Organization continues search to identify Indigenous veterans in unmarked graves

The Mohawks of Quint Bay have a long history of serving from World War I and World War II to Afghanistan, but Chief Donald Malakor has always known that many First Nations veterans lie in community cemeteries Unmarked graves.

That’s because many Aboriginal veterans returning from war do not receive the same benefits as other veterans, and their families often cannot afford appropriate headstones to commemorate their service to the royal family, Maracle said.

“It’s important for Canadians to remember that Aboriginal people could not be drafted into the military because they didn’t have the right to vote during World War I and World War II, and they were not considered British,” he said. ” The number of locals volunteering is disproportionate to our population.”

But with the help of a Canada-wide group working to identify Aboriginal veterans lying in unmarked graves, eight Mohawk veterans from the Great War now have proper headstones to mark their military service.

Maracle says grave marking and respect are long overdue.

“Even though decades have passed, it’s better late than never,” he said.

Headstones are the product of a project led by the Last Post Fund, which launched the Indigenous Veterans Initiative in 2019 to promote reconciliation by identifying and providing appropriate headstones for those who lie in the absence of headstones. Another function of it is to provide existing military tombstones with traditional Aboriginal names and cultural symbols.

Through this initiative, the organization has studied thousands of Aboriginal veterans in Canada, uncovered hundreds of unmarked graves, and provided more than 165 grave markers. But Last Post Fund executive director Edouard Pahud said they had only scratched the surface and needed research, oral histories and expertise from Indigenous peoples about their own communities to ensure more were recognised.

“It means a lot to families and communities because 1/8 is so closely related to 3/8 military service. They are happy to see proper recognition and commemoration,” Pahud said, adding that some Aboriginal communities are not fully Learn about the history of the members they themselves have served.

“Indigenous veterans are just as deserving as our rank-and-file veterans in terms of having the proper memorial and proper military markings.”

The Aboriginal Veterans Initiative is based on a list provided by Yann Castelnot, a French amateur historian living in Quebec who has compiled one of the largest databases of Aboriginal soldiers, including nearly 15,000 Canadian-born soldiers.

Pahud said he would never have known that many of the people on the list were Aboriginal, noting that several had French or religious names imposed during boarding school, or new names in order to join the armed forces.

Because many traditional military markings have specific regiments on them, researchers for the initiative went to Kerry artist Jason Carter to design culturally relevant symbols, based on the Seven Holy Religion, that families could choose to etch in stone.

To confirm whether Aboriginal veterans are in unmarked graves, the initiative typically contacts Aboriginal communities to assess interest in helping with research. Identifying veterans is highly dependent on research and oral histories from Indigenous communities, said Maria Trujillo, Indigenous program coordinator for the Last Post Fund.

“It’s amazing that when I mention a veteran’s name, people immediately associate them with the community,” Trujillo said, adding that when researchers were unable to confirm the service of Indigenous veterans When recording, oral histories become key.

“They know their people very well, which is helpful for research.”

As a result of its partnership with First Nations, the Last Post Fund’s list of Indigenous veterans has grown through word of mouth as the community helps add names to veterans who were not on Castelnot’s original list.

The initiative also seeks to generate interest by writing articles, advertising in newspapers and magazines (many of which focus on Aboriginal people) and participating in Pow Wows. A documentary about the initiative is also in the works in collaboration with Aboriginal filmmakers.

The total number of Indigenous veterans on the list of Indigenous veterans studied by the Last Post Fund to date is less than 25 percent. Most of the research to date since the program’s inception has focused on the western provinces, with Pahud and Trujillo choosing to make Ontario a greater focus in the years ahead, as Castellnott’s list shows, There are more than 5,000 Aboriginal veterans in the province alone. So far, the program has conducted research on less than 20 percent of these veterans.

“When I call the community, a lot of people are surprised and they’ll say, ‘I didn’t even know this existed, I didn’t know we could access it,'” Trujillo said.

Interest in the initiative has naturally grown over time, she said, and feedback from veterans’ families and Indigenous communities makes her optimistic that more will join by supporting its research.

“I really think that if more people got to know us, we would have more families coming in directly with us.”

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