When Louis Riel Went Crazy

Summer, 2017 / No. 39


after the Red River Rebellion of 1869 Louis Riel went crazy, he ran off and hid in a bush along the Seine, a land that jutted out into the stream, a place everyone called Vermette’s Point, a thick mass of thin trees, next to a narrow slot of ploughed land, and a meek farmhouse, a brief place, nondescript but the prideful home of my great- great uncle and aunt Riel stayed there a month, a long month when the spring spread out slowly separating him from his “crimes” and my aunt left food at the bush’s edge for him, bannock lard and meat on an old tin plate a meal for a dog, or a “rebel,” something he would have to hurry to so the foxes didn’t get there first some say that’s where Louis took the name David, where in his cold, hungry penitence God spoke to him, gave him his divine purpose and a middle name when Louis Riel was hanged in 1885 my great-great uncle had no land, Manitoba had become a province, and Canadian surveyors came in, Métis farms were dissected, bisected, halved, quartered, over and over again until nothing was left, only a square to balance one foot on for only one second before they all fell over Ottawa took it all by then, all those half-breed homesteads, ribbon lots not “properly bought” were sold, and my ancestral uncle’s home was pulled up from under him like a rug, a rug rolled up from the river’s edge all the way to the road, tucked under Canada’s collective arm and chucked on an eastbound train with all the other rugs, all the other rolled-up land that became tidy cylindrical tokens, conquered presents to be presented to John A., nothing more than rolled-up grass like pressed cigars he lit up and smoked ’til they were spent only white ash brushed off red coats and made nothing


there is still a place called Vermette, just southeast of Winnipeg, landlocked but not far from the river Seine, it has a postal code, a store and a sign because they let us use the names of our dead as if that means we’re allowed to honour them we do not forget our dead, we know where they are, and sometimes we pull them out of the ground like relics we brush them off and wonder at their possibility, like rotting bulbs of some rare and fragile orchid, we tend to them all winter and put them back into the earth come spring with nothing more tangible than hope to make them flower our names are scattered seeds all over this mother land, fathers’ names sons’ names Ritchot Béliveau Beaupré just words long lost of meaning Dumont Desjarlais Debuc Leduc south side street signs, markers Tourenne Turenne Traverse Trembley this city is a graveyard Guimond Guiboche Guibault Gautier my conquered people, these children of bereft sons who once thought themselves so grand they had the nerve to create a province Carriere Charriere Chartrand Cote dead names breathing thin dusty life and Riel Riel everywhere Riel we are intertwined within this city, as if we belong as if we are honoured

Katherena Vermette is a Métis writer from Treaty One territory, living in Winnipeg. Her first book, North End Love Songs, won the Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry. Her latest book is the novel The Break. Last updated summer, 2017.