Louis Riel Day celebration coming to Grand Forks

The Boundary Métis Community Association will host a celebration and flag raising on Nov. 15

Boundary resident Jacqueline Lessard’s ancestry winds back through a mountain pass namesake (Yellowhead/tête jaune) to Alberta, across the prairies through the Red River Valley and east to New Jersey, where Peter Pangman, a founder of the Northwest Trading Company, was born in 1744.

Pangman, a great grandfather of several generations back to Lessard, married Marguerite Sauteuse, an Indigenous woman from the western prairies. Their son, Bastonnais Pangman, rose to be an influential Métis leader and buffalo hunter. He even helped found a Hudson’s Bay Company post at Turtle River, also known as Grand Forks, North Dakota.

But all this background went unknown to Lessard until about 10 years ago, she said.

“It’s something that I did not take lightly,” Lessard said, noting that at the time, she and her daughter, then 24, made a commitment to embrace their reconnected identities.

“If we were going to say yes, we are Métis, then we needed to do it to the degree that we felt comfortable to tell people we are Métis and to be proud of who we are,” Lessard recalled.

More than 100 people in the Regional District of Kootenay-Boundary identified as Métis on the 2016 census, and now, to celebrate their culture, the Boundary Métis Community Association will be honouring their past on Nov. 15 at a ceremony to recognize Louis Riel Day (officially Nov. 16 in B.C.).

Riel, the infamous Métis leader and politician who advocated for the rights of his people, lead two main resistance movements – the first which led to the creation of a provisional Métis government in the Red River Valley, the second, again to assert Métis rights, culminated in his arrest for high treason.

But from traitor to devoted leader, from “rebellion” to “resistance,” Riel’s legacy is becoming better understood, and with it, the Métis nation in Canada.

“Often we say we’re this forgotten people,” said Lessard. “The Crown as well as the federal government did take our land as well, and there was the promise that there would be compensation well – that never occurred.”

Lessard, who is also a director with the Boundary Métis Community Association, attributes the shift in understanding to listening to a different group of storytellers.

“The difference is that now we acknowledge the historians of the day that were telling the story were trained, educated, probably British, historians.”

Now, history recognizes the voices of the Métis, who have been telling their own stories first-hand for over a century.

In 2016, B.C. officially proclaimed Nov. 16 to be Louis Riel Day in the province. Grand Forks, however, will be celebrating a day early. At 11 a.m. on Friday, the flag raising ceremony will start at Gyro Park – though Lessard encourages people to arrive around 10:45 to get settled into the fiddle music with a cup of hot chocolate.

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