As we approach Indigenous Veterans’ Day, November 8th and Remembrance Day, November 11th I will proudly wear my handmade poppy by Anishinaabe beader and artist, Erin Gustafson of Couchiching First Nation.
The poppy serves as a reminder to take time to reflect on the courage of those who fought and many who died to protect our rights. In doing so, I vividly recall the story of one particular soldier.
The day a typically soft spoken, mild mannered, young girl presented her Heritage Fair project and stood in front of her classmates and proudly and confidently shared a story about a man she admired was a day I wouldn’t forget. It was about ten years ago when I, along with her classmates, first learned about Francis Pegahmagabow, my student’s grandfather (in hindsight, perhaps it was her great or great-great grandfather). Nonetheless, the sense of pride she felt while speaking of her hero was evident.
While some stories of Sergeant-Major Francis Pegahmagabow or the lives of others like him can be easily found with a quick internet search, the resonating effects of hearing these stories from direct ancestors are astonishing.
Still today, I remember the smile that crossed that young girl’s face and the pride that oozed out of her as she spoke about her family. What stood out to me then, and still today is the fact that Pegahmagabow fought to protect Canada at a time when Indigenous People were denied the rights held by most other Canadians. Can you imagine being denied the rights your partner, child, sibling, family member, or friend risked their life to protect? That is the case for many Indigenous People of that time. And when Pegahmagabow returned from war, he continued to fight for the rights of his people. He fought for civil rights for Indigenous People within Canada.
In 2016, many years after his death, a bronze statue was unveiled in Parry Sound, Ontario honouring the Anishinaabe World War I sniper, Francis Pegahmagabow. Another pride filled moment for my former student to share stories about her ancestor. These stories and others like them must be highlighted within our classrooms, painting a more accurate picture of the contributions Indigenous People play in our country’s history.
As we move through the time of remembrance and reconciliation, please seek out opportunities to honour Indigenous Peoples by sharing stories like those of Francis Pegahmagabow. Go Show the World is a fabulous book written first as a rap song by Wab Kinew. In it he describes some of his Indigenous idols, allowing others, especially young people to see themselves represented in their heroes. I urge you to share your story and provide opportunities for students to do the same. It’s incredible what we can learn from one another.