Even the wind co-operated.
As the Secwepemc flag was being raised at Salmon Arm City Hall Saturday alongside the federal, provincial and municipal flags, it hung limply, no wind, no movement.
But as it neared the top of the flagpole, the wind did its work, unfurling it for all below to see.
It was a symbolic and highly significant event for many.
According to city hall staff research, Regina, Sask. appears to be the only other city in Canada to recognize its First Nations counterparts in this way.
Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson and representatives from the Adams Lake, Little Shuswap and Splatsin bands were on hand, as well as Salmon Arm Mayor Nancy Cooper, to mark the occasion.
Wilson said, following the ceremony, that in speaking to some of the elders, they said it’s been a long time coming – 500 years for the Secwepemc people to be recognized and represented.
“Today is an important day for everyone, for all of us…”
Wilson said it is more than the recognition of the language and culture of indigenous people.
“The biggest aspect is recognizing our people have a history here, our own government systems, laws and protocols and they have remained intact.”
She said the work has just begun. First Nations bands need a protocol with the City of Salmon Arm, which they are working on.
“We had hoped to have something today, but we are working on it.”
One of the fundamental roles as Secwepemc people is protection of the land, she said, but they would also like to be included in decisions on economic development.
Wilson said she hopes that every time the mayor and city council look upon the Secwepemc flag when they come to city hall, they will consider how the two entities are going to work together.
She mentioned her appreciation of the Switzmalph Cultural Society and its work in laying a lot of the groundwork for Saturday’s ceremony. Last year the society organized Aboriginal Day festivities and, this year, the work was spearheaded by Gina Johnny of the Adams Lake band.
Wilson said she was pleased that Mayor Cooper recognized her aboriginal roots during her speech.
Cooper had noted that her great-grandmother was a First Nations woman from Quebec who went mostly unrecognized. She ended her speech by saying, “This is for you great-grandmother.”
Cooper said the flag-raising is a step in building the relationship and observed that the flags flying together seemed symbolic of the Moving Forward Together initiative in the Shuswap.
The Secwepemc flag, now displayed prominently in front of city hall, has 17 feathers representing the 17 bands in the Secwepemc Nation. The feathers are mostly black, with a white portion in the middle. The white portion signifies those communities which were wiped out by disease and other trauma following contact.
Along with the flag-raising ceremony, there were bannock and information booths as well as entertainment from Shane Camille and drummers, and storyteller Kenthen Thomas.
Following the celebrations, people were invited to go over to the First United Church where Little Shuswap elder Ernie Philip was to give a presentation regarding the film, Dancing Bear, that is based on his life, his survival of the inhuman residential schools and his joy found in dance.