For one school in Winnipeg, Aboriginal Veterans Day on Friday was a chance to hear the origins of the Dakota flag song, and messages about peace.
Wanbdi Wakita is a residential school survivor from Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, near Brandon, Man. He comes from a family that has a long history of serving in the military. His uncles and his father served in the Second World War as well as the Korean War.
Wakita himself served as a private in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry for six years, with peacekeeping missions in Germany.
On Friday, Wakita was invited to Marion elementary school in Winnipeg’s St. Boniface neighbourhood to talk to the students about the sacrifices that Indigenous veterans have made for Canada.
“I remember the relatives and my brother who fought in the Korean War. All because they wanted to find peace, so that they can live together in harmony,” Wakita said to the school assembly.
On Friday, Wakita wore his uniform and brought his drum to sing the Dakota flag song.
During the assembly he told the students that the song had three lines to it: My grandmother depended on me/This flag is using me as a shield/I’ll always want it to hang above me.
According to Wakita, when Dakota people got back from the wars and they talked about how they fought overseas, elders and songmakers wanted to create a song that recognized the contributions of Dakota people to the wars.
“It’s sad to say, but I’m glad to be here today,” said Wakita.
“I’m sad because I see more and more wars — even if it’s our relatives downtown fighting against one another… These young ones, they need to know those kinds of things, that we want to live in peace and harmony just like the original statement Creator gave to us when we were put on this land.”
Incorporating Indigenous knowledge
Corey Kapulik has been the principal of Marion school for a year. He said the school has a large population of newcomer and Indigenous students.
Kapulik, who is Métis, said the school has put an emphasis on centring Indigenous knowledge and ways of being, and that non-Indigenous students have been learning Indigenous teachings throughout the year.
“Today, the students were involved with all parts of programming and planning and it was an extension of what we’re learning in the classrooms and an extension of how we represent ourselves as a community,” said Kapulik.
Grade 6 student Jaela Baliddawa said she thinks the government at the time was unfair to Indigenous veterans.
“They risked their lives to help Canada but when they went back from the world wars, and the Korean war, their discrimination continued,” said Baliddawa.
Christopher Favel, an Indigenous Grade 6 student, said that Indigenous veterans need to be respected and honoured.
“They helped us to have freedom.”