OHSWEKEN – More than 300 area service club members and current military personnel, plus several area political leaders, gathered at Veterans’ Park in downtown Ohsweken last Sunday to remember both past and present First Nations warriors who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the historic treaty relationship with the British Crown during military actions around the world. There was also a very good turnout from the community to add to the numbers.
Families of those Six Nations and New Credit warriors who fought and died under the Union Jack, the Stars and Stripes, and more recently the Maple Leaf, laid wreaths at the foot of the Six Nations War Veterans’ Memorial Cenotaph.
Speeches from appreciative Canadian government political leaders, as well as from Elected Band Council Chief Ava Hill, spoke of the sacrifices made and the hope for a better future because of those sacrifices.
Traditionally, Six Nations commemorates Veterans Day a bit earlier than Canada, which holds its memorial day on November 11th, at 11 am, the date and time of the official end of WWI. By doing so, colour parties, legions and off-reserve dignitaries are free to attend without interfering with their local memorial services, and look forward to coming to Six Nations to honour Indigenous soldiers every year.
Elected Chief Ava Hill welcomed guests to the territory, and spoke of her personal appreciation for Six Nations Veterans.
“On behalf of the elected council I welcome everyone here today, particularly the family members and everyone who has come to join us here on this day – a day to remember and give thanks to everyone and what they have done so that we are able to live in a society where we can be free and go about our lives,” said Hill.
“This year is especially significant because it is the 100th anniversary of WWI. Those old warriors have passed on but there are new warriors and a new generation of warriors. We know that many of our veterans have left our community to fight. They went willingly and some didn’t come back. Some gave their lives so we could have the freedom we enjoy today.”
Hill has laid a wreath at the Cenotaph many times in honour of her own uncle, and has helped with the Veterans Day events for many years, going back to making sandwiches at the old community hall.
“I have laid a wreath for my uncle Peter Martin, who was my grandmother’s brother,” said Hill. “Today I wanna thank my uncle Tom Martin for laying that wreath for my family.”
Peter Martin is buried in Arlington cemetery in Washington, and earlier this year while in Washington, she took the time to visit his grave.
“It was a very emotional experience for me,” she told the gathering. “I had my daughter with me who doesn’t know about war. She did not know my uncle and it was very moving to see so many graves in Arlington Cemetery and to find his, and to know that people are still being buried there on a daily basis.”
Brant MPP and Speaker of the House Dave Levac spoke of his own Metis heritage, as well as the knowledge of Six Nations as valuable allies over the centuries.
“I stand before you as someone who has learned his lineage is within the Metis Nation, and with the understanding that Six Nations people were allies that came to our aid and assistance before Canada was even formed,” he said. “So, to stand before you, I am humbled by the veterans, by the individuals who came to our aid and assistance and offered themselves in sacrifice, in honour and in dignity.
And to those veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice, we say thank you. We respect you as our allies and our friends. I will do all that I can to continue to be respectful and represent you as the people you are — noble, honest, with integrity, and as our allies.”
Phil McColeman and Brant Mayor Ron Eddy also spoke. Conspicuous in their absence were representatives from the City of Brantford.
“We must be grateful today for those who paid the price and to those who wear the uniform today for their willingness to put themselves at risk for the sake of our freedom in this wonderful land,” said McColeman.
Eddy was participating in the Six Nations Veterans Day for the first time.
“I am so appreciative to be here today in honour of all the Six Nations veterans,” he said.
A new generation of Warriors was personified by Priv. Jolena Martin of Six Nations, who is with the 56th Field Regiment out of Brantford.