Flags representing Treaty 6, Treaty 7 and the Métis Nation will fly, “forever more,’” next to Alberta’s flag in front of the Red Deer Public School Board offices in Red Deer.
The new flags pay tribute to this country’s original people, and acknowledge the school division building stands where indigenous “footsteps have marked this land,” said superintendent Stu Henry at an indoor ceremony at the public school board office on Wednesday.
The flags “will, forever more, be flown in front of the building, for all to see,” Henry added, to applause from aboriginal officials, and school, city and provincial representatives.
Bev Manning, chair of the public school board, said the public school division is committed to adopting as many of the 94 “calls to action” that came out of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, as apply to educational facilities. “Our commitment does not start here and does not end here.”
Although the raising of flags is just a small step towards repairing relations with Canada’s first people, she added, “but it is, indeed, a step.”
Treaty advisor Norrine Saddleback, one of many First Nations people at the ceremony, said she was honoured to be part of the flag-raising, which upholds “the sacred covenant of treaty… and begins to create awareness.”
That a school division is acknowledging indigenous contributions gives Saddleback hope. Since children are the future, “I want you to understand how important you are to us,” she said to students at the ceremony.
Two of them performed movingly for the audience — Sheldon Steinhauer sang O Canada in Cree, French and English, and pianist Ayrton Chilibeck played the melodic Alberta Song, which he composed.
Noting the culture clashes of the past, Saddleback believes “these are the infant years of learning to work together. ” She hopes today’s students will forge more positive relationships with people of other cultures in years to come.
Raye St. Denys, president of Red Deer’s Métis Nation local, said her people were once considered “the invisible people, the forgotten people,” although they were here before the first treaties were signed.
She came to realize her Métis heritage was an important bridge between two cultures. But even five years ago, “I never thought it possible to see our flags” raised in Red Deer, admitted St. Denys, who challenged the City of Red Deer to raise them next, saying “it’s time,” since Edmonton and Calgary have already done so.
Mayor Tara Veer attended the ceremony with some city councillors, but was not asked to speak.
Red Deer North MLA Kim Schreiner called Wednesday’s flag-raising “very historic,” and significant step forward.