Métis pride was flying high across St. Albert this week as schools and city officials celebrated this city’s Indigenous history.
About 85 dignitaries and Leo Nickerson, Elmer S. Gish and Sir George Simpson students joined Mayor Cathy Heron at St. Albert Place Wednesday to raise the Métis flag and sample bannock in celebration of Métis Week.
This annual celebration of Métis culture happens around Louis Riel Day (Nov. 16), which commemorates the life of the eponymous Métis leader.
Riel was the founder of Manitoba and sought to defend the rights of Canada’s Métis, said Sharon Morin of the Musée Héritage Museum. He was a central figure in the Red River and North-West Resistances, the latter of which resulted in his trial and execution on Nov. 16, 1885.
The Métis have a long history in St. Albert, having been here long before Father Albert Lacombe founded the community, notes A Bridge Over Time. It was the Métis who wrote the community’s first bylaws in 1870, and Métis residents who lobbied the federal government to maintain the city’s riverlot system – an act that likely kept the city out of the Red River Resistance.
Riel also inspired the formation of this community’s first armed militia, Morin said.
In 1885, in response to fears that their lands would be attacked by Riel’s allies, some 42 St. Albert residents formed the St. Albert Mounted Riflemen, reports A Bridge Over Time. All but six of the riflemen were Métis.
Capt. Samuel Cunningham (namesake of Cunningham Road) led the force to Lac La Biche that June upon hearing reports of looting, where after five tortuous days of marching through rain and mosquitoes, they arrived to find that the looting had stopped and there wasn’t much for them to do.
Métis voyageurs were also essential to the exploration efforts of Sir George Simpson, said student Brian Harrison.
“The Métis voyageurs were the ones who paddled the rivers along with him, singing in French and Cree. They are the ones who made his success possible.”
St. Albert Public Schools stepped up their celebration of Métis Week this year as part of their ongoing efforts to promote reconciliation, said associate superintendent Marianne Barrett. Each school flew the Métis flag for the week and taught lessons about the Métis sash.
Gish students listened to the Métis national anthem instead of O Canada for the week as well, said teacher Suzie Currie.
“The district has taken big steps forward in trying to incorporate Métis culture into lessons,” she said, adding that this was something that never even turned up in class when she was in school in the 1990s.
St. Albert has historically been a very French-Canadian settlement, but that’s not the whole story, Heron said. City council recently hung the Métis and Treaty 6 flags in council chambers in recognition of the city’s Indigenous roots.
“As we enter 2017 and a new millennium where we are embracing diversity, we need to remember our heritage is diverse, and that’s why I think it’s important to ensure that everyone who helped build the city is recognized,” she said.
It’s important to teach students about Canada’s past and to acknowledge past wrongdoings so we can move forward in partnership with the First Nations, Inuit and Métis, Currie said.
“Informing this generation of their beautiful culture can only present a beautiful future.”