London

How should we honour Indigenous Veterans Day on Nov. 8? One Ontario town is starting small

For the first time in the town’s history, Ingersoll will host a gathering to honour the important contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis veterans on National Indigenous Veterans Day.

On Tuesday a wreath-laying ceremony in Ingersoll will commemorate Indigenous veterans

Indigenous wreaths are laid on Indigenous Veterans Day in honour of the contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis veterans. (Angie Hallman/Supplied)

For the first time in the town's history, Ingersoll will host a gathering to honour the important contributions of Indigenous veterans as part of National Indigenous Veterans Day on Nov. 8. 

"I think it's about time that we honour their services," said Robert Mabee, president of Ingersoll's Legion Branch 119.

"Indigenous veterans haven't really been recognized all that much compared to other veterans."

Community members will gather at Ingersoll's cenotaph at 10 a.m. to mark the day. A wreath will be laid down and words shared in honour of the veterans. The town of about 13,000 is located 22 kilometres east of London. 

The first National Aboriginal Veterans Day was founded in 1994 in Manitoba to honour First Nations, Inuit and Metis veterans in Canada, and has since spread across the country to become a national day of recognition.

'Some of the most notable soldiers were First Nations'

"I think it's just an acknowledgement that we were also there. We just want to make sure that we're not an afterthought and that our contributions are also recognized," said Grand Chief Joel Abram of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians. 

It's "great news" to Abram that a local community is taking steps to honour these veterans. It's an example that he hopes others will follow. 

Joel Abram is Grand Chief at the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians. (AIAI Chiefs Council)

For Abram, who had both uncles and two great grandfathers enlist in the Canadian military, commemorating Indigenous veterans is personal. 

When his great grandfather George Abram was fighting in the First World War, his kids were taken away and sent to residential schools. His great grandfather was a survivor of the residential school system himself, attending Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sioux Ste. Marie. 

"It was tough," he said.

"Some of the most notable soldiers were First Nations," said Abram, mentioning Ojibway war hero Tommy Prince and Ojibway sniper, Francis Pegahmagabow, known as Canada's most effective sniper in the First World War. 

But when Indigenous veterans returned home from war, federal racist policies denied many of the benefits and rights offered to other veterans. When Prince died in 1977, he was homeless.

To join the Canadian military, some Indigenous men had to sign away their rights, Abram said.

"You're no longer First Nation according to the government kind of thing, except they are still treated like Indians when they got back home."

'An opportunity we should take' 

These stories are exactly why Barbara Blower wanted to see the day acknowledged in Ingersoll. 

She first reached out to Ingersoll's legion to do something in honour of Indigenous Veterans Day ceremony after participating in similar gatherings in her former community of Uxbridge, Ont. She moved to Ingersoll in the summer and walks by the legion regularly. Just a couple weeks ago, she stopped in and proposed the idea to a bartender. 

A woman speaks into a microphone
Barbara Blower approached Ingersoll's legion about holding a gathering in honour of Indigenous Veterans Day. She is pictured giving a land acknowledgement on the day in Uxbridge last year. (Stuart Blower 2018)

"I really feel that every opportunity that we have to honour the first people of this land is an opportunity that we all should take," she said. "As settlers learn and understand, they can inspire others to learn and understand also."

She sees the ceremony as an opportunity for the public to come and pay their respects. 

Blower said the legion is also selling lapel pins to commemorate Indigenous veterans out of their 221 Thames Street North location.

The lapel pin commissioned by the Royal Canadian Legion honouring Indigenous Veterans Day. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Both is a reporter for CBC London. She holds a master's degree in journalism and communication from Western University. You can reach her at michelle.both@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @michellelboth.

now