SCOTCHFORT, P.E.I. - P.E.I. Senator Brian Francis says much still needs to be done to promote reconciliation.
Francis, who served as Abegweit First Nation Chief for more than 11 years after getting the nod last month as the Island’s newest senator, was speaking Thursday at a National Aboriginal Veterans Day service on a reserve in Scotchfort.
He told, as way of a cautionary tale, the story of a Mi’kmaq soldier named Lawrence Maloney, who was born in Nova Scotia but moved to Lennox Island after the Second World War.
During Maloney’s service in Poland, he was captured by the Nazis and taken to a concentration camp where he was subjected to mistreatment and forced labour.
Many years after the war, Maloney, who was a residential school survivor, described life in the concentration camp as harsh but added the residential schools were sometimes harder.
“I think this one story illustrates,’’ said Francis, “the two points that I would like to leave with you today: to pay our respects and say thank you to our Aboriginal veterans for their courage and their service; to remember how much work we have to do in this country to promote reconciliation between Canada and its Indigenous Peoples.’’
National Aboriginal Veterans Day is a memorial observed in Canada in recognition of Aboriginal contributions to military service, particularly in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War.
More than 7,000 First Nations members served in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War, and an unknown number of Inuit, Métis and other Indigenous people participated. One veterans group estimates that 12,000 Indigenous men and women served in the three wars.
National Aboriginal Veterans Day has been growing in size and scope since it was inaugurated by Winnipeg’s city council in 1994, with commemorations popping up in different parts of the country.
Thursday marked the first service held by the Abegweit First Nation in P.E.I.
“Just to get the word out and to educate our people that Nov. 8th is a significant day for our ancestors and our grandfathers and our grandmothers.”
Roddy Gould, a member of the Abegweit First Nation who grew up on the Scotchfort reserve, hopes the service will be an annual event in the community.
“Just to get the word out and to educate our people that Nov. 8th is a significant day for our ancestors and our grandfathers and our grandmothers,’’ he said.
Gould served as master of ceremony in a service featuring traditional drumming and dancing, as well as speeches from representatives of Veterans Affairs Canada, the province and the military.
“Today we gather to honour and commemorate Aboriginal veterans and to recognize the contributions that Indigenous people in this country have made through military service,’’ said Francis.
“In Prince Edward Island, it is a fact that the Mi’kmaq had a greater percentage of soldiers serving in both World War 1 and World War II than any other community on P.E.I. The Mi’kmaq were quick to selflessly volunteer … to fight and die for a country that did not consider them to be citizens.’’
The most touching – and emotional – portion of the service was saved until the end.
A special trail built on the reserve as part of a major military exercise across P.E.I. was dedicated to the family of Sapper Erik Bronson Bernard, a soldier from the Scotchfort reserve who was killed in a motor vehicle collision in New Brunswick on Nov. 27, 2016.
Gloria Bernard, mother of the late soldier, was overwhelmed by the surprise dedication.
“I wasn't expecting this at all,’’ she told The Guardian.
“I was just blown away…it’s indescribable how I felt. It was just a lot of pride and love.’’