Eskasoni First Nation honours soldiers who fought for freedoms they couldn't enjoy


ESKASONI FIRST NATION –- First Nations communities across the Maritimes remembered their men and women who served.

Banners lined a street in Eskasoni First Nation on Monday to commemorate the efforts of the more than 40 local soldiers, or 'smak'nis' in the Mi'kmaq language, who fought in different wars.

"A lot of people got emotional seeing their dad's picture up," says Mary Gould.

Mary Gould and Rosie Basque got the idea when they saw something similar done on Millbrook First Nation.

The faces are of men and women who served in the First and Second World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam. They were all from Eskasoni.

"My husband was a Vietnam veteran, and he passed away 21 years ago," Basque says. "I thought this was a great thing to honour the veterans, and also to educate the children of this community."

At the Remembrance Day ceremony in Sydney, Basque's late husband Wilfred -- and others who have served -- were remembered by Nova Scotia's first Mi'kmaq Member of Parliament.

"One of our famous smak'nis in our community was Will Basque," Battiste said.  "He was a poet, and he was one of my childhood best friend's dad. So I spent a lot of time at his house.  On days like this, I remember him and his service."

Gould and Basque say the banners helped people fondly remember these soldiers at today's service in Eskasoni.

But off-reserve, they feel that First Nations contribution to Canada's military history sometimes gets forgotten more than it should.

"We've always, always had a service for them," Gould said. "But going outside, I don't think we're recognized as much."

"We didn't even have rights to vote 'til the 1960s, but they were still fighting for freedom," Basque said.

Many of the banners were placed close to the homes of living family members and, while this year was a first, they plan to put them up again next November.

"We didn't get all the pictures this year, so next year we'll probably add a few," Basque said.