Monday, July 25, 2011

At Batoche.

Saskatchewan #6

I wrote this piece as an accompaniment for the photos, to illustrate how in this kind of photography it is not the spectacular image that is important so much as the one that gets closest to a truth; about a people, a place, a history, and the present day reality that has grown out of that past.

The Answer is Blowing in the Wind.

Why should we be concerned about the proportion of our European or Indian blood? Since we have some of each, gratitude and filial love command us to say: “We are Metis!” Louis Riel

Driving north of Saskatoon to a point on the prairie overlooking the South Saskatchewan River we came to the National Historic site of Batoche, the site of the final battle that broke the North-West Rebellion. A new interpretive center with the first of a series of dioramas, the old original church and residence that were built just a year before the defeat of the Metis in 1885 ( still showing the holes of musket balls), who were lead by Gabriel Dumont and Louis Riel. A graveyard full of historic family names and the mass grave of those Metis killed in the four day battle. A separate graveyard for the British soldiers. Depending on your viewpoint, a rebellion or a resistance. How to photograph this? How to understand it?

My daughter held up a card, “ There is a photographic contest, Dad, for several historic sites in Saskatchewan. Do you want to have a go?” We proceed in loose order across the field, toward the church, cameras at the ready, looking intently for the best targets. I crouch behind a wooden wheel and shoot from between the spokes. Closer in, I angle a shot up the spire and then fire from behind a tree (several shots just to be sure). I then edge my way along the picket fence to the church door. And in the entrance I pause for what I will realize later is the most important shot of the day.

Above the door is a painted circle, the only sign, apart from the dioramas back at the interpretive center and a Louis Riel quote on a notice board, of the native Indian half of the Metis` heritage. This round ‘tipi door’, painted on this white frame structure, gives me a sudden insight into the unique reality of the lives of these people of the Prairie from not so long ago, who refused to be put down by the Canadian Government without a struggle. Who so valued their way of life that they would resist a government that the peoples of the Saskatchewan knew had been imposed upon them and was irresponsible in its care of them. They fought well here at Batoche for four days and were finally beaten by a trained army. The reverberations of their resistance are still blowing through the separate graveyards on the prairie wind.

Note. Riel was captured at Batoche, sickened by the killing, and at the end of his trial, before the verdict, before they hanged him as traitor, he asked to make a statement. It was a rambling affair spoken in English. His legal defense had done their best to save him through a plea of insanity and that would not have been difficult to do, but Riel refused that because then all that the ‘half breeds’, as he referred to his people, all that his life and their lives represented and had been given for, would be dismissed as crazy and pointless.

Not an official Canadian hero, then, or for many years thereafter, but a great man of the people nevertheless.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautifully done Bill - it would make a great submission for a magazine I think :) Have you read Joseph Boyden's book on Riel and Dumont yet? Joanne