By: Tom Taylor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Floyd Powder has a lot on the agenda for the week of Indigenous Veterans Day and Remembrance Day.
The current sergeant-at-arms of the NWT Legislative Assembly and 32-year veteran with the Royal Canadian Regiment and Canadian Airborne Regiment will be spending the week in Ottawa.
He will be joined in the capital by his son who, while undecided on his future, has already followed in his father’s footsteps by enrolling in the cadets and completing his basic parachutist course.
“We’ll be touching base with all the veterans I served with when I was in Petawawa (Ont.), and several people in Ottawa,” the Fort Smith-born Powder said from Yellowknife, where he now lives. “It will be good to catch up.”
The pair’s visit to Ottawa is not just about reconnecting with old friends.
Outside of his work as sergeant-at-arms, Powder is a volunteer researcher with Last Post Fund, an organization that aims to provide dignified funerals, burials and military gravestones for veterans who could not afford those things at the time of their death.
Much of Powder’s volunteer efforts concern a Last Post Fund project called the Indigenous Veterans Initiative, which seeks to locate unmarked graves of Indigenous veterans and replace them with grave markers that can include traditional names and Indigenous symbols, such as bears and feathers, in place of a Latin crosses or regimental crests.
Powder has spent the last three years visiting gravesites across the NWT, compiling a list of military graves, marked and unmarked. He will spend the first two days of his visit to Ottawa – Nov. 6 and 7 – at Library and Archives Canada, running his list against theirs. This will allow him to verify military service, and find information about deceased veterans, including their services numbers and the units they served with.
“If the family or anybody else wants to do some research in the future they’ll have a good head start with the service number,” he said.
Indigenous Veterans Day is Nov. 8. Powder and his son will begin the day by attending a ceremony at the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument, which will include smudging and wreath-laying.
Powder will not have a direct role in the proceedings. He instead intends to “let others step forward” and “provide guidance and direction to help make sure we honour our Indigenous veterans properly.”
Once the ceremony has concluded, he and his son will head to the National Arts Centre for the debut screening of a film called Finding Unmarked Graves. The film documents Last Post Fund’s work, and includes footage of the installation of a headstone at Back Bay Cemetery and a reconsecration ceremony at Lakeview Cemetery, both in Yellowknife.
That evening, the film will be shown again at a feast hosted by the Odawa Native Friendship Centre, which will be attended by Indigenous veterans.
“It will be good to get their thoughts,” said Powder.
Powder and his son will then move on to Petawawa, where Powder will reconnect with old friends and attend a dinner at the local Legion. The pair will be back in Ottawa in time for Remembrance Day on Nov. 11.
They will start the day by attending an “informal gathering” at the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument, before heading to the National War Memorial just a few blocks away. This year, they will have the opportunity to view the proceedings from an exclusive, fenced-in area near the monument. That position could afford them the opportunity to lay a wreath.
“If that’s the case, I’ll probably hand the wreath off to my son,” Powder said. “My son being in Ottawa, and both of us attending the ceremony, that’s very personally satisfying.”
From beginning to end, Powder sees his busy visit to Ottawa as an opportunity to honour Canada’s veterans, and spread the word about Last Post Fund’s work.
“We need more people in communities to go to their cemeteries and spread the word. We need to get more researchers to identify the unmarked graves that are within or near their communities,” he said.
Powder will also find opportunities to reflect over the course of his visit, even if he’s busy most of the week. He said he will spend time thinking of his father, a Second World War veteran, as well as all the other people who have served Canada as members of the military.
“On the eighth, what I’ll be reflecting on is that a lot of Indigenous veterans served this great country, and when they completed their service, they weren’t afforded the same benefits and opportunities as everyone else that they served with,” he said. “I’ll remember that – that in our great country, this happened to our Indigenous veterans.”
“On Remembrance Day, I’ll remember all the other Canadian soldiers, including the RCMP who served on peacekeeping missions, who served this country,” he added. “It’s a great opportunity for Canadians to gather and honour every soldier, every sailor, every air and navy personnel that has served this country, and continue to serve this country.”