Table of contents





Introduction: The National Metamorphosis of Louis Riel


Chapter 1: I, the Prophet: Riel’s Image and His Self-Fashioning

Chapter 2: The Precursors: John Coulter, Joseph Kinsey Howard, and the New Riel

Chapter 3: Singing Louis Riel: The Centennial Quest for Representative Canadian Heroes

Chapter 4: The Bard’s Apocryphal Song: Rudy Wiebe, Pierre Falcon, and Riel

Chapter 5: Consecrating Canada’s Icon: The Projet Riel Project

Chapter 6: The Naked Martyr: Sculpture and the Shifting Image of Riel

Chapter 7: The Problematic Patriot: Chester Brown’s Louis Riel and Canadian Nationalism

Chapter 8: Confronting the Hero: Contemporary Métis Engagements with Riel

Conclusion: Louis Riel in the Twenty-First Century


Appendix: Variations on the “Riel” Artistic Prophecy

Works Cited



Albert Braz examines how Louis Riel has been commemorated since 1967, charting his transformation from traitor to Canadian hero.


Tracing Louis Riel’s metamorphosis from traitor to Canadian hero, Braz argues that, through his writing, Riel resists his portrayal as both a Canadian patriot and a pan-Indigenous leader. After being hanged for high treason by the Canadian state in 1885, the Métis politician, poet, and mystic has emerged as a quintessential Canadian champion. The Riel Problem maps this representational shift by examining a series of watershed cultural and scholarly commemorations of Riel since 1967, from a large-scale opera about his life, through the publication of his extant writings, to statues erected in his honour. Braz also probes how aspects of Riel’s life and writing can be problematic for many contemporary Métis artists, scholars, and civic leaders. Analyzing representations of Riel in light of his own writings, the author exposes both the constructedness of the Canadian nation-state and the magnitude of the current historical revisionism when dealing with Riel.

Albert Braz is Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature and English at the University of Alberta and the author of The False Traitor: Louis Riel in Canadian Culture.


“Albert Braz examines the transformation of the former ‘rebel’ Riel into a ‘Canadian’ figure through post-World War II artistic representations. This indispensable work delves into the complex challenges facing modern Métis artists and leaders, revealing how Riel's Catholicism and Frenchness complicate efforts to present him as a pan-Indigenous champion.” Christopher Dummitt, Trent University

"Through a deep exploration of important works, the author exposes the constructed nature of Canadian history, demonstrating its malleability. This timely contribution challenges our understanding of public discourse, revealing the intricate interplay between scholars, politicians, and artists in shaping Canada's narrative.” Colette Simonot-Maiello, University of Manitoba

"Professor Albert Braz traces the recent evolution of Louis Riel in the Canadian imagination, from traitor to revolutionary hero. Recent commemorations in art and monuments seem at odds with aspects of his writings and life, which many Métis scholars and leaders regard as problematic. The Riel Problem looks at the reasons for Riel’s redemption, and how it interacts with the project of Canadian nation-building." Atilla Berki, Quill & Quire Spring Nonfiction Preview, February 14, 2024

"The posthumous journey of Louis Riel from Canadian enemy to Canadian hero is as riveting as it is paradoxical…. Through a variety of essays, prose and narratives by notable authors and even Riel himself, Braz examines why modern-day Canadians are so invested in celebrating Riel as a national hero…. [The Riel Problem] is a must read for Métis scholars and anyone who is interested in Canadian history and this larger-than-life Indigenous icon." Alberta Native News, April 2024