RRFN vets honoured through monument

Sam Odrowski

Through Treaty #3, that was signed by the Saulteaux band of the Ojibwa people and the Government of Canada In 1873, not one indigenous person had to fight in either world war.

And yet nearly 40 men from Rainy River First Nations (RRFN) left the community to protect their land.

“First Nations people were exempted from fighting world wars but because this is our land. Per capita, First Nations people had a higher enlistment number into the armed services opposed to mainstream society, which is pretty incredible,” noted RRFN band member Marcel Medicine Horton.

To honour a total of 54 veterans from RRFN, a cenotaph was built off Hwy. 11 about 15 years ago, where a Remembrance Day ceremony is held each year.

“The concept came to life from actual World War Two veterans,” said Medicine Horton, who coordinated the monument’s construction.

“They brought their vision and they put it in the laps of four high school kids, and those four young boys are the ones that brought the concept into a paper design,” he added.

“They drew a monument in agreement with Uncle Tommy Medicine, who was one of the most vocal people for us to build a monument.”

In addition to the 54 names of RRFN’s veterans, the east rock of the monument shows a poem written by Tommy Medicine that came to him while he was fighting in the Second World War.

“When he was in combat he actually had the poem come to him as he was running foxhole to foxhole, he said bullets were raining, he could hear bullets flying through but a poem came to him.”

The poem is called “Ojibway Grace” where Tommy Medicine offers thanks to the creator for all of the blessings he bestows upon him and his people.

Meanwhile, the construction of the monument was made possible through a funding opportunity and a lot of fundraising.

The project cost a total of $78,000.

“Our monument is ours–the idea, the concept, everything from start to finish, it’s Rainy River First Nations,'” said Medicine Horton.

“We had certain criteria that Uncle Tommy wanted, like we had to have four flags, we had to have the guns we have on there . . . the spear points shape of the black granite rock.”

For Medicine Horton he said the monument is a sign of respect for those who served and absolute pride for RRFN.

The monument is also significant because many of RRFN’s band members are the direct descendents of those who served.

“The same blood that brought those men to war is the same blood that runs through us now. We are spiritually, culturally, strong people,” he remarked.

“That’s why we can get to that better place in life, because we have that in us–we just have to find our way there.”

On Nov. 11 at 1:30 p.m., the Emo Legion brigade will be coming to RRFN’s Remembrance Day monument to host ceremony with band members and school children.

“We’re going to have the Emo Legion Colour Guard and we’re going to invite our own First Nations veterans that have served in the U.S. military, Canadian Forces,” Medicine Horton said.

“We’re bringing home people that actually had just got back from Iraq and it’s a big deal.”

In the 1950s, a traditional Veterans Drum was created to honour Second World War veterans and it will be a part of RRFN’s ceremony.

“There will be a blessing of the day, a blessing of all those spirits that are engraved in that rock,” Medicine Horton explained.

“We have a fire that goes from sunrise to sunset that day, and anybody that comes to our service, when they would like to go out and remember somebody who has passed away, we take that tobacco and we burn that tobacco in that sacred fire.”

Medicine Horton told the Times that he encourages members of the public to attend their service and pay respect to those who served.

“Instead of slowing down to two miles an hour and rubber necking along the highway, stop, pull over, and join us,” he said.