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Native veterans remembered

Article Origin

Author

Pamela Sexsmith, Sage Writer, NORTH BATTLEFORD

Volume

4

Issue

3

Year

2000

Page 3

The Remembrance Day service in North Battleford paid full honor to First Nation and Metis veterans.

Sponsored by the Gold Eagle Casino and Battleford Tribal Council of Chiefs, the early morning pipe ceremony, service and honor roll took place at Battleford Tribal Council Indian Child and Family Services.

Several hundred people braved the cold for the laying of the wreaths and unveiling of the new Native Veterans Monument, and attended the honor banquet held in the Kehiw restaurant at the Gold Eagle Casino.

Supported by members of the Mosquito Drum, several traditional songs were shared in the Remembrance Day circle.

The songs paid tribute to a long-standing tradition of honor and sacrifice to the 'proud carriers of the shield.'

After reading the names of the fallen warriors, George Benson, a veteran of the Korean war, called for The Last Post. Benson then spoke about battles still being fought by Native veterans, wives and widows.

"About two months ago, I passed out handouts from Grand Chief [Howard] Anderson, stating that there would be something for the Native veterans on Nov. 11," Benson said referring to a compensation package. "But that didn't happen. Still we are going ahead, fighting this battle with the government and Indian Affairs for the wrongs done to our veterans who fought in the wars. We will not give up. We are going right through," he said.

Veteran Solomon Stone shared his great-grandfather's last song with the audience. He sang the death song of Hanging Hair, one of the seven Aboriginal warriors hanged for their part in the Louis Riel-led resistance of 1885. Stone also gave an account of his great-grandfather's last moments, oral history passed on to him by his great-grandmother who was an eyewitness at the jail and scaffold.

Everyone stood, many cried, as Stone recalled his powerful, moving narrative of the mistreatment of Native warriors, past and present.

"Veterans, chiefs, guests: I am very honored to be here to remember our veterans, the ones passed on and those still with us. I pray to the Creator that they stay with us longer, because we need the veterans. Where I come from, Mosquito First Nation, we have seven veterans left. My grandparents, my uncles are all gone. Today, I hope and pray, my veterans are in heaven where my Creator gathers all their spirits," said Stone.

"I remember the times of my great-grandfather, Hanging Hair. Our brave warriors were hanged in North Battleford, fighting for their reservation. He was lead out in handcuffs, a rope was waiting for him, and a few steps away, my great-grandmother watched while Hanging Hair spoke his last words."

"'Grandchild, I am finished working. I am going home where our Creator gathers all the spirits, but carry on, carry on grandson. I am going to have a rest.'"

"My great-grandma used to talk about this. She used to cry," said Stone.

Stone said he was the fifth generation descendent of Hanging Hair.

"He sang a song when he came out of the jail, hands tied behind. That song he left us to carry on with, for us to live with," said Stone. "Now my grandfathers are all gone. They are having a rest. Still today, I have a lonely feeling. Veterans, don't give up. We love you."

Statistics show that during the two world wars, Aboriginal people had the highest percentage of volunteers of any group in Canada. One out of every three able-bodied men in the age group went to war for Canada, explained Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations vice-chief Lawrence Joseph.

"Thank you for our freedom. I never had to go to war. We salute our veterans, our comrades. They volunteered in great numbers to protect the country they loved. Here we are, 55 years later, still fighting for our just dues. First Nations veterans are fighting to get the same payments that their [non-Native] comrades got when they came home," said Joseph.