Across Canada, aboriginal veterans are being remembered on November 8 for their years of service with the country’s military at home and abroad.
From working to defeat the United States during the War of 1812, to being ace snipers during World War I, Indigenous Peoples hailing from northern Turtle Island are being commemorated for Aboriginal Veterans Day.
Westbank First Nation earlier this week unveiled a monument to indigenous veterans, a statue of an aboriginal man and woman standing tall and proud, a soldier kneeling between them. Artist Smoker Marchand, of the Colville Confederated Tribes, designed and built the piece.
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“I wanted to show a strong Indian man. I wanted to show a strong Indian woman. And I wanted to show a soldier who could be any soldier—he could be Native, he could be any soldier—because I think it's important to represent all our people,” Marchand told the news site Kelowna Now. “My uncle said that when they got into the trenches, they were a band of brothers. There was no color. There was no difference in who they were. They fought together, and I think that's really important.”
This held true, certainly, during World War I, which was fought beginning 100 years ago this year. According to historical record quoted by the Canadian Press, out of all countries involved in the fighting, eight of the top dozen snipers came from Canada.
“Of those eight, at least five and probably six are aboriginal of some sort—Métis, First Nations or Inuit,” said historian Major Jim McKillip, with the Canadian Forces department of history and heritage, to the Canadian Press.
The most prominent indigenous marksman profiled by the Canadian Press was Corporal Francis Pegahmagabow, from what was then known as the Parry Island Indian Reserve in Ontario and is today the Wasauksing First Nation. The Ojibwe soldier was the most highly decorated aboriginal in Canada’s history, the Canadian Press said. Nevertheless he experienced discrimination upon returning home, his granddaughter told the newswire.
“Among other notable snipers were Johnson Paudash, of Kawartha Lakes, Ontario, who was described as a soft-spoken man with keen eyesight; Cree Henry Norwest, who hailed from the Edmonton area and had a reputation for striking fear into the Germans; and Louis Philippe Riel, nephew of Métis leader Louis Riel,” the Canadian Press said.
Read Aboriginal Soldiers Among Canada’s Top Snipers in First World War by the Canadian Press to learn how and why they served.