Flags are symbols of reconciliation
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The Treaty 1 and Métis flags were raised for the first time Oct. 17 in front of Wesley Hall, and will continue to fly at the University of Winnipeg campus landmark.
Local group Sons of the Drum, joined by Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew, pounded on the large, hide drum, creating a heartbeat for the moment, and sang the flag song.
The afternoon started with opening words and a prayer from elder Charlie Nelson, of Roseau River Anishinaabe First Nation. From a wheelchair, holding an eagle feather fan, he spoke, thoughtfully, of supporting one another in rebuilding our families. He shared knowledge of the signing of Treaty 1 in 1871, and then gave a prayer.
There was a chill in the air, though this special and long overdue moment was anything but cold.
A small crowd of university staff and students, as well as First Nation and Métis dignitaries gathered in front of the flagpoles, waiting for the moment the two banners would fly for the first time.
The Treaty 1 flag represents the seven Treaty 1 communities: Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation, Long Plain, Peguis (formerly St. Peter’s), Roseau River, Sagkeeng (formerly Fort Alexander), Sandy Bay (1876 adhesion); and Swan Lake (1876 adhesion).
It was designed in 2020. The green on the flag represents the grass, the blue represents the rivers. The red circle around the sun in the centre represents the people, with the seven rays or teepees that surround the sun signify the seven First Nations.
The Métis flag features a white infinity symbol on a blue background. The symbol has two meanings: it represents the joining of European and First Nations cultures to create a unique and distinct culture — the Métis — and the existence of a people forever.
“Before we get started, I would just like to acknowledge that years ago, some U of Winnipeg staff dreamed of the day that they would see the Métis flag flying on campus. Similarly, as well for the Treaty 1 flag,” said acting lead of Indigenous engagement Angeline Neslon, noting raising the flags was a journey months in the making.
University of Winnipeg has one of the highest participation rates for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students in Canada, with 11 per cent of the student body identifying as Indigenous.
One-by-one, dignitaries representing the university, Treaty 1, and the Manitoba Métis Federation shared words to commemorate the historic moment.
“Each and every one of us holds an important reconciliation responsibility,” said Jan Stewart, deputy provost and associate vice-president academic.
“At the University of Winnipeg, we are continually working to ensure that Indigenous knowledge and perspectives are incorporated into what we do and those impacted, and how we serve.”
Some examples of this, she said, include creating opportunity and pathways for Indigenous students, as well as offering courses and programs in Indigenous learning and languages, integrating Indigenous teachings, approaches, and worldviews into the university’s curricula and culture.
Brokenhead Chief Gordon Bluesky (chairman of the Treaty One Nation) gave words of praise for the moment as a great step towards reconciliation, making mention of First Nations peoples growing and continued interconnection to the land and economy. He called for the university, and other post-secondary institutions, to develop curriculum around urban and First Nation development.
“The work we are doing at the Kapyong barracks to the work that Peguis First Nation has done at 1075 (Portage Ave.), the work that Long Plain First Nation has done in terms of urban reserve and urban economic development zones for First Nation people, is to better understand that that type of work needs to be incorporated into the current curriculum.”
Andrew Carrier, MMF vice-president, said the name Métis comes from Latin, meaning mixed blood. He said there are a lot of people who really do not understand who the Métis are.
“We’re hiding in plain sight right here — we’re here and we have our own culture, our own language, our own traditions,” he said.
“It is truly important to recognize that this is our homeland. For generations and for decades, we have been fighting for equality and to be heard, and this is a great opportunity to finally be recognized as being part of the core of Manitoba, Winnipeg.”
It was a lovely celebration, and a meaningful move forward in reconciliation.
Columnist, Manager of Reader Bridge project
Shelley is a born and raised Winnipegger. She is a proud Indigenous woman with family ties to Brokenhead Ojibway Nation.
Updated on Monday, October 24, 2022 12:47 PM CDT: Corrects reference to acting lead of Indigenous engagement Angeline Neslon
Updated on Tuesday, October 25, 2022 12:31 PM CDT: Charlie Nelson's name, fixed typo
Updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2022 12:54 PM CDT: Changes to First Nation from Indigenous