WIIKWEMKOONG – A chilly day greeted the dozens of people who came to take part in a ceremony marking Aboriginal Veterans Day at the Wiikwemkoong cenotaph last Friday, November 8, at which the attendees paused to reflect on the significance of the day and give their thanks to the community’s last-surviving World War II veteran, Scotty Fisher.
Wiikwemkoong band councillor Margaret (Tish) Manitowabi welcomed everyone on behalf of chief and council as the sun began to peek through the cloud cover and offer much-appreciated warmth. She referred to the names listed on the war memorial as a testament to the people who decided to fight for freedom.
“All of these people here didn’t have to go, but they went for us,” she said.
Following a recitation of In Flanders Fields, Mr. Fisher’s grandson read the story of the veteran’s life. He was 17 when he enlisted, having lied about his age and changing his last name in order to enlist. He signed up to become a paratrooper while in training at Shiloh, Manitoba.
On Christmas Day, 1944, he was sent overseas.
Maggie King-Roi spoke next and described the pin she created to honour First Nations, Inuit and Métis veterans who had to sacrifice a particularly large amount to serve in the armed forces.
“They were equals on the battlefield as soldiers, but when they came home, equality didn’t exist. They couldn’t join the Legion,” said Ms. King-Roi. She added that they had to give up their Indian Status if they enlisted, and when they returned home it was not reinstated. They also were denied the right to vote.
“I didn’t want anyone to forget,” she said.
Mr. Fisher offered few words at the public ceremony, but the words he spoke seemed to resonate deeply with those gathered.
“Canada is the greatest place in the world and we’re very proud,” said Mr. Fisher.
Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha had come from Toronto to attend the Wiikwemkoong event and offered a few words on the occasion, followed by prepared remarks by Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes, which were read by Ms. Manitowabi because Ms. Hughes could not attend.
The people who served Canada from Wiikwemkoong were then honoured with a 21-gun salute by the Sergeant Charles Golden Silver Star Rifle Team, led by Richard Wayne Golden. Many of the members were wearing medicine pouches—the rifle team members were adopted into the community of Aundeck Omni Kaning at a ceremony last year, though Mr. Golden had already been welcomed into the community at an earlier gathering.
There was a heavy silence that hung between the three rounds of rifle blasts, offering a moment to pause and reflect on the sacrifices made by so many brave people so many years ago.
Following the salute, the community members were welcome to meet the uniformed individuals who helped conduct the ceremony, as well as Mr. Fisher. The community reconvened on Remembrance Day for another opportunity to remember the lives lost to the horrors of war, and to reflect that those sacrifices might one day be needed again.