The late Sergeant Tom Eagle was honoured on Monday, Indigenous Veterans Day, at Yellowknife’s Tree of Peace Friendship Centre.
Sgt Eagle, a member of the Tootinaowaziibeeng (Valley River) Ojibway First Nation in Manitoba, joined the Canadian Forces in 1951 at the age of 19 and was honourably discharged in 1975 after tours in Germany and with the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus.
Eagle was later stationed back in Canada, coming to Yellowknife in 1971. He established cadet units throughout the North, served as the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre’s executive director for many years, and assisted in establishing friendship centres in Fort Smith, Fort Simpson, Hay River, Fort Providence, Rankin Inlet, and Behchokǫ̀.
He played an active role in renaming a Yellowknife street Veterans Memorial Drive and having a veterans’ monument created.
Eagle passed away in September 2009.
During Monday’s ceremony, framed miniature replicas of medals he earned while serving in the military was presented to his family and hung at the centre, where the community hall and a youth program are named after him.
The original medals and his uniform are housed at Yellowknife’s Legion.
Speaking on Monday, his family said finding photos of Tom remained difficult.
Muriel Eagle, Tom’s wife, expressed happiness at seeing her late husband’s items displayed instead of having them sitting around.
“He was for the people and he did things for the people,” she said.
Some of his accolades include the Canadian Forces Decoration, Queen’s Jubilee Medal, a Citation from the Canadian government for his community work, and the Veterans Affairs Commendation.
Indigenous veterans often faced unequal treatment and discrimination on arriving back in Canada. Eagle was a fierce activist who, according to Windspeaker, helped to establish the Manitoba Métis Federation, National Indian Brotherhood, Native Council of Canada (known today as the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples), and the Kinew Housing Corporation in Winnipeg, which helps to provide affordable housing for Indigenous people in the city.
Muriel said her husband would commonly go to schools in Yellowknife and give speeches about Indigenous Veterans Day. If he was still here, she said, he would still be doing it.
She hopes to see others continue the work Tom had started.