Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The next First Nation, Métis and Inuit education conference hosted by the College of Alberta School Superintendents (CASS) could be flying one more flag.
After the Métis Settlements of Alberta (MSA) was unable to walk its flag in as part of the March 14 opening ceremonies for the conference, Kikino school principal Laurie Thompson says she will be doing what she can to ensure that next year the MSA flag is flying alongside flags from Treaty 6, 7, and 8 and the 1816 Seven Oaks Métis flag.
CASS executive director David Keohane says he’s all for revisiting the issue after it became “clear to me that Métis Settlements are concerned and if that’s the reality, we need to talk about a protocol that’s going to work.”
He does point out that this is the sixth conference in as many years and to the best of his knowledge the Seven Oaks flag has represented all the Métis of the province with no issues.
Thompson, who’s been principal at the school on the Kikino Métis Settlement since 2005, says she’s unaware whether or not the Métis Settlements flag was included before, but she wants it included going forward. In fact, she wanted it included on March 14.
Thompson, who facilitated a session at the conference, began discussions in January with CASS about having the MSA flag included in the opening ceremony.
However, when she followed up via email on March 8, she was told in a reply email from a CASS employee that “I have confirmed with our cultural director Elder Wilson Bearhead and he advised that we already have a Métis flag. As in past practice, we are only going with one flag from each treaty area and one Métis to keep things streamlined.”
The problem with that, Thompson told Windspeaker.com, is although the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) identifies with the Seven Oaks flag, the Métis Settlements do not. The Seven Oaks flag was carried in the opening ceremony by Joshua Morin, 27, who carries MNA citizenship.
The settlements have their own flag.
“All I’m saying is the Métis Settlements of Alberta exist under Alberta legislation. (Our) flag represents all eight settlements. This is an Alberta conference and an Alberta truth (and) we should be allowed to represent ourselves,” said Thompson.
The only Métis in Canada to have a land base are located in northern Alberta. The Métis Betterment Act was created in 1938 with 12 Métis “colonies.” In 1990 the Métis Settlements Act was adopted and by that time there were eight communities no longer called colonies. However, Métis have had a land base in Alberta since 1895.
Thompson’s father, Floyd, was the elected leader of the Kikino Métis Settlement for 44 years.
“My dad has always been a staunch believer that we have a name. We’re from the Kikino Métis Settlement. We’re part of the eight Métis Settlements of Alberta. We have a very proud and long history in this province and our leaders have fought for us to be recognized,” said Thompson.
Last minute discussions with CASS on Monday had Thompson believing that Métis Settlements General Council President Herb Lehr would be able to carry the settlements’ flag in the opening ceremony. She said Lehr made the trip from his home community of Fishing Lake Métis Settlement expressly to carry the flag.
When he arrived in Edmonton he “was called into a room” and told he wouldn’t be able to participate. Thompson says she does not know who spoke with Lehr, but the result “was beyond disappointing. It was downright insulting.”
“That’s the difficulty of this,” said Keohane. “There’s some perspective of who promised who what and what arrangement was going to be in place and I have heard different versions and it’s just not helpful whatsoever.”
Thompson says she raised her concerns with ministers Rick Wilson (Indigenous Relations) and Adriana LaGrange (education), who were both in attendance as they were scheduled to speak after the opening ceremony. She said Wilson “brushed me off,” while LaGrange pointedly referenced Métis Settlements of Alberta in her greeting to the gathering.
Wilson did not respond to an email request from Windspeaker.com for comments.
Thompson points out that Métis Settlements are often dismissed when it comes to education.
“I’ve been an educator for 28 years. In that old (social studies) curriculum, 108 times the word “Aboriginal” is used. Nobody identifies as Aboriginal. We identify as wherever we are from. In this new curriculum, they’ve replaced “Aboriginal” with “Indigenous.” And only two times in the entirety of all of that curriculum is the Métis Settlement of Alberta actually named. Otherwise it’s Métis. So what’s everybody going to grow up believing? There’s only one Métis group. And they’re going to think it’s the MNA,” said Thompson.
Keohane said an Elders advisory committee is used when it comes to planning the cultural and ceremonial aspects of the conference. The annual gathering is CASS’s commitment “to restoring and honouring the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action…(and) engaging in respectful, responsible and reciprocal relationships with our First Nations and Métis communities is the path forward to reconciliation,” according to CASS’s website.
“The protocols we would use would be vetted by people who are system leaders or who work for Rupertsland, etc. There’s Métis representation on that. Then that information goes to the planning committee that has Elder representation on it,” he said of the process.
Rupertsland Institute was established in 2010 for education, training and research and is an affiliate of the MNA.
“Where I have left this is, and it’s to the acceptance of the Elder advisory committee, is that we engage in a discussion with all participants, including the Métis Settlements, about how to proceed with this in future areas, most immediate next year, so we have a ceremony protocol that is supported and endorsed by all parties,” said Keohane.
“It’s part of ensuring that the core agenda, which is to educate participants to truth and reconciliation, is maintained. Moving forward for me it’s a case to bring all parties together and have a protocol that can be accepted by all,” he said.
“All I wanted was our flag. That’s all,” said Thompson. “But I was not seen and I was told, ‘No.’ I was told, ‘You’re not going to be seen.’ But I’m an Alberta truth. Why can’t I be seen? That’s all I wanted. And I didn’t think it was that big of a deal.”
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.