High on the banks of the lake, there’s a memorial. It’s a simple design. It’s made of concrete and stands about six feet high. Engraved on it are the names of men who fought and died in one of the wars.
There’s a proud tradition on my home reserve of serving with the Canadian Armed Forces. At one time, it was another proud tradition to observe Remembrance Day. It used to be a big deal. There was a feeling of pride when the veterans would gather at our community hall.
Things have changed.
My earliest recollection of a Remembrance Day service was heading towards the hall on the back of a horse-drawn wagon. I can still hear the bells around the horse’s harness. I can hear the fiddle music. There was the feast. It was always traditional food: moose, elk, fish and wild berries. The surviving veterans had their place of honour. Traditional hand drummers would come and sing songs from the past.
It was a remarkable gathering of people who shared the pride of their soldiers — their warriors. Today Remembrance Day seems like just another day – a day off work. It’s not because of lack of pride for our veterans. Nor is it because the people on my home reserve don’t care. Far from it. It’s because we have almost no veterans left. One of our last veterans passed away earlier this year.
His name isn’t important, he told me, because he wasn’t any different than any other First Nations veteran.
“When I was young, the Canadian Army came to the reserve and asked all the young men to a meeting,” he said, sharing the story of his recruitment.
They were told there were people who wanted to fight.
“We all looked at each other wondering who wanted to fight,” he said.
“The Jarmens,” the commanding officer yelled. “The Jarmens want a war.”
He then went further and said if the Jarmens want a war, then we’ll give them a battle.
Our men, all of whom volunteered to serve, were sent to Edmonton for training to fight the Jarmens.
“It wasn’t until we got there we found there were no Jarmens, but the war was with the Germans,” the veteran told me.
For years there have been attempts to hang a Canadian flag on the monument, but every time someone would climb up and steal it.
Last year the chief and council commissioned an artist to carve a marble eagle to place on the monument. It established the feeling of a part of history. Now the cenotaph has an eagle that stands boldly on top. It’s a fitting tribute to our soldiers — our warriors.
Often, I walk around the memorial. Most times I would stop and pay my respect. I refuse to be one of those who forget. There are too many talking trash just because they can. If it wasn’t for the names engraved on the memorial, they wouldn’t have the freedom to speak. Indeed, if wasn’t for those who were laid to rest, we would be speaking Jarmen.
Throughout the years, I have been privileged to interview aboriginal veterans. The one thing they all had in common was they served the people. Today, we can walk with safety with our families because members of the Canadian Armed Forces served us.
I look at the names on the memorial and I see my last name. It was during the Second World War when a direct relative chose to fight. He never made it home. But what he died for is exactly what I’m writing about. I salute our veterans. I thank you for the freedom to do what my passion is: to share your stories.