ization of Canada: The Process of Claiming Louis Riel, Métissage, and the Métis People as Canada's Mythical Origin," aboriginal policy studies, vol. 2, no. 2, 2013, pp. 64-87.

Grace, Sherrill. On the Art of Being Canadian. UBC Press, 2009.

Kertzer, Jonathan. Worrying the Nation: Imagining a National Literature in English Canada. U of Toronto P, 1998.

LaRocque, Emma. "Contemporary Metis Literature: Resistance, Roots, Innovation." The Oxford Handbook of Canadian Literature, edited by Cynthia Sugars. Oxford UP, 2016, pp. 129-149.

Marx, Anthony W. Faith in Nation: Exclusionary Origins of Nationalism. Oxford UP, 2003.

The Queen v Louis Riel. 1885. Edited by Desmond Morton. U of Toronto P, 1974.

Riel, Louis. The Collected Writings of Louis Riel/ Les écrits complets de Louis Riel. 5 vol. Gen. ed. George F.G. Stanley. U of Alberta P, 1985.

Saul, John Ralston. A Fair Country: Telling Truths about Canada. 2008. Penguin Canada, 2009.

Woods, Eric. "Beyond Multination Federalism: Reflections on Nations and Nationalism in Canada." Ethnicities, vol. 12, no. 3, 2012, pp. 270-92.