Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

Veterans Honored in Cornwall

 

Akwesasne veterans were honored at the "Take a Veteran to Dinner" event in Cornwall. Back L-R: Peter Back, Peter Garrow, Mike Cook, Dwight Bero, Sr. Front L-R: Hubert Jock, Levi Oakes, Barney Rourke and Jack Leaf. Photo courtesy of Sister Kateri Mitchell.

On Sunday, October 28, 2018 a "Take a Veteran to Dinner" event was held at the Ramada Inn in Cornwall. Veterans from Stormont, Dundas, Glengarry and Akwesasne were honored. Veterans from Akwesasne included Jack Leaf, Barney Rourke, Levi Oakes and Hubert Jock. Peter Garrow was given the honor of speaking.

Here are Peter's remarks:

Bonjour, Greetings, She:kon, Guten Tag, Buenos Dias, Hola, A Shalom, Ciao and Konechiwa,

Thank you for your acknowledgement of whose traditional territory this celebration is taking place on. In the past meetings between Akwesasne members and Cornwall officials held in Cornwall, it was never stated on whose traditional territory the meeting, celebration or event was taking place on. That acknowledgement is a long time coming and I thank you. As such, I would like to acknowledge that this celebration of honor is taking place on the traditional territory of the Mohawks of Akwesasne and that we also acknowledge the enduring presence of Kanien'kehaka on the land and on the waters.

At the onset of this event someone spoke about how we need to do more events like this that will bring community members of Cornwall and Akwesasne together. I agree that the current bridge is supposed to connect us and yet it has divided us. This celebration tonight will hopefully build another bridge that will connect us and maybe there will be other bridges

I have brought my honor guard with me who act as my bodyguard and they are Jack Leaf, Hubert Jock, Barney Rourke and Levi Oakes who are all WWII veterans and in their 90s.

Veterans, family members, honored guests and friends, this is indeed an honor and privilege for me to address veterans of both countries and their guests. I am a veteran of the USAF (1964-1967) having spent 3 years in post-war Germany during the cold war. Many of the veterans we honor here tonight were veterans of HOT wars and because of their duty to their country, their families and to their comrades, we express our sincere appreciation and everlasting gratitude to their valiant contributions for all the freedoms we enjoy today.

Now from a historical and more personal perspective touched with a sense of reality, I wish to convey these thoughts about us, as Mohawk people, as Mohawk service men and women, as Mohawk warriors, as members of a Mohawk Nation.

Historically since contact, we have defended our families, our communities, our territory and to a great extent we defended our culture, our language, our traditions and our way of life. It has not been easy but with a true warrior spirit, we have survived as a people and as a nation.

Early in the history of Canada and the United States we were formidable allies, respected and were courted by the French, British and American forces to fight on their side or in some cases remained neutral. There were many Native Americans who also fought on either side during the American Civil War. More recently, this warrior spirit was evident in our presence on the battlefields of the Great Wars, Korean War, Vietnam and most recently in the Middle East. The numbers are staggering as they volunteered during the Great Wars even though Indigenous people were not considered citizens and were not considered for the draft.

Here are some statistics:

1) In Canada, there were more than 7,000 FN people who served in both world wars with the following statistics: WWI (4000 – 300 died) and WWII (3000 – 200 died). As stated by historians, "First Nation veterans were treated as equals on the battlefields but not at home." Many veterans returning home had lost their Indian status which was a Canadian policy stigma hard to erase, even today. Another stigma placed on Native people was that many acres of their land/territory was removed for the war effort and even today was never returned without struggles, if at all. And to add salt to the wound, many plots of this Reserve land removed was awarded to non-Native veterans and not to FN veterans. These stigmas based on Canadian policies were the primary reason that many of the Akwesasne veterans did not join the Canadian Forces.

2) In the United States it was somewhat different because upon return these veterans did not lose their Tribal status unless coerced, however veterans' benefits were still less than non-Native veterans.

