As Remembrance Day approaches, I am reminded of how profoundly I was moved by the Remembrance Day assembly at my son’s school last year. I found it particularly poignant for two reasons.
What I found initially striking was that the ceremony was presided over by all women, something I’d never seen before. They were school Principal, Glenda Speight, RCMP Constable Erin McAvoy, impressive in her Red Serge, and Andrea Hotomanie, the district Aboriginal Support Worker.
Andrea Hotomanie was the second reason of note. She stood up in recognition of the First Nations who serve and have served in the Canadian Military. She wore a magnificent button blanket around her shoulders. It was the first time I had seen this kind of inclusion at any school remembrance assembly. It brought me to tears.
It moved me so deeply because it was the first time I felt my grandfather and uncles included in these remembrances in a way that they hadn’t before. It brought them, Cree warriors from Northern Alberta, faded from history for so many decades, up to the front too. I felt they were being honored for the first time as servicemen and not as guests in the back of my mind, while all the other heroes were noted up on the screens and in the speeches. Between Andrea’s presence and my son nearby, this acknowledgement brought it all fully home to my heart.
All those many years ago, there was never any doubt that at least three of my uncles would join the military from the time that, as young boys, they stared admiringly at the one photo of my grandfather in his uniform until they were all signed up and fitted into their own.
Along with pride of nation and reverence for the uniform, there was another underlying and stirring reason to join up. Uncle Philip finally expressed it after I asked him why he always declared that his favorite job was being in the Canadian forces. He said, “Respect”. While he wore that uniform, it was the first time in his life that he was treated with honest to God respect, and it didn’t matter where he was in the world. It was his greatest time of honor and pride. I can’t say so for my grandfather or the other uncles, but I suspect they felt much the same.
Their presence at the Remembrance Day assembly that day was palpable to me, and I have no doubt that they were all there in full uniform.
There is a lot of history about Indigenous participation in the military and the details are available more than ever. I would encourage anyone to look up that history sometime for some very interesting and enlightening reading.
For now, I would just like to say thank you to my family for their courage. We will always be proud. We will always remember.
In remembrance of:
To an old friend serving in Afghanistan, Deputy Chief of Staff, John Valtonen, as always, thank you, and stay safe.
Our Home and Native Braves was published October 30, 2013 on the Reader’s Digest community website: http://www.readersdigest.ca/our-canada/community-blog/our-home-and-native-braves
Recommended link for Native military history:
A Commemorative History of Aboriginal People in the Canadian Military: