The action opens on December 8, 1869, in Fort Garry (near Winnipeg), Manitoba. Louis Riel is dressing himself carefully for a ceremony in which he will publicly declare the Metis National Committee the new Provisional Government of the North-West. The Metis, a proud people of mixed Indian-French descent, have long suffered at the hands of the grasping, omnipotent Hudson’s Bay Company and the English and Scottish settlers who regard them as savages. Like the Indians, the Metis have been stripped of their lands, wasted by the White Man’s diseases, cheated of their due as hunters and fur traders, and forced to follow a nomadic life in order to keep up with the dwindling herds of buffalo on which they rely for food and clothing. For this, too, the White Man is responsible: Not only has he slaughtered the huge animals heedlessly, but he has also kept them on the run because of the railroad he so obsessively stretches across the land. Riel, one of the few educated Metis, leads his people to take over the fort from the Hudson’s Bay Company. As the action opens, he is about to substitute the Metis flag for the Company standard.
It is the ubiquitous Pierre Falcon, singer-poet for the Metis, who both narrates and participates in the struggle of Riel and his followers for autonomy for their people. Falcon claims to have been born in 1793, yet he makes reference to past and future events that he could not possibly know about. Rudy Wiebe takes great liberty with the convention of narrator; Falcon penetrates the innermost thoughts of everyone, including the Prime Minister of Canada. He witnesses events that take place all over Canada and the United States and provides a running commentary on them. His value as narrator lies not only in his ability to be everywhere and know everything but also in his talent for making sense of and putting into historical perspective what transpires. Falcon’s is dual vision: From the beginning, he invokes the end, so that Riel’s meticulous dressing for the 1869 ceremony is presented in the light of another, more solemn dressing almost sixteen years later...
(The entire section is 855 words.)