For Gail McLanaghan, elder for the Pincher Creek Métis, the anniversary of Louis Riel’s death is more than just a day of commemoration. It’s an opportunity to celebrate a rich and diverse culture, and carry the torch of historic legacy forwards.
Every year, on Nov. 16, the local Métis community participates in a flag-raising ceremony to mark the date when Riel was hanged for treason, but cultural celebrations are not limited to that day and take place throughout the third week of November, known as Métis Week.
McLanaghan was joined by former elder Frances Riviere and Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village curator Farley Wuth to oversee the raising of the flag, a bold blue banner emblazoned with a white infinity symbol.
The event was attended only by the trio, who stood proud and tall in front of the flag as it flapped in the blustery weather. They observed a moment of silence while the Métis anthem echoed across the lawn of the pioneer village, the location of the ceremony.
McLanaghan says she thinks of family on this day and the weight of the history they carry on their shoulders.
“I think about how proud I am and how our history goes back so far and there’s so much to it,” she says. “I’m just so proud that I have been able to carry on for my mom.”
All three locals wore a red hand-knitted sash, McLanaghan and Riviere from around their shoulders and Wuth from around his waist. The garment was used during battle, explains McLanaghan, so survivors could tell which clan the fallen belonged to. The standard colour is red, but each family has its own distinct pattern stitched or sewn across the front, she adds.
Usually the flag-raising would be accompanied by festivities, but with the pandemic, most events were put on hold. The food, however, remains a high point. Traditional meals like saskatoon berry soup, bannock and moose meat pie are mealtime staples during Métis Week, say McLanaghan and Riviere.
And Kootenai Brown is the keeper of Métis history.
Wuth, the curator, says Métis people were a key economic driver in the community, as millers, ranchers, farmers and businesspeople.
The museum runs events and programs on Métis history regularly and it offers historical driving tours that examine Métis ranching history, among other topics.
“The museum has been really important to us with teaching the culture to school children,” adds Riviere.
Gillian Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze