Lost accounts of Indigenous veterans come to life in Nanaimo

WatchForgotten accounts of First Nations veterans in wartime are coming to life, thanks to a Nanaimo volunteer who collected their stories before they passed.

Vancouver Island University history student Rowan Harris spent Wednesday recording wartime letters into the Canadian Letters and Images Project.

She was preserving what one Second World War soldier lived and wrote home about some 80 years ago.

Harris has recorded other letters but never has she entered the same letters home from an Indigenous soldier, despite thousands having served Canada.

“That whole other side of the conversation is gone,” said Harris.

“If it’s not kept then that whole part of history is just disappeared.”

“Unfortunately we don’t have that,” said Dr. Stephen Davies of the Canadian Letters and Images Project.

“And it’s a part of the story that we’d love to be able to add.”

Indigenous soldiers were not honoured when they returned from war even if they were heroes over there, and Dr. Davies, who founded the project, said racism back home stopped many from sharing their stories.

It makes what Geraldine Manson of the Snuneymuxw First Nation has collected all the more valuable.

“All of them are gone,” said Manson while looking at a collection of photos.

She undertook a volunteer project 20 years ago to interview Elders in her community and found out many had served in the war.

“It was overwhelming to hear the story,” said Manson, who is now an Elder herself.

Some were heroes she didn’t know until right then because they had never been formally honoured.

So she took down their stories, collected their photos and became deeply to attached to them, before every last one, passed away in recent years.

“Some actually volunteered to go over at a young age,” said Manson.

Thanks to her, something remains of their service to Canada.

“And the treasures that they left is so powerful and meaningful,” said Manson.

“They were always so humble.”

Manson plans to share what she has collected at the Nanaimo Remembrance Day services and then with the Canadian Letters and Images Project, so Nanaimo’s First Nations veterans may live on and finally receive the honour they’ve always deserved.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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