Indigenous veterans never have received their due recognition but a new exhibit at the Fort Frances Museum & Cultural Centre aims to rectify that.
Just in time for Remembrance Day, “Indigenous Veterans of Treaty No. 3” will open this Thursday (Nov. 8) and spotlight veterans from area First Nations who served in both world wars.
A reception to coincide with the opening will run from 5-7 p.m. It will include a drum ceremony by the Seine River Drummers at 5 p.m. and opening remarks from Elder Dorothy Medicine at 5:30.
Everyone is welcome to attend and refreshments will be served, including stew, bannock, and fry bread.
The exhibit features some history of indigenous soldiers in both the world wars, as well as the successes and trials they faced, explained Laura Gosse, community engagement co-ordinator for the Fort Frances Museum & Cultural Centre, who put the exhibit together along with Kayleigh Speirs, administration manager at the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre and Glenn Jourdain of Couchiching First Nation.
“They were all excited to go off and fight for their country,” Gosse said. “But when they got back, they weren’t treated as equals–they were treated differently than they were across the pond.
“That’s something we wanted to highlight,” she stressed. “I don’t think a lot of people understand or realize how hard it was to get benefits afterwards and how hard it was to get recognition.
“We found during our research it was only in the early 2000s that many WWII vets and other vets afterwards got paid some of their benefits,” Gosse noted.
“They’re weren’t treated the same–it wasn’t through the V.A. [Veteran Affairs], it was all through the Indian Agency and then through the Indian Agent.”
On the other side of the main floor is an honour wall of the names, and in some cases photos, of indigenous soldiers from Treaty #3 First Nations who served in the wars.
“I want to highlight that this is a growing exhibit and so what we have isn’t finalized, it isn’t concrete,” Gosse noted. “What we have is going to be constantly growing, we’ll be constantly adding.
“We started out with 150 veterans and we’re at 323 right now,” she added. “We keep getting things added.
“I’d like to welcome people to come by and share their personal stories or family stories, share some photographs so everyone can see them, and really just honour them in that way,” Gosse said.
The exhibit also includes a “poppy wall” where anyone can feel free to take a paper poppy, write the name of a loved one, a poem, or a thought on it, and stick it to the wall.
“Anyone can do it–indigenous or not,” Gosse said. “It’s another way to honour them, especially with Remembrance Day coming up here.”
Gosse and Speirs said they started the exhibit to really bring area communities together–from Rainy River to Couchiching and beyond.
“This exhibit is going to start here in Fort Frances but move up to Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung,” Gosse noted.
“Kailey has some ideas of how she wants to grow it,” she remarked. “I believe she wants to translate all of our posters eventually into Ojibwe; really refine and fine-tune it.
“I’d love our community to be the greatest shareholder of this history because right now it’s very piecemeal,” Gosse said. “We’re talking to different people, trying to get stories together.
“Eventually, I’d anyone to be able to go Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung, to Couch, to here, and be able to say, ‘I am interested in this person. Can you tell me?’
“And we can say, ‘Hold on. We have a network, we have a system to find out that name.'”
“We’re want to take all of this information and turn it into a database, so people can come to do research and can come to add their own stories,” echoed Speirs.
She added many people have a perception of museums as being “static and non-changing entities,” but projects such as this show the public that they are, indeed, “growing, living” resources in our communities.
“Indigenous Veterans of Treaty No. 3” will be at the Fort Frances Museum until mid-January, at which time it will move to the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre located off Highway 11 between Barwick and Stratton.