On Nov. 16, 1885, Louis Riel was hung for treason. But the echoes of the Métis leader and the Northwest rebellion he led still linger 128 years later, though now he is regarded as one of Canada’s great heroes.
Earlier this month, Mayor Garry Litke signed a proclamation declaring Nov. 16 Louis Riel day and tomorrow, the Métis flag will be flying above city hall. Marlene Cox-Bishop, president of the South Okanagan Similkameen Métis Association, said it is the first time it has happened, at least in her three years as president.
The significance of honouring Riel, Cox-Bishop explains, is that he founded the Métis nation in Canada and as a result of his work, Manitoba was brought into being. She describes the flag as having a large infinity symbol at it’s centre representing the ongoing life of the Métis nation and the Métis people.
“There is no end to it,” she said, explaining that the Métis are one of the first peoples of Canada, coming into being after fur traders came in contact with First Nations.
“It is the children of that union that founded, with the founding of Canada, the Métis Nation,” she said. “There are a lot of Métis families in the South Okanagan Similkameen.”
“We walk in two worlds. In the world of the First Nations, we have some traditions there and we have some traditions that are European; not just European, but English, Irish, Scottish and French.”
Local recognition of Louis Riel day is an important step forward, according to Cox-Bishop, especially in light of recent court decisions favouring the Métis, including the expansion of the courts’ definition of aboriginal to include Métis.
“The Métis historically never had a land base. We were entrepreneurs and business people, so we always ended up on somebody’s territory. It’s easy to overlook us as a group of people,” said Cox-Bishop. “There is a huge other population of non-status First Nations, Inuit and Métis people who are often not recognized.
“It is one more step in gaining that recognition.”