Statistics:

• WWI – 12,000 joined and the Haudenosaunee/Iroquois Confederacy also declared war on Germany in 1917. Choctaw Code Talkers were used during WWI.

• WWII – 44,000 joined (out of a total US Indian population of 350,000). In July 1942 – Iroquois Confederacy declared war on the Axis Powers. Many of our Akwesasne veterans joined the American Forces because of this declaration.

• Today there are over 22,569 enlisted service members with 1,297 officers on active duty around the world. (Forty-two died in Iraq and 22 died in Afghanistan.)

In the US the Code Talkers Recognition Act of 2008 was passed to strike medals to recognize Native veterans for their dedication and valor during both World Wars.

What is a Code Talker? A Code Talker is the name given to Native Americans who used their Tribal languages to send secret communications on the battlefield. I must point out that most codes were broken except this one. American Code Talkers were told to keep their work secret.

For you movie buffs one of my favorite movie growing up was Battle Cry based on a book by Leon Uris where Code Talkers were first depicted. We all know about the recent movie "Windtalkers" with Adam Beach. I wish to note that in this same Ramada Hotel conference room, as Director of Education for Ahkwesahsne Mohawk Board of Education, we hosted a Language Conference and our main/keynote speaker was Roger Willie, Navajo, who starred in the movie "Windtalkers" as a Navajo Code Talker along with Adam Beach. During WWII there were members of 13 tribes that became Code Talkers, the Navajo being the most famous.

And we have our own superstar or popstar in Akwesasne – and he is here today Louis Levi Oakes who is the sole surviving Akwesasne Mohawk Code Talker. Levi is my late father's first cousin and Levi served as Technician 4th Grade, Company B, 442nd Signal Battalion US Army, Honorably discharged Feb. 15, 1946. He is 94 years old. Breaking News, I just learned from Levi's daughter Dora, that Rochester Institute of Technology has dedicated a special scholarship in Levi Oakes' name.

Knowing Levi Oakes all my life, he never revealed the secret he carried throughout the European Theater with his family and other veterans. He only revealed it recently even after the WWII Code Talker program was declassified.

Now I would close with words from the late Ernie Benedict who served in the US Army. His son Lloyd told me an amazing story of his father's wake which is: In 1941 while as a university student at St. Lawrence he was drafted and indicated he would not go, as the Iroquois Confederacy was not at war and Ernie was subsequently thrown in jail. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt came to his defense (something First Lady Melania Trump would never do) and he was released. Later in July 1942, the Iroquois Confederacy declared was on the Axis Powers, as stated earlier. Ernie then served with the US Army and became a war hero.

Here is his closing:

Our Mother Earth has given us birth, as she has for many centuries. She has given birth to all animal creatures and to all plants. For this, we are constantly giving thanks.

Other people have come across the water and sea. Our Mother on Turtle Island, has taken you into her home. She has treated all her new family well. You, who have risen up in other lands, have decided to make your journey to this our Turtle Island. You may have endured much pain in those other lands. Your journey may have been full of dangers and hardships.

But here you have found a place for yourselves, and we have moved into small places to make room for you. We are now all her children. She will continue to be the Mother of all.

Here you will find water to wash the bruises from your feet. There will be water to cool your face. There will be water to quench your thirst. There will be soft furs to rest upon. There will be soft doeskin to take away the dust that has obstructed your eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

You will now see clearly, the friendship and love of those who are before you. You will hear voices of comfort. Your will speak without fear, whatever is in your heart and in your nostrils will be the aroma of freedom.

Your will acknowledge our Mother the Earth as your adoptive Mother, for such will be your respectful relationship. You have the honour of giving her love and praise and gratitude.

You will give thanks to the Creator for all the accomplishments of Mother Earth.

The treaties between our nations must be respected, protected and honoured under the breath and protection of the Creator...For as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow and the grass grows.

This...we will do together so that all our steps from this day forth, will become the path of peace for our future generations.

Onen

 

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