November 16, 2018

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Ceremony honours Indigenous veterans

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESSJoe Meconse, 77, a Dene veteran from the Churchill area, leads the group of Aboriginal veterans at Thursday's ceremony.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESSJoe Meconse, 77, a Dene veteran from the Churchill area, leads the group of Aboriginal veterans at Thursday's ceremony.

Clothes don't necessarily make the man or woman, but they reveal a lot at a military service.

So at Thursday's ceremony for Aboriginal Veterans Day, which is always held three days before Remembrance Day, there were all manner of uniforms as well as haberdashery: wedge hats, berets of all colours, naval caps, and even a headdress, or war bonnet.

Aboriginal Veterans Day is a special occasion to the man donning the war bonnet: Joe Meconse, 77, a veteran of Dene descent from the Churchill area.

"This is one of the most important days on my calendar," said Meconse, 77, who has participated in the ceremonies for the past 16 years. "I remember my friends and all the people who have passed on."

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Clothes don't necessarily make the man or woman, but they reveal a lot at a military service.

So at Thursday's ceremony for Aboriginal Veterans Day, which is always held three days before Remembrance Day, there were all manner of uniforms as well as haberdashery: wedge hats, berets of all colours, naval caps, and even a headdress, or war bonnet.

Aboriginal Veterans Day is a special occasion to the man donning the war bonnet: Joe Meconse, 77, a veteran of Dene descent from the Churchill area.

'This is one of the most important days on my calendar. I remember my friends and all the people who have passed on" - Joe Meconse, a Dene veteran from the Churchill area

"This is one of the most important days on my calendar," said Meconse, 77, who has participated in the ceremonies for the past 16 years. "I remember my friends and all the people who have passed on."

It's also the 25th anniversary of the first ever Aboriginal Veterans Day and Meconse can remember when Aboriginal veterans were treated as second rate.

"I'm happy to see so many people here and have people remembering the effort of Aboriginal soldiers," he said.

About 300 people attended the ceremony at the Aboriginal Community Centre in the elegant former CP Rail Station on Higgins Avenue.

The war bonnet was given to him four years ago when he given the title "warrior chief," said Meconse, president of the Aboriginal Veterans Association of Manitoba. It includes red poppies beaded into the headband.

Devin Beaudry, a 35-year air force veteran, was also brilliantly decked out. He wore a deer hide vest over a metallic blue "ribbon shirt," and a beaded necklace symbolic of the Métis people. "The red (in the shield) represents the blood of Métis people trying to survive," he said.

Aboriginal Veterans Day is "to make sure the community still remembers the sacrifices that our veterans made," Beaudry said.

Government records show at least 4,000 Indigenous people served in the First World War. About 12,000 served in all major Canadian military efforts in the 20th century.

Aboriginal soldiers held a variety of roles, including snipers and scouts, but also served as "code talkers," translating sensitive radio messages into Aboriginal languages so they couldn't be understood if intercepted by the enemy.

Traditional drumming and speeches were part of Thursday's ceremony.

Provincial Indigenous and Northern Relations Minister Eileen Clarke expressed the province's indebtedness to the war efforts of Aboriginal people.

"To be here today with you, with our honoured veterans, is truly an amazing experience," Clarke said.

"Many Indigenous veterans have fought long and hard for recognition of the contributions and sacrifices they have made. Aboriginal Veterans Day is an opportunity for us to acknowledge and honour the many Indigenous men and women who served."

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Bill Redekop

Bill Redekop
Rural Reporter

Bill Redekop has been covering rural issues since 2001.

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