In June, Canada celebrates National Indigenous History Month to honour the history, heritage, and diversity of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, and Sunday June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day. Similarly, the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defense celebrated Indigenous Awareness Week (IAW) at the end of May. IAW enables DND and CAF “to celebrate the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, past and present, and the many Indigenous traditions and cultures that enrich the mosaic of our country.”
In celebration of the cultural and linguistic diversity of Indigenous peoples in Canada, we would like to share with you some background on the four traditional languages that have so far been requested for Veterans’ tombstone inscriptions as part of the LPF Indigenous Veterans Initiative (IVI).
In Québec, we worked with researcher Stephen McGregor from Kitigan Zibi (Maniwaki) who spoke with families of Veterans finding several traditional names in their mother tongue, Algonquin. Algonquin is spoken in several First Nations communities throughout Québec and Ontario, alongside English and French. In fact, it is one of the most populous North American native language groups.
In British Columbia, research efforts were focused on the Nicola Valley Region, where researcher Carol Holmes has contacted 5 communities to date. The Indigenous language group of that region is Interior Salishan, variants of which are spoken in the Fraser Valley and the Thompson-Nicola Regional Districts of British Columbia. One of the families contacted has requested that the traditional name of a Veteran be inscribed in this language group.
In the north, we will be providing a tombstone for a Veteran from the Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. The community in Nunavut speaks Inuktitut and we will be inscribing the Veteran’s traditional name using Inuktitut syllabics from the Kivalliq dialect. Inuktitut syllabics (scroll down to the end of this newsletter to see "Lest We Forget" in Inuktitut) were created by English missionary James Evans as an effort to spread the Bible to Indigenous communities.
Finally, in Saskatchewan we will be providing a tombstone for a Veteran from White Bear First Nations. This First Nations community has 4 different cultural groups as members: Saulteaux, Cree, Nakota and Dakota. The Veteran was from the Saulteaux / Ojibwe Nation, and in accordance with his family’s request, his traditional name will be inscribed in the Saulteaux language.
Although the researchers were able to find the traditional names of the Veterans, this was not always an easy task. Researchers have pointed out that for some families the legacy of colonialism and residential schools has meant that traditional names are sadly often “lost to history.” Indigenous children were punished for speaking their native languages in residential schools, and many did not pass on the language to their own children as a result. There are now language revitalization schools and programs in place in First Nation communities throughout Canada, where Indigenous languages are being spoken once again by younger generations.
By offering to inscribe Veterans’ traditional names, the Last Post Fund is proud to acknowledge the cultural diversity of Canadian Indigenous Veterans and to be a part of the important reconciliation process. We leave you with link to a video of the poem “In Flanders Fields” read in Mi’kmaq and translated as Na Maqamikej Flanders.
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