Members of the Sault Ste. Marie and area Métis community gathered Saturday in honour of Louis Riel Day.
A sunrise ceremony on the Algoma University campus was followed by a trip to city hall, where Mayor Christian Provenzano and his two-year-old daughter Chloe met with the community in order to raise the Métis Nation of Ontario flag.
“In 1885 on this day, Louis Riel was hung for what they called treason at the time, and it wasn’t treason,” said Steve Gjos, chair of the Historic Sault Ste. Marie Métis Council. “We’re here today in honour of him.”
“We’re going to go over to city hall to raise our flag - the Métis flag.”
Prior to the flag raising at city hall, Provenzano pointed to the consultation with the Historic Sault Ste. Marie Métis Council on the city’s community plan and the forthcoming downtown plaza project as signs of a positive relationship between the mayor and the Sault’s Métis community.
“Over the next three years as I’m your Mayor, I’m going to continue to work with you and listen to you - and stand with you,” he said. “This is today’s evidence of that. I didn’t want to send another city councillor here to raise this flag, so I brought my little one with me here so I could be here with you today to raise the flag.”
“I want to thank you for our relationship, and how respectfully you treat me and engage me, and I want to just commit that you’ll receive that same respect and treatment from the city, and we’ll continue to work together.”
Gjos also took the time to speak about the creation of the Métis eagle staff that he carried throughout the day.
It’s a take on the Métis battle standard - a flag bearing a hand and the head of a wolf that was created during the 1885 resistance in Batoche, Sask.
“It’s basically saying, I raise my hand to the Creator to give me the strength and courage of the wolf to protect our people and our land,” Gjos said.
The group then proceeded to the former Church of St. John the Evangelist properties on for a feast.
In 2017, the Anglican Church of Canada returned the John Street church properties to the Métis Nation of Ontario.
“We got the hall, the church, the rectory. There’s still burial sites - Métis burial sites - on the grounds,” said Historic Sault Ste. Marie Métis Council President Kim Powley.
The Historic Sault Ste. Marie Métis Council plans to transform the former church properties into Ontario’s only Métis cultural centre sometime within the next year.
More information on Louis Riel can be found on the Métis Nation of Ontario website.
- with files from David Helwig
A statement on Louis Riel Day from Ontario Minister of Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford follows:
MINISTRY OF INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS
Today, Greg Rickford, Minister of Indigenous Affairs issued the following statement on Louis Riel Day:
"Today we commemorate the legacy of Louis Riel and his important role in Métis history and the formation of Canada. On this date in 1885, Riel was executed for leading the Northwest Resistance in defence of Métis rights.
In 2009, Canada reversed the conviction of Louis Riel for high treason and recognized his role as a prominent Métis leader and founder of Manitoba, and as a Father of Confederation. Riel negotiated the entry of Manitoba into Confederation on July 15, 1870 and was elected to the House of Commons three times.
Louis Riel was a central figure in the confederation of Canada and the protection of the rights and culture of Métis and Francophones in Canada. His work to protect minority language rights helped to lay the groundwork for the multicultural Ontario that exists today.
Louis Riel's contributions to nation building continue to provide a foundation for the recognition and respect for the diverse history, culture, and identity of Métis people. Our government understands the importance of working with Ontario Métis and other Indigenous peoples to build opportunities to share in the prosperity that all Ontarians have come to expect.
Celebrating Louis Riel Day today acknowledges the significant achievements of Louis Riel and the continuing contributions of Métis people to Canada and Ontario."