Louis Riel and the Creation of Modern Canada
Mythic Discourse and the Postcolonial State
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: University of New Mexico Press
Series: Religions of the Americas Series
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This series, Religions of the Americas: Passages, Rims, and Borders, is devoted to a study of the nature, meaning, and dynamics of religion within the context of transcultural situations. As Mary Louise Pratt put it, transcultural situations define contact zones; within these zones of contact, cultures meet, clash, and grapple. Such temporal/spatial zones reveal different modalities of religion and religious experience....
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wish to acknowledge a number of people who helped me to write this book. First, Robert Choquette who, as my doctoral advisor at the University of Ottawa in the early 1990s, encouraged me to pursue research on a figure who already appeared to have been subjected to all possible forms of scrutiny. My early work with Professor Choquette provided a foundation that...
1: Setting the Stage: The North-West to 1885
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Since the time of his execution in 1885, Louis Riel has become increasingly imbedded in the Canadian cultural imagination. Riel’s trial is the most celebrated in the country’s history, making him Canada’s “most famous traitor”;1 and in spite of the fact that neither the Red River uprising of 1869–70 nor the North-West Rebellion of 1885 involved substantial numbers of insurgents (seven hundred in 1869–70 and somewhere shy of four hundred...
2: Canadian Myths and Canadian Identity
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Controversy has dogged Riel and the rebellions for over a century, resulting not only in a dramatically diverse body of academic interpretation of their significance, but in their mythic deployment in the service of a variety of cultural agendas ranging from Francophone nationalism to Aboriginal rights. When Riel’s complete papers were published in 1985, J. M. Bumsted believed the project would provide scholars with a unique opportunity to study the...
3: Nation-States and National Discourses
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The question of whether Canada can appropriately be called a nation-state is, to a measurable degree, implicated in the enduring problem of collective identity in the country. The ongoing tendency to equate identity with nationalist discourse in Canada highlights the problems of both identity and nation in this context, since nations and nationalism are, obviously, intimately related. Nation-states are a form of modern social and political...
4: Violence and State Creation
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Hannah Arendt provided an effective portal for entering into a discussion of the meaning of revolution in the modern period. Arendt differentiated between the act of revolution and that of war (which has been a common political phenomenon throughout human history), defining revolution as a form of political behavior that has been limited, strictly speaking, to modernity...
5: Revolution, Identity, and Canada
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Aside from certain affinities between the Canadian situation and the Revolutions of 1848, there is a more theologically founded meaning of revolution that may be appropriate also to this discussion; and from this vantage point, the mythicization of Louis Riel could be said to point to another kind of “revolutionary” mode within the structure of modern Canada. The Riel of myth has...
6: Riel and the Canadian State
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Before proceeding further, I would like to invite Riel—as much as is possible—to speak to the issues that I have raised thus far. Although it is obviously impossible to know for certain how he would have reacted to this analysis, he was sufficiently prolific to have left a substantial body of personal writings that might provide some clues. Principally, I believe it can be argued that Riel would have agreed that (1) the creation of the Canadian state had...
7: Heterogeneity and the Postcolonial State
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As we noted earlier, Ernest Gellner argued that “nationalist homogenization” is an inherent property of modern nation-states, where “people can only live in units defined by a shared culture. . . . Genuine cultural pluralism ceases to be viable under current conditions.” Gellner claimed that cultural homogeneity was fundamental to nationalism and that the modern...
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Within the shared imagination of a people, only those aspects of the past that impinge upon concerns of the present have the possibility of being reanimated and sustained. Perhaps more than most facets of collective memory, mythic heroes speak to this property of collective memory and present valuation; and in this respect, Riel is an exemplary case in point. In spite...
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Page Count: 326
Illustrations: 3 maps
Publication Year: 2008
Series Title: Religions of the Americas Series