The Willow Lake Métis Nation’s (WLMN) flag will permanently fly in two locations in Anzac following an update of a municipal flag policy in July that recognizes Indigenous communities for the first time in more than 30 years.
A ceremony held Wednesday afternoon at the gazebo park in Anzac, commemorated the historic policy change. The nation’s flag will also fly at the Anzac Fire Hall. Both municipal locations, the WLMN flag is now displayed alongside the Canadian, Albertan and Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo flags.
WLMN CEO and vice president Justin Bourque said that recognition of the WLMN flag and other Indigenous communities was long overdue.
“The flag raising ceremony is really an affirmation of our community,” said Bourque following the ceremony. “At the end of the day, the flag is a symbol for our community to belong, it’s that confirmation.”
The flag raising was made possible after the RMWB passed an updated flag policy on July 15. The previous flag protocol, which had been in place since 1987, had no mention of Indigenous flags, and only covered the flags of Canada, Alberta, and the municipality.
The updated policy now includes a section for Indigenous communities to fly their own flags and allows for requests that the municipality display their flag in council chambers.
Indigenous communities recognized in the policy include the Athabasca Chipewyan, Smiths Landing, Mikisew Cree, Fort McKay, Fort McMurray #468 and Chipewyan Prairie First Nations; as well as Fort Chipewyan Métis Association, Fort McKay Métis Nation, McMurray Métis Local #1935, Conklin Métis, Chard Métis and the WLMN.
“I was proud, I was really proud,” said WLMN elder Mary McKenzie, who gave the opening blessing at the ceremony. “We have not had any type of recognition for years and years and years. It’s important to us to have this day to raise a flag.”
Ward 4 councillor Jane Stroud, who calls Anzac home and was on hand on behalf of the municipality, said the change to the policy was long overdue.
“I think that through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada [it shows] that we need to do better,” said Stroud. “The previous flag policy did not include Treaty 8, Métis or Indigenous communities and that is why the policy needed to be changed. We, as a council, and the municipality, prioritized this to ensure that we include all the residents in our region.”
The flag was raised to half-mast to honour victims and survivors of the residential school program following the discoveries of unmarked graves in Kamloops, B.C., and multiple other locations across the country.
Bourque also used the ceremony as an opportunity to give out the first WLMN citizenship card to his grandmother, Clara Bourque. In 2020, the WLMN, along with five other Métis nations, broke away from the Métis Nation of Alberta. Bourque said that 65 cards have been printed and he is working with the Government of Alberta to have them recognized as formal identification cards.
“It really gives us that belonging,” said Bourque. “You don’t need an identification card to know who you are, but this gives us that peace of mind and identity so that we, as a self-governing Métis nation, can conduct ourselves government to government.”
Scott McLean, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort McMurray Today