Photo by Lorraine Graves
Wednesday, Nov 8, saw Aboriginal Veterans honoured with a ceremony at the Carnegie Centre. Those assembled then march to Victory Square for ceremonies at the Cenotaph.
Traditionally, a cenotaph has many names inscribed upon it, the names of soldiers who have died serving in the Canadian Armed Forces. The word cenotaph has Greek roots and literally translates to “empty tomb.”
Often, those who died fighting for Canada were buried in foreign fields, closer to where they died in battle, so their families had no grave, only the cenotaph, at which to mourn. In Canada, Remembrance Day ceremonies centre on a community’s cenotaph, as Richmond’s will on Saturday, Nov. 11. The current edition of the Sentinel has Don Fennel’s story about our community’s cenotaph, outside City Hall. The back page of the same edition has the order of service fro Richmond’s official Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Windspeaker outlines the reasons for the Nov. 8 observances, “Aboriginal veterans wanted their own day to be with their families and communities to commemorate Aboriginal service to the country in the Aboriginal way, but they also wanted to be able to spend Nov. 11 with their comrades on Remembrance Day.”
From a small, personal observance, Aboriginal Veterans Day has come to be a community event with all, First Nations and settlers alike, welcome to show their respects for the veterans.
This year’s ceremonies featured the laying of wreaths at the base of the cenotaph as well as traditional drumming and songs. The Richmond Sentinel’s video shows the recessional as the official program ended at Victory Square.
Everyone was then invited to the Aboriginal Friendship Centre on E. Hastings St. for speeches, drumming and songs, a blanket ceremony honouring veterans who had not yet received a blanket, dancing, and lunch. The food was tasty, as warm and hearty as the welcome this first-time visitor received. The gentle kindness shown to all was inspiring.
After the food, a receiving line formed for a time to thank each of the veterans and active members of the forces, before everyone joined hands in a circle dance. The list of people being honoured was impressive and too many to list for fear of missing a name.
The sense of community was palpable as was the sense of respect for the veterans.
One of the older veterans being honoured at Aboriginal Veterans Day, Kelly Kwong, is a leader of the Chinese-Canadian Veterans’ Association. One of the day’s organizers, Kelly E. White of the Squamish Nation, spoke of the lengthy and close relationship between the two groups as both had returned from wars to a country that didn’t recognize their sacrifice or human rights. Both groups had worked together for rights as basic as the vote, citizenship and status.
One left the Friendship Centre with a profound appreciation of the sacrifices these men and women have made for Canada, of the changes they’ve had to make for war, and of the challenges faced when they come home to a country very much unchanged.
To see a moving Heritage Moment about the valour in battle, and courage required upon return to civilian life, by a highly-decorated Aboriginal Canadian soldier, cut and paste historicacanada.ca/content/heritage-minutes/tommy-prince