It’s been a memorable year of firsts for Marilyn Taylor.
The Trail retired nurse is in her inaugural year as regional director of the Kootenay Metis Nation of B.C. (MNBC) and for the first time in Trail history, will witness the raising of the Metis flag at city hall Friday at 11 a.m.
Taylor and Myrtle Servatius, president of Kootenay South Metis, approached Trail Mayor Dieter Bogs last month, on behalf of 400 local Metis people, to request the flag raising in honour of Louis Riel, a spiritual and political Metis leader hanged for treason after a controversial trial, Nov. 16, 1885.
“For many years we were invisible in the community,” said Taylor, adding, “we are the only region in the Kootenays that hasn’t flown the flag on November 16.
“This is the first time we have asked the city to raise our flag,” she explained.
“And with the good response we will be happy to see it flying this year.”
The blue Metis flag, which will be flown until Monday, is superimposed with a white infinity symbol to represent the mixing of European immigrants and First Nations people and the endurance of the culture through hardships.
“We have a significant Metis population in Trail and the region,” said the mayor. “It is important to honour and respect Metis culture in our community.”
Louis Riel Day is observed Nov. 16 in areas across Canada to commemorate the leader’s life and to celebrate Metis culture, language and heritage.
Bruce Dumont, MNBC president, will be in town for the flag raising and guest of honour at the Louis Riel Day gathering Saturday at 5 p.m. in the Trail United Church hall.
Earlier this fall, Dumont stood at Taylor’s side when he bestowed upon her the honour of another historical “first.”
During the Nation’s September annual general meeting in Vancouver, he surprised Taylor by announcing she would be the first Metis person in the province to ring Marie Antoinette, otherwise known as the Bell of Batoche.
The 20-pound silver bell was stolen from the steeple of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Batoche, Sask., by federal soldiers on May 18, 1885, following an unsuccessful Metis uprising lead by Louis Riel against the Canadian government.
“I was so overwhelmed by the honour given to me by Bruce Dumont,” said Taylor. “I dropped to my knees and cried. I was so emotional that I couldn’t speak.”
Taylor recalls childhood visits to her aunt’s farm in Saskatchewan and attending Sunday mass at the Batoche church.
“There was no bell,” she said. “But they didn’t talk about it much because back then Metis were discriminated against.”
The Bell of Batoche had an arduous journey back to Western Canada beginning in the 1930’s when it was hung above the Millbrook Ont. fire station,
Ironically, the bell was damaged in a blaze at the fire hall, thereafter remaining hidden from view until the late ‘60s, when it resurfaced on display in the Millbrook Legion.
In 1967, the federal government requested the RCMP to retrieve the bell and return it to Batoche, but the Legion refused, claiming Marie was a trophy of war.
Western Metis leaders again requested the bell’s return in 1989 and 1991, but the Legion held on to the war relic.
It was during these events when Taylor became involved with the Metis Nation, and read about Marie’s history.
“I spent so much of my life hoping to see that bell before I died,” she said. “Even though I couldn’t speak I did say a prayer for all Metis people over the bell as I rang it.”
Celebrating Metis heritage came later in Myrt Servatius’s life, but her roots run deep in its culture.
“My mother would never admit that she was Metis to her dying day,” recalled Servatius.
“There was so much prejudice back then,” she continued.
“But I remember visiting my great grandfather in St. Louis (Sask.) and he would tell us stories about the rebellion at Batoche. Being very young, this meant nothing to me. But now after learning my family history, I am proud to be Metis.”