Sagkeeng students experience Vimy memorial firsthand

17 students travelled to France to witness the 100th anniversary memorial service

17 students travelled to France to witness the 100th anniversary memorial service

Sagkeeng Anicinabe High School students pose for a photo before their flight to France to take part in the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge (Cindy Guimond)

A group of students from Sagkeeng Anicinabe High School travelled to France to take part in the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

It was an eye-opening experience for Grade 12 student Sierra Courchene, who was thinking that she wanted to study history after she graduates and on Sunday found herself in the middle of it. 

"It was very touching, you know, the ceremony," Courchene said.

"They spent hours calling the names and every once and a while I'd realize, you know, these are all actual people who fought and sacrificed for our country, for the world, for peace. It was very overwhelming, but in a good way; it's something you would want to feel."

Ashley Courchene in front of a section of the Vimy memorial (Ashley Courchene)

For Grade 11 student Ashley Courchene, leaving the small Sagkeeng community to travel to Europe has been an incredible experience.

"It's been very eye-opening," Ashley Courchene said, "and very touching to know that ancestors of mine have been on these lands before and fighting battles all the way far from home, it's just a great experience."

For most of the students, this is their first time holding a passport; for some it's their first time leaving the province. 

"I really believe that our kids need to experience, to get out there and see the world beyond the reserve, beyond Winnipeg, beyond the province, beyond the country, and what's out there," said Claude Guimond, the kids' principal and trip chaperone.

Guimond tells his students that a lot of Indigenous people enlisted in the Armed Forces and fought in battles like Vimy, a fact few of them know. And he tells them the story of his great uncle William James Morriseau, fought and died Oct. 1, 1918 — just a month short of armistice — and is honoured on the Vimy memorial.

Guimond says that traditionally, Anishinabe students are shy, but trips like this bring the best out in them.

"They take it in, you know, once they realize where they are, and that they're seeing things none of their family members are probably ever going to see, and they start to grasp it that, this is real, this is something that might change my life."

The nearly two-week trip also included a stop at Anne Frank's house in The Netherlands.