Remembrance day ceremony honours Secwepemc soldiers

By Vanessa Ybarra
November 10, 2017 - 5:14pm Updated: November 10, 2017 - 6:22pm

KAMLOOPS — According to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, one third of aboriginal people in the country enlisted in World War I.

Thousands more joined the effort in World War II.

Hundreds of those men were from the Secwepemc First Nation in B.C.

For some it was a chance for adventure, but some aboriginal educators believe it was out of respect, helping protect the land their ancestors inhabited for thousands of years.

On Friday a Remembrance Day ceremony was held at the Sk'elep School of Excellence to honour and share the stories of Secwepemc soldiers.

On Friday the poem 'In Flanders Fields' was read to students in the Secwepemc language at the 'Sk'elep School of Excellence annual Remembrance Day ceremony.

"I don't remember any of the history throughout my childhood or throughout any of my schooling until I got to university so for our kids to be learning it at such a young age and knowing the importance of it is a really good thing," said Principal Cheryl Sebastian.

Sebastian's 103-year old grandfather fought in World War II.

At the time, First Nations weren't allowed to vote and had to conform in order to represent Canada.

"In order for them to join the army they had to give up their status as a First Nations person in Canada so for a lot of years he was not recognized as a status First Nations."

Still, thousands of men from across the country, some as young as their mid teens, signed up to fight.

More than two-hundred of those men were from the Secwepemc Nation, including Al Manuel who died in 2013.

"There were quite a few guys around and they joined and I thought 'what the heck, I'll sign up too," said Manuel during an interview with CFJC Today in 2010.

Manuel says his people may have been treated as second class citizens back home, but it was anything but on the battlefield.

"The whole makeup of the Canadian army was everybody treated people as the same," said Manuel. "The average Canadians were all working guys, trappers and farmers, and they molded them together and it became an army."

Manuel was the last living First Nations veteran in Kamloops to have served in World War Two.

Today many of the soldiers stories of war, including Sebastian's grandfather, remain largely untold.

She says Friday's ceremony is meant to open students eyes to the sacrifices their ancestors made to make Canada the peaceful place it is today.

"It's important for all of us to pay tribute to all of those that went before us and paved the way for us to live the lives we do today."

"They fight for your country and for you and they want peace," said grade three student Lance Toney, whose great-grandfather enlisted in World War II. "You have to remember them so they're always with you."

"Remembrance Day has a great meaning for me," said Shuswap Language Teacher Evelyn Camille whose uncle enlisted in World War II. "We honour them and their spirits live within us. I can still speak my language because of the freedom that they fought for."

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