Federal funding for Lac Pelletier Métis Veterans War Memorial announced
Swift Current, SK — On Jan. 23, 2013, The Honourable Steven Blaney, Minister of Veteran Affairs, and David Anderson, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board and Member of Parliament for Cypress Hills-Grasslands announced at a press conference in Swift Current funding of up to $22,575 for a war memorial in Swift Current to commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice. The Community Métis Veterans Monument will honour 16 veterans who grew up around Lac Pelletier Valley and served in the First World War, Second World War or Korean War.
In attendance were Métis representatives, family and friends, some of whom were veterans in military uniforms resplendent in medals come to support their community’s great achievement and honour their dead. Four colourful banners beautifully depicting Métis history by artist Sherry Farrell Racette hung on the south wall. On the north side of the room was a shrine displaying the photos of each of the 16 Lac Pelletier veterans.
Elder Cecile Blanke, President, Prairie Dog Métis Local 123 Association Inc. and recipient of the prestigious Southwest Citizen of the Year award, opened by offering to say a traditional Michif prayer.
“Good afternoon everyone. In our Métis gatherings we always start with a Michif prayer. So I thought it would be fitting to start with one today. I know that in a lot of things that happen today prayers aren’t allowed and I feel bad about that because I think we always need the spirits near us to lead us in the right direction.”
Blanke ended the prayer by thanking the spirits “for Stephen Blaney to tell us of this good news…”
Guest speaker Mr. Wayne McKenzie, Past Leader of the Association of Métis and Non-status Natives spoke next about the need for a Métis cultural centre “where we can discuss and promote our own history and the contribution we’ve made as Canadians, not only in the wars we fought, but in terms of employment and economics. We have many contributions and may artifacts that need repatriating … ”
McKenzie thanked Métis leaders like Blanke for promoting their history “and not depending on someone else to put an interpretation on our history, our struggles and our aspirations in the future.” He also thanked her “for bringing light and hope for every community in Saskatchewan to tell their stories. We shouldn’t have to wait for government to give us the resources to tell that story and to make sure our children stand up and be proud and able to properly integrate into society.”
In his welcome speech, Parliamentary Secretary David Anderson opened by saying he was honoured to share the good news for veterans and thanked Cecile “for a couple of things. One is your long dedication to making sure the history of your people is remembered. I also want to thank you for your prayer.”
Anderson also thanked Minister Blaney for coming to Saskatchewan to make the announcement. “Minster Blaney has been Veterans Affairs Minister for nearly two years now, and one thing I can say is that everyone who has met him can see he is very passionate about the cause of veterans and about improving the level of service that we provide to veterans and their families. I appreciate him coming to Swift Current.”
Anderson went on to commend Blaney for being one of the ministers willing travel to the rural areas of Canada and meet the people. “We know many veterans live in rural communities. I want to thank you for the work you’re doing outside the cities for the veterans and for our people.”
Since assuming the position of Minister of Veteran Affairs, Blaney has made significant changes to existing programs and policies. Thanks to Blaney, benefits and services for veterans suffering from severe diagnosed medical conditions and disabilities have improved and the New Veterans Charter provides support for veterans making the transition from military to civil life. He also launched the “Helmets to Hardhats” program, which helps former Canadian Forces members find well-paid jobs in construction, and initiated “Cutting The Red Tape” to help veterans have easier access to benefits and programs.
“I’m very proud to be in beautiful Saskatchewan. It’s my first time,” Blaney said and also thanked Blanke for her prayer. “It’s very inspiring and certainly is something that is good to do before undertaking any action.” He thanked MacKenzie as well “for reminding us of the greatness of the Métis nation, and today there’s another reason to celebrate.”
Blaney launched into a heartfelt speech about Canada’s aboriginals, who, he said, “have a long history of fighting for our country … Many thousands gave their lives.” He reminded us that “Canada’s prairies are home to the Métis” and announced that, “thanks to Prairie Dog Métis, a beautiful monument will stand in the valley” to honour the 16 Métis veterans of Lac Pelletier and surrounding communities for making the ultimate sacrifice.
“Cecile Blanke brought this forward,” said Blaney. “She has taken the initiative. This would not have happened without Cecile.”
Blanke expressed how pleased she was with the news of funding for the new Métis war monument. “It took lots of hard work to get this together, even coming up with the design. It came up in — not a dream — a monument with a Red River cart wheel … The monument must be more than just a monument.”
She drew our attention to a model of the “vision” monument made by her assistant, Tekeyla Friday, a local Métis author raised in Maple Creek. “It has 24 posts with names on all four sides of each post.”
Blanke closed the conference with moving stories about her father and the Métis veterans he invited to their home when she was a young girl. “They enlisted freely without hesitation to fight for their country. They were anxious to go. So was my dad, but he was 39 and too old to enlist. He was always interested in the soldiers on leave and invited them over. They brought alcohol, so they talked freely. I will never forget them or their stories.”
The Métis veterans had a very hard life after the war. They had no land to come home to and difficulty accessing their benefits. “Some sold their medals. Some drank themselves to death,” said Blanke. Others hid their native roots and integrated into society.
“So when we get this monument, the spirits will say, ‘They’re home.’ We will be able to tell our children who this monument is for. This is the most joyous day I will ever have.”
The Gull Lake Advance, Jan. 29, 2013