Cross Country Checkup host Duncan McCue wears a beaded poppy in honour of Indigenous veterans. (Jason Vermes/CBC) 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. Harold McCue served as a soldier in the Second World War. (Submitted by Duncan McCue) 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. Brian Black, chair of the Métis Nation of Ontario Veterans Council, holds a Canadian flag at Batoche National Historic Site of Canada in Batoche, Sask. (Submitted by Brian Black) 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. A complicated history
Beaded poppies are a relatively new phenomenon, and until recently, were not widely available.
When I went searching for one, I reached out to Brit Ellis, a Haudenosaunee artist from Six Nations of the Grand River, near Brantford, Ont., whose artistry I admired on social media. She started beading poppies four years ago.
"I thought they’d be a more unique representation specific to Indigenous veterans," said Ellis, whose grandfather served in the Second World War.
"I was learning more about the complicated history that Indigenous veterans had with the Legion, and how disenfranchisement worked around Indigenous veterans and Veterans Affairs." Beadwork artist Brit Ellis makes poppies by hand to commemorate the sacrifices of Indigenous veterans. (Submitted by Brit Ellis) Status Indians couldn’t legally consume liquor in public until 1951. That prohibition lasted into the 1960s in some provinces.
That meant many First Nations veterans were banned from Royal Canadian Legion halls where veterans gathered to drink, and also get advice on post-war benefits. Instead, First Nations veterans were directed to Indian agents, who didn’t always have their best interests in mind."Those are conversations that need to be had and a lot of people don’t even necessarily recognize that there was any conflict there," said Ellis.It takes Ellis about eight hours to make a beaded poppy, and she’s sold over twenty this year. She charges $70 each and donates 10 […]
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