ST. PAUL – For the first time, Portage College raised the Métis flag at its St. Paul Campus on Nov. 16, honouring the First Nations and Métis people who fought to keep the college open over 50 years ago.
Robert Rayko, based at Portage College’s Lac La Biche campus, is the cultural and community facilitator for all Portage College campuses. He said in 1968, Alberta NewStart was created in Lac La Biche as part of a federal initiative for basic adult education research.
The government decided to stop the research and close the facility in the winter of 1970. A group of Indigenous and Métis then staged a 26-day sit-in to challenge the federal government’s decision. They were successful, and a grant was provided to continue the NewStart program, with the school being renamed to “Pe-Ta-Pun,” said Rayko. “Which means... New Dawn.”
He explains that a board of governors was established.
“We were governed by an Indigenous governance mostly made up of Métis people.”
The Alberta government then took over the program, after the federal government stopped its funding. “We became an Alberta Vocational Centre [AVC],” said Rayko, and the school has been expanding ever since. Ultimately, a board of governors was established again in 1998, and the centre’s name was changed to Portage College in 1999.
It was the Indigenous and the Métis people that kept the college’s doors “open in our darkest time,” said Rayko. Since then, Portage College has expanded and introduced many campuses in the Lakeland region. The college’s campuses can be found in Boyle, Cold Lake, Frog Lake, Lac La Biche, Saddle Lake, St. Paul, and Whitefish Lake.
The flag raising on Thursday was also a significant symbol, not only for the college, but for St. Paul, as it recognizes St. Paul’s history as a former Métis settlement, said Rayko.
Nancy Broadbent, CEO and president of the college, noted that Nov. 16 is also the International Day of Tolerance, stating during a speech that she finds it very appropriate that they raise the Métis flag that day. It’s a day where the world celebrates all cultures, religions, backgrounds, promoting “unity and harmony in the world.”
The day also coincides with the death of Louis Riel, who was executed by hanging on public gallows on Nov. 16, 1885, and he too was honoured during the flag raising ceremony.
“Clearly on this day in 1885, when Louis Riel lost his life on a public gallows in Regina, there was little tolerance for his beliefs,” she said. A moment of silence followed in honour of Riel.
After the ceremony, Broadbent told Lakeland This Week, that with Portage College’s over 50 years of partnership with First Nations and Métis people, “We recognize that it’s our obligation and also our privilege to respect and honour the culture of the people in our region.”
The ceremony is also a part of the college’s “commitment to truth and reconciliation,” added Broadbent.
She thanked everybody who came out for the ceremony, including speakers such as Elder Irene Pollom, Elder Norman Sinclair, a veteran from Cold Lake who raised the flag, District 12 Captain of the newly formed Métis government, Bernie Poitras, and delegates from surrounding municipalities such as Town of St. Paul Mayor Maureen Miller, and EDO Linda Sallstrom of STEP Economic Development Alliance.
Broadbent also thanked Canadian Natural for being a partner and providing a complimentary meal of stew and bannock to all attendees.