First Nation War Memorial

Earlier this week I posted about the “World’s Tallest Totem Pole” in Beacon Hill Park.  When I visited the pole last weekend I was particularly struck by a small plaque on the steel structure which supports the pole. It memorializes the First Nation’s war dead from the two world wars. A suitable post for Remembrance Day on 11/11/11.

I don’t know when “this tablet” was added to the pole structure, or if the pole was intended to not only tell its own story but to also act as a war memorial. Regardless of intentions, the pole does serve as a war memorial due to placement of the plaque. This may no longer be the world’s tallest totem pole, but perhaps it is the world’s tallest free-standing war memorial.

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Detailed information on First Nation’s participation in “Canada’s” wars seems a bit hard to come by. One on-line source I could find is  Canada History, Native Soldiers where we learn that about 500 First Nations people died in the two world wars and the Korean war, out of about 7,000 or 8,000 that joined the Canadian military. If war stories, or little known corners of history, are your cup of tea, then the Native Soldiers link is worth a visit.

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I am quite leery of marking Remembrance Day because so much of what I see and hear on this day seeks and/or serves to glorify war and justify the lousy and often lazy political decisions that allowed war to happen. However, I do feel that people who go to war because they believe strongly enough in their duty to country, protection of an ideal or other higher motives should be respected and remembered. This is particularly true of the aboriginal veterans who are memorialised here. These 7,000 or 8,000 men had every justification to refuse the call to arms. And yet they fought, for a country that denied them the vote, denied them their fundamental human rights, denied them a beer or two in a bar. They truly deserve remembrance and honour for rising above the racism and paternalism of the Indian Act and by so doing pointing a way forward. Forward to a society better than the status quo that many of their fellow soldiers from settler communities were fighting to preserve.

“The war proved that the fighting spirit of my tribe was not squelched through reservation life. When duty called, we were there, and when we were called forth to fight for the cause of civilization, our people showed all the bravery of our warriors of old.” – Mike Mountain Horse, First World War veteran, quoted in Canada History, Native Soldiers.

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Tanglefoot’s popular and moving song Vimy features three soldiers, one of them aboriginal, and shows that First Nations’ contributions to just causes are not going completely unrecognised among the Canadian majority.

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If you are wondering, as I did, what on earth’s name is the BC Indian Arts and Welfare Society, then you can find out more here.

2 thoughts on “First Nation War Memorial

  1. I visited Vimy Ridge some years ago, as part of a tour of the Western Front.

    The tour guide who took us round the tunnels told us that at one time, there were 10,000 Canadian soldiers there. At that time, no town or city in Canada had that many inabitants, so the largest group of Canadians gathered anywhere in the world was in northern France.

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    • Hi gfenton – thanks for visiting and commenting. We hear a lot, and I think more every year, about Vimy in Canada. The (military) historians point to the battle for Vimy Ridge as a defining moment in the making of a Canadian identity, when we began to separate ourselves from the skirts of Brittannia. There were more than 10,000 Canadian casualties at Vimy, including 3,600 dead, so I expect that there were many more than 10,000 Canadians there at that time.

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