WIIKWEMKOONG—Kathleen Eshkibok, an associate member of the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch No. 25, Sault Ste Marie, as well as a member of the Ladies’ Auxiliary, Branch 177, Little Current is a passionate advocate for the continuing education of youth about the important sacrifices that war veterans have made.
Ms. Eshkibok, who comes from a family with a long history of military service, including her father Henry L. Eshkibok, uncles Robert Eshkibok and Frank Eshkibok and aunt Tillie Eshkibok, all of whom were WWII veterans, organizes a contest in Wiikwemkoong aimed at honouring veterans and keeping their stories alive.
The contest, which was held for the second time this year and open to high school-aged youth, was highlighted at the Wasse Abin High School Remembrance Day Ceremony held on Friday, November 9.
The contest winners included Hope Osawamick Memegwans-Kwe for first place in the essay contest and Joel Peltier for second place in the same category. Jasmyn Manitowabi was awarded first prize in the art and multi-media category and Aaryn Zoccole was awarded second prize.
Ms. Eshkibok, who had been thinking about creating this contest for some time, became involved in the Royal Canadian Legion because she had heard a lot of stories about veterans coming home from war and how they were never the same. She talks poignantly about how her aunt Josephine Eshkibok spoke about her uncle Frank Eshkibok, who was reported missing in action and held as a prisoner of war in Germany and how he was never the same after he came home. She says, “it hurt my heart so much that he sacrificed his life for everyone’s freedom, and who paid the price? He and the other veterans did.”
It’s this price that the veterans paid for our freedom that Ms. Eshkibok wants our youth to learn about through this contest. She adds “we don’t want history to repeat itself—what better way to hand down these memories and knowledge about the sacrifices that our veterans made, on our behalf, to our young children and youth than through personal storytelling?”
She explains that the original contest idea was to get the high school students “to dig deep down to their roots, to a great uncle, a great auntie, a great grandparent” who may be a veteran from WWI, WWII, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, or other wars. She adds that there are a lot of roots and a lot of veterans in Wiikwemkoong making for a lot of stories to write about. She suggests that youth who do not have any veterans in their family look at the names on the cenotaph and research the stories of the veterans listed there.
Ms. Eshkibok wants youth and adults to know, that “our Anishinaabek, even though they were not conscripted during WWI and WWII, went to war anyway—they fought for Turtle Island.” She talks about the sacrifices that the Anishinaabek veterans made, some of whom were only 14-years-old, lying about their age to get into the army.
She explains that most of the Anishinaabek who went to war had to enfranchise so they could become Canadian citizens in order to fight for Canada, and in doing so, they gave up their rights as Anishinaabek. What is probably most heartbreaking is that most of the veterans, while considered equal on the battlefield, were not considered equal upon their return home from war. They did not receive the same assistance as other veterans but were no longer considered Indians. Ms. Eshkibok believes this is history that needs to be remembered.
Many area businesses believe in the goals of the contest as well and Ms. Eshkibok received resounding support for the contest through monetary donations for prizes.
In a touching tribute to her late uncle Andrew Manitowabi, who recently passed away, last year’s story winner, Jasmyn Manitowabi, re-read her story about Mr. Manitowabi’s life, including his experience as a soldier.
In addition to hosting this contest, Ms. Eshkibok works to ensure that Anishinaabek veterans are recognized through researching veterans who are not currently included in the Military Service Recognition Book, produced by the Royal Canadian Legion. Ms. Eshkibok, who can be reached through the Little Current branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, welcomes information for inclusion in the book from veterans and family members of veterans.