The god-damn son of a bitch is dead

“The god-damn son of a bitch is dead”.  So says one of John A. Macdonald’s henchmen on checking his watch to see that the scheduled time of Louis Riel’s execution has passed; at least in Harry Somers’ 1969 operatic version of the story.  Louis Riel, on the face of it is a historic narrative about the leader of the 1869 and 1885 Métis opposition to the expansion of the Dominion of Canada.  But it’s deeper than that.   It’s a complex work dealing with fundamental questions of identity and belonging and of the relation between people and state.  Written during a weird combination of the orgy of cultural nationalism that greeted the centenary of Confederation and Canada’s most turbulent political violence it transcends the Canadianness of its story and clear parallels could be found in many countries, including Canada, today.  This is really about “culture wars” in all their complexity and horror.

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