Indigenous and non-Indigenous veterans were honoured during an event at Lakeview Cemetery on Wednesday.
The 2837 Army Cadet Corps unveiled the newly restored Veterans’ Field of Honour and placed Canadian flags at the headstone of more than 80 veterans.
The event was the culmination of several weeks’ cleaning, repainting, and beautification work.
Cadet Jaedenz White said the project showed people are still determined to take care of veterans’ graves.
The idea for the refurbishment came from retired Canadian Forces member Floyd Powder.
Powder, in collaboration with the Last Post Fund, is working to identify and verify deceased Indigenous veterans and obtain proper headstones for their burial sites across the NWT.
Some graves in the Field of Honour are marked only with wooden sticks bearing the name of the individual, or have no personalized marker at all.
Powder said “passing the torch” of cemetery maintenance from veterans to youth ensures the value of community service is recognized in all age groups.
“As surviving veterans, we’re willing to help out and help the youth. And the youth, more importantly, were providing community service to make these grounds look really presentable,” he said.
Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya also attended and placed flags at eight burial sites of Indigenous veterans, some of whom may soon receive headstones thanks to Powder’s efforts.
Balancing history and harm
Captain Sharon Low, commanding officer of 2837 Army Cadets, said she reached out to Yakeleya for guidance.
“I was struggling with honouring our flag and honouring our history with our veterans, but then also honouring the Indigenous history that we’ve been discovering in the last couple of weeks,” said Low. More than 1,500 unmarked grave sites were recently discovered on the grounds of former residential schools.
Low said Yakeleya was “extremely supportive.”
“He pointed out that the veterans buried there wore the Canadian flag on their shoulder, and we need to honour and respect that. And then he wanted to come out and honour the Indigenous veterans with us. He helped me reconcile those two polar perspectives on what’s happening in the world today.”
Yakeleya said he was “very humbled” by the efforts of the cadets and would like to see similar projects in other communities.
“When it really comes down to it we’re all brothers and sisters when we fight for our country. These young people are showing the way,” said the Dene National Chief.
A dignified resting place
Powder has created a list of more than 80 people he thinks qualify for a new headstone and is gathering more names.
So far, he has secured 17 headstones for NWT veterans across the territory, with eight to be placed in Yellowknife. The rest are destined for communities like Hay River, Fort Smith and Fort Simpson.
“Any veteran that’s served this country and wore the uniform … it’s very important to have their service recognized, whether they were in conflict or not,” he said.
“Our regimental motto was ‘never pass a fault,’ so when I came through here last May and saw there are missing headstones – with the principle of service before self, never passing a fault – I said I can’t accept that.
“I could point fingers and be critical of organizations, but it’s more important to just do something about it, so I am.”
Powder is now planning a trip to the Beaufort Delta to look at cemeteries there and add more people to his list, if required.