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Riel was born at the Red River Colony in what is now Manitoba on October 22, 1844. He was originally educated to be a priest, but he stopped going to school when his father died so he could get a job and help his family. When the Government of Canada bought the land of the Red River Colony from the Hudson's Bay Company the Métis were worried about their future and about keeping their rights and their way of life. They needed a leader, and they chose Riel to be that leader.
To show that he wanted to talk directly to Ottawa, Riel formed a Métis government. He then stopped the Canadian representative from entering the colony, took control of Upper Fort Garry and held several people there as prisoners. The federal government negotiated with the Métis to end what became known as the Red River Rebellion. As part of the agreement the Province of Manitoba was formed, which included the Red River Colony. When, to keep the peace, Ottawa sent troops to the new province, Riel became afraid for his life. Many of the soldiers that went to Manitoba did not like francophones and Catholics, and Riel was both. He fled to the United States to protect himself.
After many years of hard work and stress Riel had a nervous breakdown. He went to an asylum in Montreal to get better. In 1884 a group of Métis in Batoche, Saskatchewan (which was not a province yet), asked Riel to help them get their legal rights from the federal government. Riel agreed. At first he protested peacefully to the federal government, but after some time he began a rebellion. This Northwest Rebellion only lasted two months before he had to surrender. While some people felt that Riel was a hero for all the work that he did for the Métis, others felt that he was a traitor to Canada. Riel was charged with treason, and hanged on November 16, 1885 by order of the Government of Canada.