Veterans travel to France for Calling Home Ceremony
by: David Wiwchar / Today correspondentClick to Enlarge
PORT ALBERNI, British Columbia - Twenty aboriginal veterans of World War II and 13 aboriginal youth, representing every region of Canada, recently accompanied spiritual leaders on a visit to commemorative sites related to the first and second world wars, including Ypres, Vimy Ridge and Juno Beach in Normandy, France.
Carrying sacred packages of tobacco, sage, sweetgrass and other items of spiritual importance from their First Nations, elders will conduct private ceremonies to bring home the spirits of those who died so far away from their families and communities.
''Our warriors did not have a chance to receive their traditional farewell,'' said Ray Rogers, chairman of the organization First Nations Veterans of Canada. ''Bringing home their spirits is an important journey of healing and closure. It unites the past, the present and the future.''
''We want Canada to know that our aboriginal soldiers were in every major battle won by Canadian regiments. We are proud of our Dene warriors and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives. This spiritual journey will offer a peace of mind to us, and an opportunity to pay our respects to our fallen warriors with thanksgiving prayers and spiritual ceremonies. We shall remember them,'' said Tom Eagle, representing Veterans North of 60.
An inukshuk (''in the image of man,'' human-like stone figures erected by the Inuit people of the Canadian Arctic) will be constructed and placed at an appropriate overseas location to serve as a permanent reminder of the contribution of Canada's first peoples in service to their country.
The delegation left Ottawa on Oct. 25 and returned Nov. 4 to participate in the launch of Veterans' Week 2005.
Aboriginal spiritual leaders and leaders of organizations representing aboriginal veterans proposed the overseas ceremonies, which are being undertaken with the support of the government of Canada through Veterans Affairs Canada and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.
''This will be a journey unlike any taken in Canadian history, and I hope this unprecedented Year of the Veteran event will cast new light on the significant wartime participation, contribution, and sacrifices of aboriginal people from all across Canada,'' said the Honourable Albina Guarnieri, minister of Veterans Affairs and head of the official delegation. ''It has come about because of the vision of Canada's aboriginal community. It was clearly a very powerful vision and through a lot of hard work and persistence it is now about to happen. And never before have we had a delegation specifically comprised of aboriginal veterans. It could not happen at a more appropriate time than during the Year of the Veteran,'' he said.
''As an expression of Canada's gratitude, the government of Canada has undertaken a commitment to preserve and pass on the contributions and achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Metis veterans to future generations,'' said the Honourable Andy Scott, minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and Federal Interlocutor for Metis and Non-Status Indians. ''I hope that the Calling Home Ceremony and associated events will highlight the significant sacrifices that First Nations, Inuit and Metis people have made for their country.''
Aboriginal peoples from every region of Canada served in the armed forces during WW II, fighting in every major battle and campaign of the conflict. To serve their country in the armed forces, aboriginal Canadians had to overcome unique cultural challenges. Their courage, sacrifices and accomplishments are a continuing source of pride to their families, communities, and all Canadians.
At least 3,000 status (treaty) Indians - including 72 women - enlisted in WW II, as well as an unknown number of Inuit, Metis and other Natives. The actual numbers were no doubt much higher. Among this small number of identified aboriginal members of the forces, at least 17 decorations for bravery in action were earned.
Thousands of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people served Canada in WWI, WWII and the Korean War. More than 500 known aboriginal war dead are buried in Commonwealth War Graves Commission and other cemeteries around the world.
2005 is the Year of the Veteran: Celebrate. Honor. Thank. Remember. Teach.