What began with a small gathering of Kootenay South Métis five years ago, has grown into a gathering of hundreds to witness the Métis flag raising in Trail.
November 16 marks Louis Riel Day – Riel was executed on that date in 1885 – and the day recognizes the contribution of Métis people to British Columbia.
“We are really excited this year because we’ve had five busloads here from all different schools,” said Myrt Servatius, Kootenay South Métis Society president.
“It’s very nice to see we are now getting the acknowledgment that we are here, and we are very proud to be Métis.”
Megan Read is Kootenay Columbia’s indigenous learning teacher, a position created two years ago. She accompanied about 250 students from throughout the district to the Trail flag raising.
“I support the teachers and the students in learning about the indigenous past, present, and to look forward to the future, to reconciliation,” Read told the Trail Times. “And I support, in particular, those kids who self-identify as aboriginal in the schools.”
Students in all grades from Rossland to Fruitvale were on hand to see the flag raised. Later, they listened to Gabriel Mann fiddle Métis music while some showed their fancy footwork with a traditional Métis jig.
“Teachers and our indigenous support workers have been working with kids to help them understand what Louis Riel Day is and what it means,” Read said. “And why the flag, why the flag raising, what the history is, and how that ties into reconciliation today.”
Read says most students are hearing these lessons for the first time.
“I think it’s very new,” she continued. “And it’s very much in the curriculum now, so that’s the shift and why we have so many people here today.”
Aboriginal content in every grade and in every subject is now included in B.C.’s educational system.
“So that’s why the turnout is so good this year,” Read said. “Now, it’s very much a part of what they do every day in school.”
With the flag flying over head, the society is readying for another tradition now in its fifth year – cooking and serving a Community Banquet to a few hundred members in the Trail United Church on Saturday.
Following the dinner, Marilyn Taylor, Kootenay director for MNBC (Métis Nation BC), will fly east for a Métis Nation Council meeting in Ottawa.
Taylor has been serving her elected position since 2013. She says the Métis culture is slowly being recognized in Canada – but there is much further to go both locally and beyond.
“It’s coming along, but everything takes time,” Taylor shared. “But for me, what it means is the continuance of my culture and my heritage, and also people knowing who the Métis are.”
Taylor says people often equate Métis citizenship with First Nations status.
“We are not First Nations,” she emphasized. “Under the Canadian Constitution, the Métis, the Inuit and First Nations are the three aboriginal groups of Canada.”
The flag’s white infinity symbol represents the unity of two cultures, First Nations and European (primarily French) with the blue background now the official flag of the Métis Nation.
Thursday morning at sunrise, Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance Carole James joined MNBC President Clara Morin Dal Col, members of MNBC executive and representatives from Métis communities across B.C. to witness the Métis flag being raised at the B.C. Legislature.
“This is a great day for all Métis people in British Columbia,” Morin Dal Col said. “Our history makes us who we are and by marking Louis Riel Day here in front of the Legislature and in our Métis communities throughout the province, we bring together Métis people from all walks of life and reaffirm our aspirations, our culture and our identity.”
Louis David Riel (1844-1885) was a political leader and a champion of Métis rights and culture. He was a leader of justice for Métis people and is recognized as a pioneer in the campaign for Métis rights in Canada. Métis people across B.C. and Canada continue Riel’s fight as a nation – to gain recognition for Métis people in B.C., to establish rights and create healthier and more sustainable Métis communities, and build stronger relations with other Indigenous peoples and government.
“The Métis people are a significant and growing population in B.C.,” said Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “By honouring the Métis and marking Louis Riel Day, we send a message to Métis people across British Columbia that we are listening and their voices are being heard.”
The Province and MNBC are working together through the Métis Nation Relationship Accord to strengthen relationships between the provincial government and Métis people. The Accord sets out objectives on health, housing, education, economic opportunities, children and families, information sharing, justice, wildlife stewardship, Métis identification and data collection. The Accord also commits B.C. and MNBC to looking for opportunities for engaging in a tripartite relationship with the federal government.
“I am proud of my Métis heritage and I was moved to watch the flag rise in front of the people’s house,” James said. “The flag-raising is a symbol of the importance of the Métis people and culture and our commitment to work together to make life better for Métis people across British Columbia.”