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Elizabeth Hawksworth

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Whitewashing Remembrance: I Wear A Poppy For Native Veterans

Posted: 11/10/2013 1:05 am

Remembrance Day is upon us -- the day the Armistice was put into place that ended the First World War, and the day that Canadians take a moment at the stroke of 11 a.m. to remember our veterans, our dead, and the victims and senselessness of war.

Well, that's what we're supposed to be remembering. Instead, we have a lot of hypocrisy -- people who support wars, who even glorify them, wearing poppies. While the original point of the red poppy is to signal that we don't forget the losses and the great cracks war made in society, the reasoning seems to have been lost over arguments about why people are wearing it.

It makes it kind of hard to remember that the poppy is supposed to represent "never another war."

Some people choose not to wear the poppy, and I've found this to be incomprehensible in the past. I felt it was disrespectful and that the reason why we get the choice to exercise our freedom is because of the sacrifices of our soldiers and the people that worked the war effort. But I learned that people who choose not to wear the poppy, or choose to wear the white poppy, are not choosing to forget the horrors of war or feel ungrateful for the freedom we enjoy today.

We as Canadians don't forget war. It's on the History Channel. It's in movies and it's in popular culture. There's a show on TV right now called Bomb Girls, about women who helped the war effort in ammunition factories. We don't forget the wars. We don't forget the senseless fighting, the history that came out of it and the way we are because of it.

I respect the choice to wear the white poppy, or not to wear a poppy at all. I even start to understand the reasoning behind the different choice -- because I have noticed that the remembering and the memorials tend to be focused on the white male soldiers that marched off to war.

I choose to wear the poppy for a different reason. I choose to wear it because as a woman with Native ancestry, I want to remember those whose faces we never see in the Heritage moments or on the Remembrance Day TV spots.

In the 1940s, an 18-year-old Chippewa boy left his home to join the Navy. He became an officer on a ship headed for the South Pacific, where he fought against the Japanese in the Second World War. He fought, despite the fact that his family lost their culture due to the actions of the Canadian government, despite the fact that he lost his language, his cultural arts, and his identity as a Native man.

That man is my grandfather, and he and other veterans of colour still man our legions. They might sell you poppies outside of grocery stores. They wipe tears away at the ceremonies, saluting with shaky hands to the wreaths on the cenotaphs. They are part of the fabric of the freedom Canada attained through fighting.

While we remember the many veterans who fought in the many wars Canada has been involved in, the iconic images of these veterans are whitewashed. We don't see the people of colour in the adverts and posters who, despite the treatment they received from our country, fought wholeheartedly for Canada. They stood beside their white military fellows, held the same guns. They manned the same cannons and threw the same grenades. They died in the trenches and on the seas, their faces never to be seen again under miles of thick, bloody mud.

Why don't we see those faces when we remember?

I wear the poppy because I choose to remember the sacrifices that our citizens of colour made during the wars. I choose to remember that they didn't just give up their lives, they gave up their culture, their language, their right to freedom, and still fought. By wearing my poppy, I choose to honour those veterans -- those Native, African-Canadian, Asian-Canadian soldiers. Those ones we never see in the books.

And I wear the poppy not just as a way to remember, but as a statement: freedom doesn't just belong to white folks. The sacrifices weren't just made by your English and French grandfathers who manned guns in World War II. They were made by people who clawed their way back to the surface after our country did its best to bury them through colonization. These people have seen more loss than all of us combined.

I proudly wear my poppy for peace. For sacrifice. For the victims we lost, for the people who survived, and for my grandfather and his Native peers.

Lest we forget.

