Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson speaks at the First Nations veterans Remembrance Day ceremony at the Chase Community Hall on Sunday, Nov. 4. (Jim Elliot/Salmon Arm Observer)

Secwepemc community honours veterans

The ceremony at the Chase Community Hall featured tales of the challenges aboriginal veterans faced

Veterans of military service forgotten by many over the years were remembered at a ceremony in Chase on Nov. 4.

The gathering at the Chase Community Hall celebrated the military service of members of the Secwepemc Nation.

After a colour party from the Royal Canadian Legion led by Neskonlith elder Ken Saul carrying an eagle staff marched in, the ceremony began with an address from Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson.

“Just one area of the work in reconciliation that needs to be done is recognizing our aboriginal veterans,” Wilson said.

Jim Dunn, the Chase Legion’s Sgt. At Arms, said it was an honour and a pleasure to be involved in the ceremony.

Things began with a series of traditional songs which carried themes of loss, healing and homecoming.

Before one such song, Ralph McBryan, one of the hand-drummers, told a story about an unrecognized veteran he met at the Squilax Pow Wow 15 years ago. The man McBryan met was from the Secwepemc territory but had served as a U.S. Army Ranger during the Korean War.

Related:Younger Canadians interested in attending Remembrance Day events: poll

“They called all veterans to dance and I knew him and I knew he was a veteran and that he had served, but he was not received at home with any kind of accommodation or any kind of recognition.”

When McBryan asked the man why he was not taking the floor with the other veterans, the man replied he felt unwelcome because he had served in the United States. McBryan eventually convinced the man to dance and be recognized.

“He had spent at that time, 30 years not being recognized and when he came off the dance floor after we had a chance to thank him for his service, he had tears coming down. When I was talking to him before, he was small, he kept himself small, but once his people recognized him, he became big.”

After the songs, Georgia Jules spoke on First Nations people’s history of military service.

“Indigenous people have fought on the front lines of every major battle Canada has been involved in, and have done so with valour and distinction,” she said.

Although approximately 7,000 status First Nations people as well as an unknown number of Metis, Inuit and non-status First Nations people served in the First and Second World Wars as well as the Korean War, Jules said it was not until 1995 that Indigenous people were allowed to lay Remembrance Day wreaths at the national war memorial to honour their fallen comrades.

According to Jules, after their service in the First World War was at an end, government regulations made it difficult for the First Nations veterans to return home. The Indian Act specified that Indians absent from reserves for more than four years no longer had status, she said.

“When they returned to their home communities after the war they no longer had Indian status, they did not have the right to obtain benefits provided to non-aboriginal veterans due to Indian Act restrictions,” Jules said.

“The lives of numerous aboriginal veterans ended in despair and poverty.”

Jules showed a slide show featuring the names of all of the Secwepemc veterans and numerous historical photographs showing them serving in a variety of military roles from the First World War to the present day.


@SalmonArm
jim.elliot@saobserver.net

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