Salmon Arm will be raising a B.C. Métis flag at city hall, but not without sparking a debate from city council.
Cindy Novakowski, vice-president of the Salmon Arm Métis Association, wrote to council to ask that the city consider raising the flag on Nov. 16 in commemoration of Louis Riel Day in B.C.
She pointed out that although Louis Riel is recognized as an advocate of justice for the Métis people, he represents much more.
“He helped lay the framework for minority rights and cultural co-operation, and is regarded as a founder of Manitoba. It is very important to remember Louis Riel’s contribution to Canada and specifically to recall that he was executed for being a persistent advocate for the rights of his people.”
She said the flag has been raised in other communities across B.C. and, if Salmon Arm participated, it would be an opportunity to raise awareness about one of the country’s Indigenous people and, in particular, a historical figure who continues to impact justice for minorities.
Council members expressed varying opinions about the late item on their Nov. 9 agenda.
Coun. Debbie Cannon said she thought it would be good to respect this day in Canada’s history.
Mayor Alan Harrison suggested the City of Salmon Arm flag be removed for one day to make room for the Métis flag.
Coun. Kevin Flynn agreed it is a good thing to honour, but expressed concern about how many requests would follow for one- or two-day flag raisings.
Harrison acknowledged this was a good point, but said he thinks the Métis flag is quite extraordinary, would be unique and would not set a precedent in his view.
Stating “Louis Riel is a hero of mine,” Coun. Tim Lavery said a guideline is needed about flying flags and he would consider the request for next year.
“I’m voting against motherhood in many ways for me here but this is a process question…”
Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond said this request is not about a non-profit requesting a flag-raising to highlight their cause, but is about a nation-to-nation relationship, about reconciliation and respect.
She said she hoped that if a foreign dignitary came to visit, the city would have the flexibility to raise a flag for them.
Flynn reiterated his concern about process.
“I don’t question the value and what Mr. Riel did and how we mistreated and all of that, but we generally don’t like to make knee-jerk decisions that could have future implications.”
He continued: “The letter is saying ‘many communities,’ but who has adopted this, who has put up a flag? How have they dealt with it and what other flags have they raised? I’m struggling with making a decision with this short of notice.”
Carl Bannister, the city’s chief administrative officer, told council that staff did a report on the flag issue a few years ago.
Despite votes against from Flynn and Lavery, the motion to raise the Métis flag flew.
Coun. Chad Eliason was absent.
A flag-raising ceremony will take place at 9 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 16 in front of city hall.