Nikiskisinan: we remember them



The Musée Héritage Museum will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Remembrance Day

• Photos, posters, and newspaper headlines from World War I, with a focus on the major events of 1917, including Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele

• Photos of St. Albert’s soldiers from the Boer War through World War II

• Displays of militaria, including helmets and cap badges

• Tunic and helmet try-ons

• The St. Albert Roll of Honour

• Poppy and peace dove crafts

• A display of military photos from our archives

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Tribute was paid to Indigenous veterans by both the provincial government and a local cultural institution this week.

“Today we honour the courage and sacrifice of Indigenous men and women whose selfless service to our country has helped provide the precious freedoms we enjoy in Canada,” stated Alberta’s Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan in marking National Aboriginal Veterans Day on Wednesday.

The moment, he said, was to offer a special honour to the legacy of the estimated 12,000 Indigenous veterans of both World Wars, the Korean War, and other more recent conflicts, all of whom risked their lives to fight oppression and secure freedom around the world.

“We will not forget.”

Here in St. Albert, Michif Cultural Connections unveiled a series of displays that focused on numerous Aboriginal members of various levels of military service.

Years ago, the late Senator Thelma Chalifoux wrote about the Arcand family of Saskatchewan that had connections to the St. Albert area. Nine of the 10 brothers from the family served in Canada’s military during the Second World War and the Korean War. Their father was a veteran of the First World War and was a member of the Veterans Guard during the Second World War.

Joshua Morin, facilitator and manager at the Michif organization, called the brothers the ‘Army of Nine’.

The tenth brother, as it happens, was not eligible to enlist for health reasons.

Even more impressive than nine brothers going off to hellish war is that they all came back alive.

Michif director Sharon Morin noted that the mother of that family was never honoured, as others would have been, and no reason is known for that oversight.

For now, she says that it’s important for organizations like Michif Cultural Connections to keep those stories alive so that one day perhaps those long withheld and much deserved honours will finally come through.

Until then, the displays offer further insight into the stories of the Arcands and many others. There are people with connections to St. Albert’s history like Hugh Victor Letendre (who received the Order of Canada, among other honours), Samuel Letendre (who received the Distinguished Conduct Medal), Paul Villeneuve (who served in both the the First and Second World Wars), Ralph Villeneuve (a 30-year vet who served in Korea, the Atlantic and the Philippines), Joseph Gairdner, and Harry Belcourt, among them.

There are more Aboriginal veterans whose stories need to be shared. Dorothy Chartrand is but one fine example. The Musée Héritage Museum’s archives note that she joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in 1941, making her the ninth woman to join the new corps and one of only 25 Aboriginal women to serve in the Canadian military during the Second World War. She had to deny her Métis heritage in order to serve, as Aboriginals were prevented from enlisting.

She was one of the more than 200 women who were trained in different communications including the telegraph, Morse code and semaphore. Chartrand was deployed to London, England, in late 1944 to work as an administrator in London’s Canada House, the headquarters for our nation’s armed services. She became the third person to receive the Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta Patron’s Award in recognition of her heroism.

There were at least seven members of the Michel Band or their descendants who fought in the Second World War as well.

Beyond those major world conflicts, there is also the story of the St. Albert Mounted Rifles, all of whom were Metis except one. They served to protect Hudson’s Bay Company stores in the region and also patrolled Saddle Lake. The unit was disbanded shortly after the arrest of Big Bear who was involved in the Northwest Rebellion.

All of these individuals serve to remind us of their dedication to freedom and their valour above and beyond the call of duty, especially in light of what they sacrificed back at home.

“One of the things that always surprises me about the Aboriginal veterans, especially the First Nations ones, when they went to sign up and defend our country, they didn’t even have the right to vote yet, but they had the commitment to protect our country and our rights and freedoms,” Sharon Morin said.

“Then they came back to Canada and they weren’t treated equally. A lot of the guys would say, ‘you come back to Canada and you’re nothing but an Indian again, but over there, you’re a soldier, a corporal, a sergeant.”


About Author

Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.