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Beaded poppies show respect for Indigenous veterans — that’s why I’m wearing mine

November 11, 2018
Duncan McCue, CBC News

When I first saw a beaded poppy, it was unique, beautiful and a reminder of my grandparents.

The beadwork brought back memories of my grandmother Bea McCue. She was highly regarded in our community for her skill with mnidoomnensag, the Anishinaabemowin word for beads. Translated literally, it means small spirit berries.

Beading was her way of telling a story — intricate and detailed floral designs imbued with our ancestral traditions.

The poppy, on the other hand, evoked my grandfather Harold McCue who ventured out from our tiny community of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation in Ontario to serve overseas in the Second World War.

I know little about his war years. He didn’t talk about it much.

Nmishoomis, my grandfather, voluntarily went to war like the thousands of Indigenous people who served in Canada’s military. On the battlefields, Indigenous soldiers stood side-by-side their Canadian comrades, many serving with distinction.

In total, more than 500 died while many more were wounded or captured.

However, the Indigenous soldiers who came home often discovered their wartime contributions were quickly forgotten.

Equals on the battlefield, they couldn’t vote in Canada. In many cases, Indigenous veterans were shut out of receiving veterans benefits. For decades, they were forgotten soldiers.

The federal government issued an apology in 2003 and compensated many, but there are still Indigenous veterans who have fallen through the cracks, according to Brian Black, chair of the Métis Nation of Ontario Veterans Council.

“Those guys did not get the equal treatment that other veterans did,” said Black, a member of the Canadian Navy from 1989 to 1996. Black also wears a beaded poppy.

“They [the federal government] have recognized that fact, but they still haven’t completely resolved it.”

It’s one reason why beaded poppies grace more and more lapels on Remembrance Day, as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people seek to honour the service and commemorate the sacrifices of Indigenous veterans.

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