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Remembering aboriginal veterans and their service


It was a cold and windy day, but at the Big Eddy Veterans Cemetery families of many different aboriginal veterans came out to commemorate National Aboriginal Veterans Day which took place this Wednesday.
Several members of OCN Chief and Council were in attendance including Onekanew/Chief of OCN Christian Sinclair who is a veteran himself, Vice-Onekanew Jennifer Flett, William ‘Shorty’ Lathlin, John Paul Martin and John Nasecapow. Members of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #19 also attended.
It was a brief but solemn ceremony as family members of veterans each told their stories. Flags were placed on gravesites and prayers were held. After the ceremony one family member talked about her father who served in World War II.
“My father John Charles Whitehead belonged to the Canadian Scottish Regiment and he served in World War II. He landed on Juno Beach, June 6, 1944 at the age of 20, he had just turned 20. He was injured during the war, he went inland into France, he survived the war but he was shot and left for dead on the street, there were snipers in buildings so he had to lay there with his wound until he could crawl away, get himself out of the street. He ended up in a hospital in London, (England),” said Maureen Brown, the daughter of an aboriginal veteran.
Growing up she can remember her father instilling that sense of respect for veterans in each of his kids, including her.
“We grew up in a family where we witnessed our father exhibit incredible character of honour and deep respect for fellow veterans. He instilled in each of our children that remembrance on Remembrance Day is very important, and to always remember the fight and the struggle against an ideology that was contrary to ours,” she said.
Brown also felt a deep sense of honour when other family members of veterans at the ceremony were talking about their experiences with their family, but she still wanted people to remember how aboriginal peoples were treated at home.
“I have feelings of pride that our men and women from our reservations enlisted for the war. I have great pride in thinking about that, but I also have a sadness that they endured such inequality during their time back here in Canada. I think about that and yet they stayed true to their values as a veteran, they stayed true to that honour,” Brown added.
Brown also wanted to say a few words ahead of Remembrance Day which is tomorrow.
“What I’d like to say is that the children of veterans, there’s something that has been deposited, instilled in the children of veterans. Not necessarily that veterans would sit their children down, teach them and say this and that,” Brown said, adding, “but it’s the way that they live their life for their children to honour their life and honour their service. It’s very powerful.”

Trevor Wright