Native veterans did their part, despite being exempt from conscription


By Julia Prinselaar
Culture and tradition came together Sunday with the pounding of drums and the marching of feet on Mount McKay to remember the sacrifices made by First Nations in Canada’s armed forces.
“This memorial exists to honour our First Nations veterans and to strengthen the pride in the First Nations community. It has provided a focal point for veterans, their families, the communities, for all of us,” said Cathy Banning, daughter of the late Frank Banning, who served with the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment in the Second World War.
Frank Banning initiated the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Mount McKay cenotaph in 1995, which marked the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
Banning passed away in February 2010 and the tradition is carried on by members of his family.
Well over 200 people attended the service, including First Nations leaders, community members, members of the Canadian forces, veterans and their families.
“No one likes wars,’’ said Cathy Banning.
“To honour our veterans does not mean we support armed aggression, it simply means we support those human beings on a personal level by remembering their sacrifices and dedication to protect all human rights,” she said.
Beatrice Twance-Hynes of Pic River First Nation took to the podium to sing her rendition of the war poem In Flanders Fields.
The words of the famous poem rang out over the mountain as her voice coalesced with the rhythm of her drum.
“I’d like to thank all the spirits of our ancestors for being with us today, especially the ancestors of our warriors of who have passed on fighting for our country,” she said after the poem.
In honour of Fort William First Nation veterans, Chief Peter Collins laid the first wreath at the cenotaph.
More than 50 people from the reserve fought in the name of Canada.
Collins was followed by a steady stream of family members of aboriginal veterans as well as representatives of local, regional and national organizations who laid dozens of wreaths at the monument.
The procession was followed by a luncheon at Fort William’s community hall.
Although First Nations people were exempt from conscription, 24,000 aboriginal men and women volunteered for service in World War One and World War Two, combined.