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Remembrance at Coqualeetza site in Chilliwack honours First Nations vets

Names of those who served will be read off a carved house post memorial that recognizes Sto:lo wartime contributions
A photograph of Sto:lo Remembrance Day services from 1993

Many Chilliwack residents know about annual Remembrance Day services held at cenotaphs on either side of town.

But there is also a third event, the Sto:lo Remembrance Day ceremony at the Coqualeetza Longhouse, open to everyone, which may not be as well known.

"The idea is to remember our Sto:lo warriors of the past," said Rose Greene, Cultural Education and Tourism Manager for Sto:lo Service Agency. "From time immemorial, we've had people in the role of warriors, keeping our people safe."

A Remembrance Day event has been held on the Coqualeetza grounds since 1996, a few years after a carved house post was erected to recognize Sto:lo wartime contributions, and to help the vets receive benefits.

A minute of silence, on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is observed, and commemorative wreaths are laid at the base of the Sto:lo memorial post.

But there is a little more to the story.

What actually happened to Sto:lo members after they signed up and left home to serve their country in various wars, is not well known, said Greene.

It's not common knowledge that some aboriginal soldiers were encouraged to give up their Indian status before they signed up to fight for Canada, while others lost their status upon returning from overseas.

"It's not well known, because it's not part of our shared history," Greene said.

Loss of status was what awaited her grandfather, who was of Sto:lo and Semiahmoo ancestry, Greene said.

Many soldiers had hoped they would enjoy the same rights, benefits, and respect as their fellow Canadian soldiers who served as they did on far-flung battlefields.

But that was not what the Sto:lo vets found, and they were denied the benefits enjoyed by others upon their return due to bureaucratic bungling.

"It was a form of colonialization," she noted. "My grandfather lost his status when he returned."

The entire family consequently lost their status, which forfeited their rights to some band land at Semiahmoo First Nation, as well.

"So during the ceremony we acknowledge that even though some of our warriors gave up their FN status, it's of huge significance that they served their community and the country. What they did was for everyone.

"They were fighting for all of Canada, and we recognize those contributions."

Darcy Paul, Qwí:qwelstóm wellness worker, said he is looking forward to experiencing the ceremony from a Sto:lo perspective for the first time this year.

"I really appreciate what is being done here," said Paul. "We can look back on what our people did for the history of Canada, developing and building upon its foundation.

"Warriors have always been a part of our culture, so to acknowledge them in this way, is an honour for them and for all of us."

He said it made sense to turn the negative into something positive by honouring the warriors in a special ceremony.

"We will often take things that have hurt us, and turn it around into a positive. That gives us strength to carry on," he said.

The federal government acknowledges that many as 12,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit men and women served Canada during the First and Second World Wars, as well as during peacekeeping missions of the 20th century, with at least 500 making the ultimate sacrifice.

The Sto:lo ceremony in the longhouse asks attendees to witness, remember and share the event, and features speakers, traditional drumming and songs.

The opening prayer will be by Skwah elder Eddie Gardner, followed by the main speaker Jason Campbell of Seabird Island, Darcy Paul, Qwí:qwelstóm Wellness Worker, and Dave Jimmie, president of the Sto:lo Nation Chiefs' Council.

They will gather in the longhouse first, and then walk over to the memorial post site where white tents will be set up, with a shared meal following the ceremonies. Wreaths and cedar boughs are laid at the memorial to remember soldiers' sacrifices.

The Sto:lo Remembrance Day Ceremony, on Nov. 11, is starting at 10 a.m. in the Coqualeetza Longhouse on Vedder Road.

Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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