Indigenous WWII veteran honoured with headstone

·4 min read

Nicola Valley First Nations veterans are being honoured with military markers thanks to the Last Post Fund’s Indigenous Veterans initiative and Carol Holmes, who has been volunteering her time to assist families with the research, documentation and application process.

On Oct. 13, seven markers were placed. Six at Coldwater Cemetery honouring James (Jimmy) Voght, Gordon (Tiny) Voght, Tim Voght, William Voght, Michael Bob and Frederick Albert Sterling. The first ceremony, which took place at Shulus, honoured Second World War veteran Francis Blankinship Nahumpchin.

In addition to Holmes, Grand Chief Percy Joe was also in attendance at the ceremony, as was Nahumpchin’s son Archie and Archie’s children, including Jennie Blankinship, who spoke about her grandfather Francis and the recognition he has now received.

“I was really happy after Carol called me and told me there was a headstone because it was far too long that he hadn’t been recognized,” said Blankinship.

“He was disenfranchised in order to sign up for the army, he had to give up his identity as an indigenous person, and so he did that. He was going to fight for Canada and for our people as well.”

While he escaped being physically wounded during his time of service, Blankinship noted that her grandfather suffered from PTSD.

“Physically you can’t see it but mentally, and spiritually he was affected by that,” said Blankinship, who also explained that while he had been forced to give up his indigenous status to serve in the military, the people of LNIB had welcomed him home and acknowledged him as one of their own, regardless.

“After he came home… they knew him here, you can’t just say you’re not native,” said Blankinship.

“They still acknowledged him here as a band member.”

It was in the Lower Nicola Indian Band cemetery where Nahumpchin was interred after his passing in 1978, and on Oct. 13, his carved wooden cross was removed and replaced with an official military marker, which featured his traditional name ‘Nahumpchin’.

“We felt this was a really good ceremony, and that we needed to celebrate because we were very proud of Francis, my grandfather,” said Blankinship.

Grand Chief Percy Joe, a veteran himself who has been involved in the conversations surrounding First Nations veterans for more than 20 years, was similarly pleased to see Nahumpchin and the six other veterans honoured.

“We talked about it several years ago, at the national level, of ensuring that all of our veterans are recognized for the service they provided to Canada,” said Joe.

Like many others across Canada, when the call went out asking for volunteers to serve during both the First and Second World War, thousands of young Indigenous men stepped forward. Many of those men have not been recognized for their service. For one thing, at the conclusion of the Second World War, First Nations veterans did not qualify for the same entitlements as non-indigenous vets. And for what they were entitled to, Percy Joe explains that they would not deal with Veterans Affairs, but rather with an Indian Agent, who had very little experience or knowledge of what a veteran was entitled to receive.

Joe also explained that much of the information regarding veteran’s benefits was distributed by the Legion. But, because the Legion was acknowledged as a drinking establishment, Indigenous veterans were not permitted to join or enter their local Legion.

“So, they weren’t able to have discussions with their fellow veterans that were non-aboriginal to find out what was available to them,” said Joe.

“It was only in 1957 that they were even allowed to be a Legion member.”

For this reason, many indigenous veterans have “slipped through the cracks”, and it is only through the dedication and hard work of people like Holmes that they are being discovered and finally given their due.

“This celebration must be acknowledged as many of the First Nations veterans were not recognized or acknowledged upon enlistment, and upon safe return,” said Holmes.

While Holmes has focused mainly on veterans who served in the First and Second World Wars, the markers are not limited to only these veterans, and Holmes encourages the families of any First Nations veteran within the Nicola Valley to reach out to her for assistance in applying to the Last Post Fund.

Carol Holmes can be reached at: 250-378-7809.

Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald