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Where is Louis Riel? Heritage Minute of Métis leader quietly removed

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A decision to quietly remove a decades-old Heritage Minute on Louis Riel has left some in the Métis community scratching their heads, as questions are raised about how Canada's history is portrayed.

Heritage Minutes are a staple in classrooms across the country and a piece of nostalgia for many Canadians. The minute-long videos profile historical figures and events from Canada's past.

Among them, Louis Riel – the leader of the Métis, founder of Manitoba and a central figure in the Red River Resistance.

Produced by Historica Canada in the early '90s, Riel's Heritage Minute depicts his last moments in 1885 and ends showing the Métis leader's death.

But the video has vanished from Historica Canada's platforms. The charitable organization confirmed it was removed back in 2020.

"This was done in the wake of concerns expressed in discussions with members of the Métis community," a Historica Canada spokesperson told CTV News in a statement.

"Those included the overall content – particularly its violent end - as well as the considered lack of adequate engagement with the community at the time of its 1991 production."

The spokesperson said it also received complaints about the video from some educators who said it was too violent to play in classrooms.

"As one of the primary audiences for the Heritage Minutes, and all of our projects, the suitability for classroom usage is a major consideration," the statement reads.

Historica Canada's website is pictured on June 21, 2024. (Danton Unger/CTV News Winnipeg)

'They murdered our hero': Métis Federation surprised by removal

But this came as surprise to David Chartrand, the president of the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF).

"People would say, 'well when they see the rope coming down that, you know, that was too violent for kids to be watching or people to be watching,' but that's what happened," Chartrand said. "They murdered our hero. They murdered our leader."

He said the MMF was not consulted before the video was taken down. While he understands Historica Canada is trying to do the right thing, he said the Métis government should have been consulted first.

"They've got to sit down with Indigenous governments, our government, and let's talk about what you're trying to do," he said." I give them kudos for trying what they're trying, but they should have done it the proper way."

Manitoba Métis Federation President David Chartrand is pictured during a June 21, 2024 interview. (Danton Unger/CTV News Winnipeg)

The video's disappearance wasn't a surprise to Cindy Desrochers, the executive director of the Saint-Boniface Museum.

Riel's Heritage Minute was actually a part of the museum's exhibit on the Métis leader since the early 2000s, but was removed several years ago due to the sensitive subject matter.

"The content being potentially triggering for a lot of people, just the subject matter and Riel's death was kind of violent, really," Desrochers said. "I think that there's definitely a better way of portraying Riel as part of our history and honouring him going forward."

Not the first time Riel's video has been pulled, history professor says

This isn't the first time Riel's Heritage Minute video has been pulled from the public eye.

"It was pulled, really quite quickly after it had been completed," said Adele Perry, a professor of history at the University of Manitoba and director of the Centre for Human Rights Research.

She said Heritage Minutes at the time tended to focus on 'cheerful' components of Canada's past – and Riel's video was a stark departure from that.

"It depicted, in very concrete terms, the death of an Indigenous leader under circumstances that were quite clearly could be parked at the door of the Canadian state. And I think at that time, it was seen as not particularly palatable, and so it was pulled."

A statue of Louis Riel on the Manitoba Legislative Building grounds is pictured on June 21, 2024. (Danton Unger/CTV News Winnipeg)

When Historica Canada's catalogue was put online, the Riel video was included once again – until 2020.

Perry said the video's disappearance does raise some questions around how Canada's history is portrayed.

"Do we look to history to help us engage with kind of complicated past and complicated present?" Perry said. "Because we know that Canada that we live in is not simply a place of kind of cheerful endings and happy stories."

Chartrand said you cannot ignore Riel's death, but there are many of his accomplishments to recognize, as well.

"He's the father of Manitoba. He's also the first Premier of Manitoba," he said. "We've come a long way, but it's taken us decades and decades and decades to get there."

Historica Canada told CTV News there are no plans at present to remake the Louis Riel video or any other Heritage Minutes.

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