Louis Riel et Marilyn Dumont: poèmes à Sir John A. Macdonald

Louis Riel and his Council_1870

Louis Riel

“Sir John A. Macdonald gouverne avec l’orgueil”


Sir John A. Macdonald gouverne avec  l’orgueil

Les provinces de la Puissance

Et sa mauvaise foi vent prolonger mon deuil

Afin que son pays l’applaudisse et l’encense.


Au lieu de la paix qu’il me doit

Au lieu de respecter d’une manière exacte

Notre Pacte

Et mon droit,

Depuis bientôt dix ans, Sir John me fait la guerre.

Un homme sans parole est un homme vulgaire.

Fort et faible d’esprit, moi je le montre au doigt…

Je ne souhaite pas, Sir John, que votre mort

Soit pleine de tourments.  Mais ce que je désire

C’est que vous connaissiez et souffriez le remord :

Parce que vous m’avez mangé, comme un vampire.


L’horizon, tout le ciel m’apparaissait vermeil.

Vous avez accablé de soucis mon jeune âge.

Et vous êtes sur moi comme un épais nuage

Qui dérobe à mes yeux la clarté du soleil.


J’espère voir la fin de vos pensées altières.

Vous avez  fait le mal :  et c’est ce qui détruit.

Vous  tomberez  peut-être  avec  le même bruit

Qu’on entend l’Ottawa bondir dans les Chaudières.


Vos moyens d’action, John, ne sont pas les miens.

Mes amis ont souffert de ma grande folie.

Ils s’en consoleront :  car elle fut jolie.

Vous n’effacerez pas mon passé, car j’ y tiens.


Vous, vous serez connu pour le hardi mensonge.

C’est à vous que j’en veux pour ma proscription.

Je fais mon temps d’exil :  et je mange mon ronge.

Et je suis, malgré vous, chef de ma nation.


Je n’abandonne pas mon plan :  je l’étudie.

Et je l’ai travaillé d’une façon hardie.

J’ai trouvé ce qu je voulais.

Je vous connais à fond maintenant, peuple anglais.


.     .     .


An English translation by Paul Savoie:

“Sir John A. Macdonald governs with “pride””


Sir John A., shackled by pride’s endless chain,

Governs the Dominion’s vast domain,

And through perfidy prolongs my agony

To gain his kind’s approval, vain glory.


Disrespecting his commitments,

He does not heed the terms, fair and precise,

Of our Agreement

And my stated rights.

Nearly ten years I have endured torment.

A man who reneges on his word is base.

Let my accusing finger state my case…


Sir John, I do not wish upon you death

Riddled with pain and horror but instead

Days of dull remorse and daily regret

You, foul vampire, who have left me for dead.

The sky above once appeared ruby red

As did the horizon.   Your actions soured

My youth and hid the sun.   The day’s colours

From my famished eyes are cruelly bled.

To your own arrogance you must demur

Lest your actions wreak greater destruction.

Or, as in the Chaudieres rapids clamour,

Prepare your fall in swift swirling motion.


Your methods, John, are not the same as mine.

My friends have paid a price for my excess

Which, as a comfort, they may find sublime.

I will not let you rob me of my past.

You will be the seen prevaricator

And on you history will lay the blame.

I pine away in exile but remain

In spite of you my nation’s true leader.

I ponder now.   I don’t relinquish

My plan.   I fine-tune it and turn it plain.

My efforts have not been in vain

For I have seen the hearts of the English.




Sir John A. Macdonald became, in 1867, the first prime minister

of a newly united “Canada” – which had been up till that time

a loose arrangement of British and French colonies.

He was born on January 11th, 1815,  in Scotland, and

came to Canada as a boy, settling with his family in

Kingston, Ontario, where, after becoming a lawyer,

he then entered into politics.

The big achievements of his political career were

the uniting of the vast and distant colonies into

one new nation – plus the completion in 1885 of a

transcontinental railroad – the Canadian Pacific

Railroad – from the East all the way to the Pacific Ocean.


Louis Riel (1844-1885) was born in the Red River Colony,

(later Manitoba) and was the charismatic leader of  what

was an unrecognized new nation of mixed-race people,

The Métis (French and Native).

After an unsuccessful attempt to assert his leadership

versus Ottawa in “Manitoba” – the Red River Rebellion of 1870 –

Riel went into exile in Montana, south of the border.

It was there that he wrote his intense poem in French:

“Sir John A. Macdonald gouverne avec  l’orgueil”.


Riel returned to Canada, and in The NorthWest Rebellion

of 1885 he galvanized The Métis  to assert land rights in

what would become the province of Saskatchewan.

Macdonald hanged Riel for high treason after the

Rebellion was driven down by government troops.

The legacy of this event is complex  –

Riel was deemed mad by the mainly Protestant

English and an Ottawa that saw in his charisma

a passionate, dangerous rival.   In Québec Riel

has been viewed as a visionary francophone folk hero.

Increasingly, in our time, he is regarded

as a thwarter of simplistic ideologies of race and

culture.   Louis Riel is, in his unique way, a great Canadian

– though he goes unrecognized as such.




Marilyn Dumont, born in 1955, is a Canadian poet

of Cree/Métis descent.   The poem below,

“Letter to Sir John A. Macdonald”, was written in 1993.

Astutely, she points out how the completion of

the Canadian Pacific Railroad permitted the rapid

movement of new white settlers out West to

the very land Riel claimed for his people.

1885 was a crucial year, when both the

NorthWest Rebellion and The Last Spike

were “driven down”…




Marilyn Dumont

Letter to Sir John A. Macdonald


Dear John:

I’m still here and halfbreed,

after all these years.

You’re dead, funny thing,

that railway you wanted so badly,

there was talk a year ago

of shutting it down

and part of it was shut down,

the “dayliner”, at least,

‘ from sea to shining sea ‘,

and you know, John,

after all that shuffling us around to suit the settlers,

we’re still here and Métis .

We’re still here

after Meech Lake and

one no-good-for-nothing-Indian

holdin’ up the train,

stalling the ” Cabin syllables / Nouns of settlement

/ …steel syntax [and] / The long sentence of its exploitation ”

and John, that goddamned railroad never made this a great nation,

’cause the railway shut down

and this country is still quarreling over unity,

and Riel is dead

but he just keeps coming back

in all the Bill Wilsons yet to speak out of turn or favour

because you know as well as I

that we were railroaded

by some steel tracks that didn’t last

and some settlers who wouldn’t settle

and it’s funny – we’re still here and callin’ ourselves halfbreed.


.     .     .     .     .

Photograph:  Louis Riel and his Council, 1870