By Chevi Rabbit, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – November 8 is National Indigenous Remembrance Day – a day when Canadians recognize and remember the military service by First Nation, Metis, and Inuit communities.
Maskwacis held their annual Maskwacis Cree Indigenous Remembrance Day in front of the Maskwacis cenotaph, which pays tribute to Indigenous war veterans from each of the four nations that make up Maskwacis Cree. (Samson Cree Nation, Montana Cree Nation, Louis Bull Cree Nation, and Ermineskin Cree Nation.)
“Montana First Nation is proud to be hosting this year’s Indigenous Remembrance Day to honour the sacrifices of our members,” said Carol Rabbit, Councillor of Montana Cree Nation.
After a short procession that consisted of local dignitaries, RCMP officials, prominent Maskwacis members, and Indigenous war veterans, speeches were made about the importance of Indigenous contributions to previous wars and sacrifices made by Indigenous war veterans and their families.
“Maskwacis Cree Remembrance Day is held annually, with responsibility for hosting rotating among each of the Four Nations. This year it was Montana First Nation,” said Shane Strongman, Master of Ceremonies and member of Montana First Nation.
Strongman said he is proud to be part of an event that honours Indigenous war veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice. “We are thankful to the Ponoka Legion for stepping up this year, attending, and being involved,” said Strongman.
“The majority of Canadians do not know about Indigenous veterans. Having an Indigenous Veterans Day is very important, so Canadians become aware of the contributions made by Indigenous veterans who made this country what it is today,” said Stan Orlesky, a member of the Royal Canadian Legion in Ponoka.
Orlesky said it was his first time coming to the Maskwacis Cree Indigenous Remembrance Day ceremony and it was fantastic.
“Today is important, Nov 8. recognizes that our people have done their part in all the great wars. For many of the war veterans, they gave up their rights as Indigenous people to serve,” said Samson Cree Nation Chief Vernon Saddleback.
Alberta Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson attended Maskwacis to pay tribute to Indigenous war veterans and honour the memory of Indigenous people who served in the Canadian military.
“Many thanks to the Montana Chief and Council for hosting this year’s somber and powerful ceremony. Heartfelt thanks to all of the other participants, especially those who took the time to share their personal stories with us – we will remember them,” said Wilson.
“Our Indigenous veterans went to war and fought for rights, freedoms, and privileges they themselves were denied in Canada,” said Samson Cree Nation Councillor Katherine Swampy.
“Maskwacis Cree members have been represented in every foreign conflict that Canada has been involved in. Yet, they have never been recognized in return,” said Richard Feehan Indigenous Relations Critic and former Minister of Indigenous Relations of Alberta.
He said we as Canadians need to do more celebrating of Indigenous war veterans who were neglected for years. “They fought in World War I and 2; when they came home they didn’t get any of the extra services that non-Indigenous veterans got and they weren’t even allowed to join the Legion,” noted Feehan.
He said ceremonies such as today’s help Canadians remember that Indigenous people dedicated themselves to Canada and fought for all Canadians.
“My Mosom (grandfather in Cree) private Daniel Joshua died in World War 1; he paid the ultimate sacrifice for our peace and freedoms,” said Leo Bruno.
Bruno said Indigenous war veterans never got the acknowledgment when they returned from the wars and they dealt with systemic racism within the Canadian army. “Many of the Indigenous war veterans came back to Canada hoping things would have changed but they continued to be treated with disrespect and hate by Canadians.”
Bruno said the Canadian Veterans Compensation Act annexed the outskirts of Maskwacis lands to non-Indigenous soldiers for payment without the prior consent of the four bands. There has been no compensation given to Indigenous families for their sacrifices in the Canadian war.
Lest we forget.