In the 19th century as the Canadian government extended its reach westward with the establishment of the railroad and a mounted police force, indigenous groups sought to protect themselves from colonial encroachment on their land and rights. The indigenous resistance movement became known as the Northwest Rebellion, and Louis Riel was one of its main leaders. Riel was Métis, meaning his ancestry was a mixture of both French-Canadian and indigenous First Nation.
In 1885 he helped found and lead the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan on land traditionally inhabited by Métis people. After a series of battles that spring, the Provisional Government was defeated by Canadian troops. The country had been in existence for just 62 days. Riel was subsequently captured, convicted and hanged.
In the decades that followed, he was seen by many Anglophone Canadians as a traitor. By contrast, Métis, First Nation and Francophone Canadians have long viewed him as a heroic martyr. Either way, many scholars consider him to be one of the most important figures in Canadian history [source: The Canadian Encyclopedia].