________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 17 . . . . April 27, 2001

cover Riel Country.

Martin Duckworth. (Director). Jacques Vallee and Joe MacDonald (Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2000.
49 min., VHS, $39.95.
Order Number: C9196 013.

Subject Headings:

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.

*** /4

Winnipeg, Manitoba, is a city at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. Geography and history have made it a meeting place: ethnic backgrounds are many, with 4.7% of Winnipeg's population being French, 4% being Metis, and nearly 36.3% identifying themselves as "multi-ethnic." Welcome to "Riel Country," a city and province in which both the French and Metis are minorities, yet have strong cultural identities. Railroad tracks divide and unite the city: on one side of the Red River, in Saint-Boniface, live the majority of the French. At Ecole Precieux-Sang, a French-language high school, an elderly Metis woman invited to speak to students on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Province of Manitoba, reminds them that, like it or not, many of them have Native blood in their families. Across the river, at R.B. Russell High School in Winnipeg's multi-ethnic North End, nearly 35% of the students are Native and 35% are Metis. A group of students from Ecole Precieux-Sang are invited to R. B. (as it is known) and, working with the drama club, they workshop a play entitled "The First Metis." At first, the two groups seem to come from different worlds. Ecole Precieux-Sang students are well-dressed and comfortable and come from stable, middle-class families. At R. B. Russell, many students live on their own, many have been kicked out of other schools, and many are parents themselves. But, over time spent together at events like Festival du Voyageur (an annual mid-winter festival of francophone culture held in Saint-Boniface) and in drama class, they learn what they do share: tensions with their families, difficulties with assumptions others make about their ethnic or cultural background. And in presenting the play about the first Metis, they draw on those similarities and differences.

      Riel Country is a thought-provoking film. Louis Riel, himself a Metis, the founder of the province of Manitoba, dreamt of a province where members of many ethnic communities could maintain their culture, their language - in short, their ethnic identity. Was he too idealistic? Could he have foreseen the polarization of French-English language conflict, the plight of the Native and Metis population? Those questions remain unanswered. Certainly, hope lies with the young people who seem eager to escape the prejudices of the past. Riel Country offers its viewers a unique perspective on the history and culture of the first western Canadian province. Useful for Canadian history, Canadian Studies, and Native Studies.


Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

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