‘People were willing to lay down their lives’: PAGC honours Indigenous veterans with Friday ceremony

The flag party marches off the colours at the conclusion of the PAGC Remembrance Day ceremony on Friday, Nov. 10. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Every Remembrance Day, Dion Michelle can’t help but think of his buddies.

Michelle, an Afghanistan veteran from Prince Albert, was one of dozens of local veterans who filled the Prince Albert Grand Council Urban Affairs building on Friday for the annual PAGC Remembrance Day service.

Michelle said many of the men and women he served with struggled after returning from Afghanistan. It’s thoughts of their safety that linger with him most.

“I lost more friends to their battles with PTSD than I did overseas,” he said. “That’s an area where it could be more looked after.”

Michelle joined the Canadian Army as a 21-year-old and deployed to Afghanistan in 2006 during Task Force Orion. It was his second trip to the Middle East, having first deployed in 2003 with a small Canadian contingent during the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Since retiring, he’s made it a priority to advocate for his fellow soldiers. That commitment is what drives him to attend Remembrance Day events like this one hosted by the PAGC.

“I try and be as active as I can,” Michelle said. “I went to two ceremonies this week, and then I’ll be going to the main ceremony (on Saturday).”

Kaylen Lapriese is too young to have seen combat, but like Michelle, she’s very active in the lead-up to Remembrance Day.

Lapriese was one of many PAGC First Nations Cadets who participated in Friday’s ceremony. She said it’s important to recognize the sacrifice made by veterans like her great-grandfather, a Second World War veteran who has since passed away.

“He fought for our freedom,” said Lapriese, who hails from Beardy’s and Okemasis, but also has ties to Turner Lake. “That’s why I’m here right now, and just to be proud of who I am.”

Lapriese was among the many locals who joined a legion of dignitaries to honour current and past veterans on Friday. The list of guests included FSIN Grand Chief Bobby Cameron, FSIN Vice-Chief Craig McCallum, PAGC Vice-Chief Chris Jobb, Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne, and Prince Albert Chief of Police Patrick Nogier.

Dignitaries pose for a photo following the conclusion of the PAGC Remembrance Day ceremony on Friday, Nov. 10. — Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Many dignitaries spoke about how important it was to have the next generation involved in the ceremony. Lapriese said she’s grateful to have the responsibility.

“It made me feel proud to be a part of it,” she said. “It also made me feel happy because they called us the new generation and (talked about) how we’re so proud.”

Many veterans are comfortable talking about their experiences, that’s not the case for all of them.

Leona Munroe and her husband have a daughter and a son who served. Their son Michael was one of four Muskoday residents who joined an American service branch and deployed to the Middle East during the invasion of Iraq.

“My son doesn’t talk about it,” she said. “I used to try and probe his brain and he wouldn’t say anything until he gave a good talking to to his nephew, because my nephew was being cheeky with him. That’s the only time I heard him talk about what he felt and what he went through…. We just respected his silence.”

Michael was in basic training with the U.S. Navy when the 9/11 attacks occurred. After graduating as an aviation mechanic, Michael served on aircraft carriers and sailed around the world before his helicopter squadron was deployed to Iraq.

On Friday, Leona was recognized at the PAGC Silver Cross Mother. On Remembrance Day, she hopes Prince Albert residents will respect the sacrifice veterans of all ages were willing to make.

“People were willing to lay down their lives to protect something,” she said. “There’s a number of things of course, but we enjoy the fruit of that…. The freedom that we have is a result of their willingness to lay down their lives.”

Friday’s ceremony included a Remembrance Day message from Grand Chief Robin Dawatsare, an honour roll reading from Irwin Hennie, and a Saskatchewan First Nations Veterans Association presentation from Emile Highway. Joe Monroe read the Act of Remembrance.

Dignitaries were also on hand to lay wreaths recognizing First World War, Second World War, Korean War, and peacekeeping veterans, as well as former members of the RCMP.

Dale Baldhead of One Arrow First Nation was responsible for laying the wreath in honour of local peacekeepers. He said ceremonies like the one held on Friday give veterans a chance to gather with friends and tell their stories.

It also gives him a chance to honour veterans who never made it home, like one of his uncles who died in Italy during the Second World War. As one veteran in a family of veterans, he said it was important to be there.

“All my relatives served,” he said. “All my four grandfathers (served) … my one uncle passed (away). They couldn’t find him there because a building collapsed on him in Italy. The rest have died of cancer.

“We need to tell our stories, and I tell my stories.”