Coteau Books in the Schools: Batoche
by Kim Morrissey ISBN 0-919926-91

Kim Morrissey 'Louis Riel's Address to the Jury' (found poem, 1985)


The Last Words of Louis Riel

Your Honours, Gentlemen of the Jury: You have seen
that I am naturally inclined to think of God
at the beginning of my actions. If I do it now,
I wish you won't take it as a mark of insanity,
that you won't take it as part of a play of insanity.

Oh my God! help me through thy grace
and the divine influence of Jesus Christ.
Oh my God! bless me, bless me, bless this Honourable Court,
bless this Honourable Jury, bless my good lawyers
who have come seven hundred leagues to try to save my life,
bless also the lawyers for the Crown,
because they have done, I am sure, what they thought their duty.
They have shown me fairness which at first
I did not expect of them.

Oh my God! bless all those who are around me,
through the grace and influence of Jesus Christ Our Saviour,
change the curiosity of those who are paying attention to me,
change that curiosity into sympathy for me.

The day of my birth I was helpless
and my mother took care of me
although she was not able to do it alone,
there was someone to help her to take care of me and I lived.
Today, although a man, I am helpless before this Court,
in the Dominion of Canada and in this world,
as I was helpless on the knees of my mother the day of my birth.
The North-West is also my mother, it is my mother country.

Although my mother country is sick and confined in a certain way,
there are some from Lower Canada who came to help her
to take care of me during her sickness,
and I am sure that my mother country will not kill me
more than my mother did forty years ago,
when I came into the world,
because a mother is always a mother,
and even if I have my faults, if she can see I am true,
she will be full of love for me.

When I came into the North-West in July of 1884,
I found the Indians suffering, I found
the Half-breeds eating the rotten pork of the Hudson Bay Company,
and getting sick and weak every day...
I also paid attention to them,
I saw they were deprived of responsible Government.
I saw they were deprived of their public liberties.
I remembered that the greatest part of my heart and blood was white,
and I have directed my attention to help the Indians
to help the Half-breeds and to help the whites
to the best of my ability. We have made petitions,
I have made petitions, with others, to the Canadian Government,
asking to relieve the condition of this country.
We have taken time, we have tried to unite
all classes, even if I may so speak, all parties.
Those who have been in close communication with me
know I have suffered, that I have waited months
to bring some of the people of the Saskatchewan
to an understanding of certain important points in our petitions
to the Canadian Government, and I have done my duty.
No one can say that the North-West has not suffered,
particularly the Saskatchewan; for the other parts
of the North-West I cannot say so much,
but what I have done and risked I had to do,
was called upon to do something for my country.

It is true I believed for years that I had a mission,
I believe at this very moment I had a mission.
What encourages me to speak to you with more confidence,
in all the imperfections of my English way of speaking,
is that I have yet and still that mission,
and with the help of God, who is in this box with me -
and he is on the side of my lawyers,
even with the Honourable Court, the Crown and the jury -
to help me and to prove by the extraordinary help
that there is a Providence today in my trial
as there was a Providence in the battles of the Saskatchewan.

I say that I have been blessed by God
and I hope that you will not take that
as a presumptuous assertion. It has been a great success
for me to come through all the dangers
I have in the last fifteen years.
If I have not succeeded in wearing a fine coat
myself I have at the same time the great consolation
of seing that God has maintained my views;
that he has maintained my health sufficiently
to go through the world
and that he has kept me from bullets
when bullets marked my hat. I am blessed by God.

I say that we have been patient a long time
and when we see that mild words
only serve as covers for great ones to do wrong,
it is time when we are justified in saying
that robbery is robbery everywhere,
and the guilty ones are bound by the force of public opinion
to take notice of it.
The one who has the courage to speak out in that way
instead of being an outrageous man becomes in fact
a benefactor to those men themselves, and to society.

Yes, I said there will be trouble in the North-West
and was it so or not? Has there been no trouble in the North-West?
Besides, the Half-breeds as hunters can foretell many things,
perhaps some of you have a special knowledge of it.
I have seen Half-breeds who say: "My hand is shaking,
this part of my body is shaking, you will see such a thing today,"
and it happens. Others will say: "I feel the flesh of my leg
move in such a way, it is a sign of such a thing,"
and it happens. There are men who know that I speak right.

I am no more than you are. I am simply one of the flock,
equal to the rest. If it is any satisfaction to the doctor
to know what kind of insanity I have, if they are going
to call my pretentions insanity, I say, humbly,
through the grace of God,
I believe I am the prophet of the New World.

We took up arms against the invaders from the East
without knowing them. They were so far apart from us,
on the other side of the Lakes, that it cannot be said
that we had any hatred against them. We did not know them.
They came without notification. They came boldly. We said:
"Who are they?" They said: "We are the possessors of the country."
Well, knowing that it was not true, we did against those parties
coming from the East what we did against the Indians
from the South and from the West, when they would invade us.
Public opinion in the States helped us a great deal ... besides,
the Opposition in Canada did the same thing and said to the Government:
"Well, why did you go into the North-West without consulting the people?"
We took up arms, we made hundreds of prisoners, and we negotiated.
A treaty was made. The treaty was made by a delegation of both parties.
Whether you consider the organization of the Red River people
at that time as a Provisional Government or not,
the fact is that we were recognized as a body,
tribal, if you like to call it so, as a social body
with whom the Canadian Government treated.

Do you own the lands? In England, in France, the French
and the English have land, the first who were in England,
they were the owners of the soil and they transmitted it to generations.
Now by the soil they have had their start as a nation.
Who starts the nations? The very same one who creates them,
God is the master of the universe, our planet is his land,
and the nations, the tribes, are members of his family,
and as a good Father he gives a portion of his lands to that nation,
to that tribe, to everyone, that is his heritage, that is his share
of the inheritance, of the people, or nation, or tribe.
Now here is a nation, strong as it may be,
it has had its inheritance from God, when they have crowded
their country because they have no room to stay at home,
it does not give them the right to come and take the share
of the small tribe beside them, when they come they ought to say:
"Well, my little sister, the Cree tribe,
you have a great territory, but that territory
has been given to you as your own land,
has been given to our fathers in England,
or in France, and of course you cannot exist
without having that spot of land."
This is the principle. God cannot create a tribe
without locating it, we are not birds,
we have to walk on the ground.

It is to be understood that there were
two societies who treated together.
One was small, but in its smallness it had its rights.
The other was great, but in its greatness it had no greater rights
than the rights of the small, because the right is
the same for every one, and when they began by treating the leaders
of that small community as bandits, as outlaws,
leaving them without protection,
they disorganized that community.

I will speak of the wish of my heart.
I have been asserted to be wrong today,
I hope that before long that very same thing
which was said wrong will be known as good...
I say my heart will never abandon
the idea of having a new island in the North-West,
by constitutional means,
inviting the Irish of the other side of the sea
to come and have a share here;
a new Poland in the North-West, by the same way;
a new Bavaria, in the same way;
a new Italy in the same way.
I want French-Canadians to come
and help us here today,
I don't know when.
On the other side of the mountain
there are Indians, and Half-breeds,
and there is a beautiful island Vancouver,
and I think the Belgians will be happy there
and the Jews who are looking for a country
for eighteen hundred years,
will they perhaps hear my voice one day;
on the other side of the mountains
while the waves of the Pacific will chant
sweet music for them to console their hearts
for the mourning of eighteen hundred years,
will they perhaps say: "He is the one thought of us
in the whole Cree world"?
The Scandinavians, if possible, they will have a share.
It is my plan, it is one of the illusions of my insanity,
if I am insane, that they should have on the other side
of the mountain a new Norway,
a new Denmark and a new Sweden.

My thoughts are for peace.
But such a great revolution will bring immense disasters
and I don't want to bring disasters during my life
except those that I am bound to bring to defend my own life
and to avoid, to take away from my country, disasters
which threaten me and my friends and those who have confidence
in me. Of course they gave a chance to Riel to come out,
a rebel had a chance to be loyal then.
But with the immense influence that my acts are gathering
for the last fifteen years and which,
as the power of steam contained in an engine
will have its way, then what will I do?
I may be declared insane
because I seek such an idea,
which drives me to something right.

This was told to me.
It was also told me that men would stay in the belle prairie,
and the spirit spoke of those who would remain on the belIe prairie,
and there were men who remained on the belle prairie.
If they declare me insane, I have been astray.
I have been astray not as an imposter,
but according to my conscience. Your Honour,
this is what I have to say.

John Robert Colombo, "The Last Words of Louis Riel" from Abracadabra, 1967.

Kim Morrissey 'Louis Riel's Address to the Jury' (found poem, 1985)