Remembering veterans in the language

·4 min read

Iethiiehià:ra‘n ne ronateriiohsero‘nòn:nen.

This year, the honouring sentence Remember those who went to war will not only be depicted all around Kanesatake in English and French, but also in Kanien’kéha.

Starting on National Aboriginal Veterans Remembrance Day, November 8, the First Nations Paramedics (FNP) ambulance will be driving around proudly with a Kanien’kéha sticker on its side to pay tribute to veterans, and the staff will also be wearing the Native poppy.

“We have to tell our children about what our heroes, our warriors, have done,” said FNP director Robert Bonspiel.

Bonspiel explained that the pandemic allowed him and his staff to reflect on the kind of medical services they were offering and find a way to improve them. The Remembrance Day initiative is part of a program throughout the entire month of November to enhance Kanien’kéha culture and language through the services offered by FNP.

“We wanted to make it more culturally sensitive and significant,” said Bonspiel.

Working in collaboration with the Emergency Response Unit (ERU), the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) and the Health Centre, FNP started to plan programs to implement the language and culture. Joining together Remembrance Day and the language project became a good first step towards that goal.

“Be proud of your language, but also be proud of your community,” said Bonspiel, explaining what the sticker says.

Bonspiel said that he also reached out to the Canadian Legion and the Canadian Aboriginal Veterans Association (CAV) to collaborate on the images used for the stickers to promote Onkwehón:we veterans.

The president of the Quebec chapter of the Canadian Aboriginal Veterans Association (CAV), Vincent McComber, said he was immediately on board the second Bonspiel approached him.

“There’s been a Mohawk in every war everywhere around the world,” said McComber.

The 64-year-old from Kahnawake who lives in Kanesatake served in the Vietnam war for two years with the US Army. Since then, he has been trying to not only help other veterans navigate through the harsh return to life after combat, but also to show younger generations that they have a lot to be proud of.

“To me, it’s history for young people,” said McComber. “They don’t realize that Aboriginal people played a huge role in getting the world where it is today.”

The Quebec CAV president can be seen wearing a poppy on his hat at all times. He explained that while most people wear them only in November to remember those lost in battle, he carries his for the soldiers that “are going to pass.” McComber not only referred to wars, but some of the repercussions that often follow.

Suicide in the Canadian Forces is a conversation that urgently needs to be scratched, according to McComber, who denounced the lack of information on Onkwehón:we in military service.

The 2019 Veteran Suicide Mortality study released in June 2020 looks at veteran suicide over a 39-year period, from 1976 to 2014. It highlights that the risk of suicide for both male and female veterans was much higher than what any other Canadians faced. Yet, the data collected doesn’t provide specific information on the Onkwehón:we rates.

For McComber, remembering Indigenous veterans on a different day than November 11 and a different language demonstrates to him that Native soldiers want to be recognized in a more significant way.

“It takes a lot of time for people to stand up and say I count, because we were trained to think we don’t,” said the veteran.

Bonspiel’s view of this reality, on the lack of Onkwehón:we representation, demonstrates a similar reality.

The FNP director has taken over the business established in 1986 by his parents Ronald and Judy, along with former Kanesatake grand chief Clarence Simon and his wife Linda. Back then, he understood the necessity of having a Native ambulance service in Native communities - something that is still very relevant.

Bonspiel referred to the recent appalling event surrounding the death of Joyce Echaquan, the 37-year-old Atikamekw woman from Manawan who died after being a victim of racism from nurses in Joliette Hospital, who administered morphine to which she had an allergic reaction. This was an example of why this service is needed and critical for Indigenous people.

“It underlines the necessity for us, First Nations communities, to take charge of the service that we offer to our communities,” he said.

FNP is currently the only privately-owned paramedic ambulance service in the province. Bonspiel and his 12 staff members serve mostly Kanesatake, but also any surrounding community that require first aid, medical assistance and transportation.

The Kanien’kéha stickers and poppies are available at Little Tree, Maria’s Mohawk Gas Bar and Bayside Convenience for anyone who wishes to show support for Native veterans.

Virginie Ann, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door