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  • A member of the armed forces forms inspects wreaths ahead of a Remembrance Day dawn service at Prospect Cemetery in Toronto, on Sunday November 11, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

  • People gather around the war monument during a Remembrance Day ceremony in downtown St. John's, NL, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

  • Veterans salute as they take part in the National Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa Sunday, November 11, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

  • The Canadian flag is lowered to half mast during a Remembrance Day dawn service at Prospect Cemetery in Toronto, on Sunday November 11, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper walks with Hong Kong Veteran Arthur Kenneth Pifher, 91, of Grimsby, Ont., as they take part in a Remembrance Day ceremony at Sai Wan War Cemetery in Hong Kong on Sunday, November 11, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • A wreath sits infront of a military gravestone in the National Military cemetary in Ottawa, Friday November 9, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

  • Service medals are seen on Australian retired General Peter Congrove, of NSW Centenary of Anzac Advisory Council Chair, during the Remembrance Day ceremony held at the cenotaph in Sydney on November 11, 2012. Remembrance Day marks the anniversary of the armistice which ended the First World War (1914–18) and in memory of those who died or suffered in wars and armed conflicts. AFP PHOTO/ROSLAN RAHMAN (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A woman places a poppy flower on the cenotaph during Remembrance Day in Sydney on November 11, 2012. Remembrance Day marks the anniversary of the armistice which ended the First World War (1914–18) and in memory of those who died or suffered in wars and armed conflicts. AFP PHOTO/ROSLAN RAHMAN (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Wooden crosses bearing pictures of fallen servicemen and women and messages from their loved ones are planted in a memorial field at Saltwell Park in Gateshead, north-east England, on October 29, 2012 ahead of Remembrance Day (Armistice Day) on November 11. AFP PHOTO/PAUL ELLIS (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Wooden crosses bearing pictures of fallen servicemen and women and messages from their loved ones are planted in a memorial field at Saltwell Park in Gateshead, north-east England, on October 29, 2012 ahead of Remembrance Day (Armistice Day) on November 11. AFP PHOTO/PAUL ELLIS (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • An Israeli soldier stands in front of a wall of names memorial to fallen soldiers at the Armored Corps memorial, following a ceremony to mark Remembrance Day, or Memorial Day at Latrun Junction, near Jerusalem on April 25, 2012. Remembrance Day is followed immediately by the 61st anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel. AFP PHOTO/JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

  • King Albert II of Belgium salutes during the commemoration of World War I (1914-1918), commonly known as Remembrance Day, at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Brussels, on November 11, 2012. AFP PHOTO / BELGA / BENOIT DOPPAGNE (Photo credit should read BENOIT DOPPAGNE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 11: Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall meets with New Zealand war veteran Staff Sgt Kirsty Meynell after the Armistice Day Commemoration at the Auckland War Memorial on November 11, 2012 in Auckland, New Zealand. The Royal couple are in New Zealand on the last leg of a Diamond Jubilee that takes in Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand. (Photo by Ross Setford-Pool/Getty Images)

  • A US citizen carries wreath as he walks past walls where 36,286 names of missing are inscribed at the US cemetery and memorial during the Veterans Day memorial in Manila on November 11, 2012. The US cemetery contains the remains of 16,631 Americans who died in the Pacific, China,India, and Burma theaters of war. AFP PHOTO/TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 11: Prince Charles, Prince of Wales greets war veterans and members of the public following Armistice Day commemorations at the Auckland War Memorial Museum on November 11, 2012 in Auckland, New Zealand. The Royal couple have arrived in New Zealand on the last leg of a Diamond Jubilee that takes in Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

  • A US soldier carrying the US national flag stands at attention during the Veteran's Day commemoration at the US cemetery in Manila on November 11, 2012. The US cemetery contains the remains of 16,631 US citizens who died in the Pacific, China, India, and Burma theaters of war. AFP PHOTO/TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Chelsea Pensioners march past the Cenotaph during Remembrance Sunday service in Whitehall, Central London, on November 11, 2012. Services are held annually across Commonwealth countries during Remembrance Day to commemorate servicemen and women who have fallen in the line of duty since World War I. AFP PHOTO/CARL COURT (Photo credit should read CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

  • FORT WILLIAM, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 11: Servicemen and women join veterans as they attend a remembrance Sunday ceremony at Commando Memorial on November 11, 2012 in Spean Bridge, Scotland. Remembrance Sunday tributes were carried out across the nation to pay respects to all who those who lost their lives in current and past conflicts, including the First and Second World War . (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

  • BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - NOVEMBER 11: King Albert II of Belgium meets with war veterans during a tribute to the unknown soldier on November 11, 2012 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Mark Renders/Getty Images)

 

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