Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin soldiers honoured at Nov.8 event in Dawson City

A small group of people gathered at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre to honour Indigenous soldiers at the annual Indigenous Veterans Day ceremony in Dawson City, Yukon. (Chris MacIntyre/CBC)

“Acknowledging the stories of our people who participated in the war is important to carry on,” says chief

About 30 people gathered on Tuesday for a small ceremony honouring indigenous soldiers and veterans at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre in Dawson City, Yukon.

The event is organized every Nov. 8 to mark Indigenous Veterans Day.

“I don’t think it’s a very widely known day to everyone,” Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin Chief Roberta Joseph explained. “I don’t think too many communities have a ceremony to acknowledge our people who have gone to war. Some of them sacrificed their lives. I don’t think we do enough to acknowledge them.”

Joseph said prior to having an event in Dawson, Yukoners would travel to Winnipeg to participate in Indigenous Veterans Day events. She said a group of sisters approached the cultural centre eight years ago to host a local ceremony.

Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin Chief Roberta Joseph. “Acknowledging the stories of our people who participated in the war is important to carry on for our younger generations.” (Chris MacIntyre/CBC)

Since then, every year we’ve had a little ceremony,” she said. “Not too many people gather, but it’s still to acknowledge them and keep them in our hearts.”

Joseph decided to do something a little different this year.

Instead of reading a speech, she shared three stories of Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin citizens who served their country. She said it felt more meaningful than just reading a script.

“There was Charlie Isaac,” she began. “As well as George Walters. They were in a platoon together with some other Yukoners as well. They had gone off to World War Two. Thankfully they made it through and were able to come back and tell some stories about it.”

Joseph also shared a story that her grandmother would tell her every Remembrance Day when she was growing up.

“She would always remember her cousin Harry Davis,” Joseph said. “She would always talk about how he sacrificed his life for his platoon. He passed away in World War Two. He let his platoon go ahead so that they could escape the enemy and he stayed behind by throwing a grenade and got caught up in that.”

Joseph said sharing these stories keeps the memory of those who served, and those who lost their lives, alive.

“Acknowledging the stories of our people who participated in the war is important to carry on for our younger generations,” Joseph said. “So that they can understand that our people were a part of this too.”

The next generation

Brothers Brinley and Carter Fraser are members of the Junior Rangers in Dawson City.

They attended the event on behalf their Grade 10 class and fellow Junior Rangers.

“I am not an Indigenous person,” Brinley said. “But I believe it’s fair for all people regardless of nationality, ethnicity, skin colour … to have their own day of remembrance. It’s an important day for this community because the majority of it is First Nations and it’s really good to see some diversity on this day.”

Carter added his thoughts on being at the ceremony.

‘We have a strong connection and history among the First Nation and among veterans serving in the war and I think everyone should have Remembrance Day and everyone is equally equal as everyone else.”

Both brothers said they felt a sense of pride when they heard the stories of citizens fighting for their country.

“It made us proud that we’re in this community,” Brinley said. “It makes us proud to hear how happy and how prideful people of this town are.”

“It makes us feel like we’re a part of something bigger,” Carter said. “Honestly I agree with my brother. We just have to acknowledge and respect and do our best to support our veterans and those who supported them during the wars.”

Related stories from around the North: 

United States: Veterans from Indigenous Alaskan village have war stories archived online, Alaska Public Media

Chris MacIntyre, CBC News

Chris MacIntyre is a CBC reporter in Dawson City, Yukon.

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