April 12th, 2024

Legacy project honours graves of Indigenous soldiers in the Netherlands

By Lethbridge Herald on September 29, 2023.

Wilson Williams performs an honor song for Private Joseph Chalifoux as his relative Pat Chalifoux looks on at Canadian Holten War Cemetery. Photo by Glenn Miller


Earlier this year, a group of Canadian, Indigenous and Dutch individuals created the Indigenous Legacy Project, is research and remembrance based initiative to identify and mark the graves of Indigenous soldiers buried in cemeteries across the Netherlands.

The Liberation of the Netherlands Branch 005 Royal Canadian Legion, Europe formed a team to honour the sacrifices made by Canadian Indigenous Veterans and who are buried in their country.

 The team efforts resulted in identifying an initial group but with further research continue to identify more. The branch wanted to find a way to honour these veterans and were in contact with the Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones (AVA) to find a way to conduct a ceremony. 

The AVA initially were able to share this project with Veterans Affairs Canada who agreed to support the project and send a delegation. The AVA started to locate and contact family or national representatives.  

Local military historian Warrant Officer (retired) Glenn Miller recently made a trip to the Netherlands as part of a delegation of 13 families and a group from the AVA from Sept. 11-15.

The first day starting with a sunrise sharing circle led by Elders Bernard and Tammy Nelson followed by a formal ceremony later in the morning at Holten Canadian War Cemetery. 

After the ceremony, family members or nation representative visited the graves of their Veterans. Delegation members were very moved and appreciative of the opportunity to be part of the delegation. 

Involving youth is a key element of commemorating Remembrance. Chris Young of the AVA was able to have a youth group make up pouches to be provided to a youth class in from the Netherlands who were present for the ceremony at Holten. They in turn presented the pouches to the families when they made their way to the graves to offer tobacco and also placed flowers.

 The second day consisted of a formal ceremony at Groesbeek War Cemetery followed by a visit to the Liberation museum. 

Miller was honoured to be able an Ally to help in identifying and promoting partnerships here in Canada so the Liberation of the Netherlands Branch 005 of the Royal Canadian Legion can honour their liberators. 

Miller brought the initiative to the attention of the AVA who supported the Project and championed it to Veterans Affairs Canada for their support. AVA sent a small delegation of four members with Chris Young as team lead, Wendy Jocko, Shauna Mulligan and Denis Gravel. Miller was recommended by the AVA as an Ally and traveled as a representative of the Alberta Branch of the Last Post Fund. 

In keeping with the spirit of the ongoing Reconciliation process, The Last Post Fund (LPF) is eager to help commemorate and honour Indigenous Veterans through the Indigenous Veterans Initiative (IVI), launched in March 2019.  The Indigenous Veterans Initiative (IVI) offers two services by placement of a military marker for Veterans that have been buried more than 5 years and with no existing tombstone in place and an inscription of the Indigenous Veteran’s traditional name on existing tombstone previously placed by the Last Post Fund. 

Both services require research and community support from members of Indigenous communities throughout Canada.  Researchers are provided a list of Indigenous Veterans as a starting point for the research.  

Trips like this help to raise the profile of the initiative and gain more awareness. The Last Post Fund has made significant achievements since the program was launched in 2019.

 So far over 300 unmarked graves of Indigenous veterans have been found with the help of 23 Indigenous community researchers established across Canada. Over 140 grave markers have been ordered or already placed and commemorative ceremonies conducted after the installment of the marker.

 Requests for traditional names in six distinct Indigenous languages have been received (Algonquin, Blackfoot, Cree, Interior Salishan, Inuktitut, Saulteaux).  Special collaboration with Cree artist Jason Carter for the creation of seven symbols for headstone inscriptions, to be used in perpetuity.

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