Last month, lawyer Riva Farrell Racette was involved with the orchestral and vocal work for the world première of “Riel’s Heart of the North” by opera composer Neil Weisensel and award-winning poet and librettist Dr. Suzanne Steel. The Regina Symphony Orchestra performed the work on March 9, 2019.
This creative work tells the story of Louis Riel, exploring a lesser-known chapter of his life and focusing on “the beauty and love of the homeland and of its people, the heart of the north.”
Nearly 70% of the performance is in Indigenous languages; the work is performed in Michif, Saulteaux, English and French. Told from the viewpoint of the women in Riel’s life, the work includes orchestra, soloists, fiddler, narrator and chorus. Riva served in the role of narrator, and members of the local indigenous community formed the chorus.
“Riel’s Heart of the North” drew its inspiration, in large part, from the PhD thesis of Sherry Farrell Racette (Riva’s mother).
“One thing that was certain from the start,” Dr. Steel said of her inspiration for the piece, “I knew I wanted to write about Métis women as the ones who sew together our culture – literally and figuratively. In museums around the world I had seen our women’s gorgeous beadwork and clothing – often mislabelled, in a double-erasure of the Michif culture and the women as artists – and knew the social and economic importance of their work.
“Using Sherry Farrell Racette’s brilliant doctoral thesis, Sewing Ourselves Together: clothing, decorative arts and the expression of Métis and Half Breed identity (2004), as a contextual source, I devised the central themes of this work – the creating, the mending, the sewing, of the wounded of this world, but most importantly the beauty that comes from the love our women’s hands – this I celebrated.”