Of the dozens of wreaths carefully laid at the foot of the Six Nations Veterans Park Cenotaph during Sunday’s remembrance ceremony, one stood out.
Resembling a dreamcatcher with a black netting stretched between its beige frame, the crown was adorned with red and white stars, a pair of miniature foam military boots with leather laces and a ribbon shirt sewn to the the hand crossed by the white and purple emblem of the Haudenosaunee. Confederation.
Labels sewn into the surface of the crown read “WWI” and “SAPPER” in bold white type on a red background, a tribute to William Staats of Six Nations, a combat engineer – or “sapper” – who fought in the First World War.
Leslie Staats, William’s granddaughter, laid the wreath accompanied by her grandson, Jordin Martin.
The wreath also honored Leslie’s father, John Staats, a US Navy engineer, and his two brothers who continued the family tradition by serving in the US Navy and Marine Corps.
“Freedoms. The freedom to speak. The freedom to live. The freedom to enjoy every day,” Leslie Staats said of her ancestors’ motivation to leave their homelands and fight abroad. “That’s what they fought for: the freedom to be free here and to speak. And they also kept conflicts out of our lands.
The remembrance ceremony, held annually on the third Sunday in October, was organized by the Six Nations Veterans Association, and veterans led the procession from the Community Hall to Center Park. -town of Ohsweken.
“I know that in the ranks of all these soldiers, men and women, there is a camaraderie between them. It doesn’t matter where they are in the world. It’s the same with indigenous peoples,” Staats said.
“Looking around us, the faces have not changed. The community is so vibrant.
Six Nations soldiers fought with Canadian, American and British regiments in conflicts dating from before Confederation to the present day. A centerpiece of the ceremony was the roll call, a reading aloud of the names of the 61 Haudenosaunee who died in action in the World Wars, as well as the six who died in Korea, Vietnam or Iraq.
There are more than 2,700 Indigenous service members in the Canadian military today, the lieutenant-colonel noted. Patrick Pitt of the 56th Field Artillery Regiment based in Brantford, whose soldiers attended the ceremony and delivered a resounding artillery salute that surprised some attendees.
Pitt said Canadian Army personnel are “tremendously proud” to have served with Indigenous troops past and present.
“The Canadian Armed Forces have been your comrades in arms for hundreds of years,” Pitt told the crowd, referring to the Haudenosaunee ally in the War of 1812 and the outsized volunteer contribution of Six Nations during the First World War.
Staats kept his cool until the end of the service when a lone batsman started playing.
“When they hit that drum once, boom, it caught my eye on it. She knocked again. But on the third, the tears started to flow, thinking of them,” she said.
“They carried on no matter what. They are there because they continued. They were injured, they froze, they encountered poverty in these fields. But they continued. So he tells us to continue.
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