“Some people might think it’s just a flag raising, it’s just a symbol, but it really isn’t—People connect that to their own stories.” – Jennifer Brockman
A Métis flag raising at Saskatchewan Polytechnic on Friday got students and staff taking pride in their mixed ancestries.
In honour of Louis Riel Memorial Day on Saturday, all four campuses across Saskatchewan took part. Riel was hanged for treason on Nov. 16, 1885 because of his role in a resistance of Canadian intrusion on Métis lands.
The Métis flag has a blue background with a white infinity sign, which according to the Gabriel Dumont Institute, represents the coming together of European and Indigenous ancestry into its own distinctive culture.
Indigenous Students’ Centre coordinator Jennifer Brockman hopes the event leaves students walking away with a sense of pride in their identities.
“Some people might think it’s just a flag raising, it’s just a symbol, but it really isn’t—People connect that to their own stories.”
Even for those who aren’t Métis, Brockman said it may encourage people to ask others about their histories.
Brockman, who’s of Métis ancestry, said their dad has much darker skin. Their family used to say his umbilical cord must have been tied with a black string—but they don’t joke that that’s the reason for his dark complexion anymore.
“A lot of our family could get by by passing as white and not being discriminated (against), but now I think people are beginning to embrace who they are,” said Brockman.
“You see that with people getting their cards, wanting to get their Métis cards, wearing different symbols, whether they’re sashes or pins or moccasins.”
Minister of Batoche Sherry McLennan joined Brockman in raising the flag. Dozens of students watched as it rose up the flag pole.
She and Brockman made speeches before the flag raising.
McLennan touched on the “endless opportunities” for citizens because of the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan. For example, first-time Métis homebuyers can receive $15,000 on a down payment.
She said the governing body for Métis people is also looking at a healthcare program.
“As I hold this flag, it brings back memories of my grandparents and the raising and the teachings that they taught me, and it’s always to have pride in who we are and believe that we can be something bigger than we are,” she said.
“You guys are here today because you have a dream, you have a dream to become something. To have your own business, to be a correctional worker, to do hair and have your own salon. Whatever you want to do, you have the ability to do that.”
McLennan said she used to work for Saskatchewan Polytechnic when the Indigenous Students’ Centre first opened. Originally it was for students coming from the north who had no other place to go.
“It became much more than that—It became a place of friendship.”
She encouraged everyone to attend Back to Batoche in the summer of 2020 for its 50th anniversary.
The North-West Rebellion occurred on the land of Batoche, which ended in the defeat of Riel and his Métis army.
Brockman said students were tasked with answering an essay question about whether they thought Riel was a traitor or a hero in an Indigenous Studies class. Most students wrote about how he was a hero.
“Sure, he was (hanged) for treason,” said Brockman, but “I think that perception has changed.”
“People are looking at him as a hero and the things that he fought for for the Métis people.”