Memorial teepee honours Indigenous veterans across Turtle Island

Standing front and centre of the First Nations University of Canada, a large glass teepee can be seen from inside the vehicle as you drive northbound on Regina's Ring Road from the city's south end.

'It is one way for us to publicly exhibit the resilience and strength of our culture and heritage': FNUniv VP

The First Nations University of Canada's First Nations Veterans Memorial Tipi was officially opened on June 6, 2008 to mark the anniversary of D-Day. A Remembrance Day service will be held in the teepee to honour Indigenous veterans this year on Nov. 9. (Brad Bellegarde/CBC)

Standing front and centre at the First Nations University of Canada's Regina campus is a large glass teepee that can be seen as you drive northbound on Ring Road from the city's south end.

The monumental teepee, standing like an Egyptian pyramid, is intended as a tribute to First Nations veterans who have served in Canadian and U.S. armed forces since the First World War.

"It is one way for us to publicly exhibit the resilience and strength of our culture and heritage," said Bob Kayseas, a vice-president at First Nations University.

The structure, officially known as the First Nations Veterans Memorial Tipi, was unveiled five years after the First Nations University of Canada opened its doors.

The date of that unveiling was June 6, 2008, the anniversary of a day that many across Canada consider to be one of the most significant in the country's history — D-Day.

For Denise Kaiswatum, an employee of FNUniv who was there when the teepee was officially opened, the event was something she won't forget.

"I had the opportunity to pin the roses on the veterans' lapels," said Kaiswatum.

"I got to meet so many veterans that day because they were invited from [across] Canada. So that day was very meaningful for me," she said.

Many of Saskatchewan's First Nations veterans who were in attendance for the grand opening have since died, but the memorial teepee remains as a testament to not only their sacrifice, but that of all Indigenous veterans.

"I think it's a really great place and when people ask me about it I will let them know that for me, I have family who served in the past … and I think it's important because they went and they served when they didn't have too," said Kaiswatum.

First Nations people were not deemed Canadian citizens at the time of the First World War and Second World War, and were therefore not subject to conscription.

'Our warriors put their life on the line'

Nathan Pasap, who was a student leader at the time of the teepee's grand opening, remembers going to classes during its construction.

"I remember walking through there thinking how nice it was going to be when it was completed," said Pasap, who is now chief of White Bear First Nation in Saskatchewan.

Pasap was also present on the teepee's opening day.

"We had a lot of veterans in attendance, a lot of media and a lot of leadership there to pay respect to the veterans," he said.

"I always think of all the different monuments we've built and how we honour [veterans] at powwows, and any time our people gather we're always grateful for the sacrifices," he said in a telephone conversation from Calgary.

Pasap said he served in the same regiment as his grandfather — the Royal Regina Rifles — for two years. He said the teepee is "near and dear to my heart."

The glass structure of the First Nations Veterans Memorial Tipi can be seen from Regina's Ring Road when driving by. This is the view from inside First Nations University. (Brad Bellegarde/CBC News)

Current First Nations University Students' Association president Fraser Heathen says the teepee is a significant piece of FNUniv because it gives students a sense of pride.   

"It's really special to know that our warriors put their life on the line for the benefit of all future generations," said Heathen, who is from the Onion Lake Cree Nation in Treaty 6 territory.

Chief Pasap added that although the teepee stands as a memorial to all those who served in the armed forces, he would like to see something added to it.

"Maybe a First Nations monument or sculpture to honour our veterans, right from colonization to the world wars to Afghanistan — something that captures the First Nations Veterans' Association spirit."

FNUniv will hold its annual Remembrance Day service in the First Nations Veterans Memorial Tipi on Nov. 9, starting with a pipe ceremony at 9:00 a.m. CST.


Brad Bellegarde

Reporter for CBC Indigenous based in Saskatchewan

Born and raised in Treaty 4 Territory, he holds an Indian Communication Arts Certificate from the First Nations University of Canada and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Regina. Follow him on Twitter @BBellegardeCBC