Thursday, November 7, 2013

Why Aboriginal Veterans' Day Matters: A Remembrance

You remember in army cadets that one time, you were on exercise and the troop was given the task of building shelters. You were handed rope and tarp and other little essentials with which to carry out the project.  Your Dad, one of our instructors, then came up to you and took everything away.  You protested but he silenced it when he said "What are the odds you will have everything you will need to survive?"  No one explicitly said this is how to build a shelter, but as you stood there, your Dad nudged a broken branch with his foot and always sort of stood near the next piece of the puzzle, making you figure it out on your own, although  you realize now that you were never alone.  By the end of it, you had a full audience of cadets and instructors who applauded the completed (but far from perfect) shelter.  The only response that mattered was the soft "Well done" from your Dad.

Your father was Saulteaux and M├ętis-Cree and he joined the Canadian Armed Forces when he was seventeen, an Engineer, though, for the life of you, you can't remember which Corps. In this career, he served in Gagetown, Chilliwack (where he added a wife to the army life and you as well), West Germany back when there was a West Germany, Chilliwack, Esquimalt, Kingston, Borden, Vancouver and retirement. While serving, he also worked as a radio deejay and a television commentator. He taught in the army cadets.

Not content to retire, he joined the RCMP and continued to serve, taking a special interest in seeing that the Aboriginal youth in his posting were treated fairly. He started the Seabird Island Army Cadets to give them something to do (it saddens you to see the Native youth were forgotten and abandoned by the Corps after his passing). You remember one night, after a long shift as a night security officer at the provincial park, he pulled you over, full sirens and everything, only to be told to "Call your mother, she hasn't heard from you in days."

One night, right before Christmas 2002, he went out and never returned. He died of natural causes but he died in the line of duty. He is and was a veteran. He served.

Every year, you remind anyone who will listen to acknowledge and teach about Aboriginal Veterans' Day. You do it for Cst. Vernon Genaille and all the others who step up to serve. They choose to serve for many reasons: to escape the Rez, to protect their ancestral homelands, to honour the treaties, because they believe in something better (hard to understand when you think of how Canada is treating First Nations at the moment). They served in hostile environments within their own countries, their own units. They watched the military deployed against their own people on some occasions. On Friday, you will put out some tobacco, take a moment of silence and then continue to look for, in your role as educator, as filmmaker, as blogger, that better tomorrow you are sure he was working on creating. And hopefully, someday, you will hear a soft "well done" in that space between sleep and awake.

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