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Whitewashing Remembrance: I Wear A Poppy For Native Veterans

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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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REMEMBRANCE DAY 2012
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