When I think of Remembrance Day, I think of my grandfather, Myles. Myles, who is 88 years old, served for Canada and the U.S. during the Second World War, like many other men and women who were his contemporaries. My other grandfather, William, who passed away in his early 60s, also served in the Merchant Navy in Britain, fighting alongside the Royal Navy and Airforce. And while war seems like a lifetime ago, the fact of the matter is, I have a veteran younger than I am in my family. War is a constant – but the sacrifices that these men and women made live on.
The reason why I think of Myles when I wear a poppy is because Myles is Native. He’s Chippewa, born on a reserve and raised among Native women who passed along culture that was then quietly and systematically taken from him. But when he talks about his veteran days, he speaks about them with pride. He speaks as a true patriot, as someone who has sacrificed and continues to sacrifice for Canada. And that’s what I choose to remember when I reflect upon Remembrance Day.
Whether or not you agree with war is not the point of Remembrance Day, in my opinion. I don’t agree with war. It doesn’t preclude me from wearing a poppy, or from observing a moment of silence at the stroke of 11 AM on November 11. And it doesn’t matter if you think that Remembrance Day glorifies war, either. Whatever you think is your right. Whatever you say is your right to speak freely. And the reason you have those rights is because men like my two grandfathers, one a Native man who, through colonization, lost his culture, fought for this place where we can be free.
I look at it this way: it’s not about the glorification of an activity that I wish humanity never participated in again. It’s about the fact that as a Native woman, I can write here on this blog and tell you about the fact that you don’t get to decide my identity. You don’t get to tell me, as a woman, that I am not equal to the men I work beside and live in this city with. You don’t get to tell me, as a gay person, that I cannot marry who I want to marry. And the reasons you don’t get to decide those things for me is because my grandfathers, along with many others who still fight today, fought wars so that we could fight on for causes that will better society.
In places where women are killed for daring to go outside without a man at their sides, or places where gay people are beaten and killed for who they are, it can seem like wars that are fought to stop this seem almost counter-productive. And I’m not saying that I wish that everyone would go to war to fight for our rights. What I am saying is that if you choose to wear that poppy, you are not just representing those that fought for us. You are representing those that died for and in the cause to preserve our rights and maintain them for our children. You are representing the systems that were struck down, the laws that were overthrown, and the peace that was obtained – often obtained at great cost. And while I don’t believe we will ever be free of warfare, maybe by observing this day, and the sacrifices made by all who lived through the changes of rights, freedoms, and fighting, we are learning better where we need to go in society and as humans.
Maybe we are learning that our children are the ones who will hold the world after we’re dead. And by reminding them of the sacrifices given up to this point, we enable them to fight on, to fight better, to fight so that eventually, someday, far down the road – we are all equal.
So, when I think of my grandfather, disenfranchised as a Native man, and I listen to him regain his culture now, in a Canada that is now turning and listening, however faintly, to the protests and cries of Natives everywhere, I think of the sacrifice that he made for a country that couldn’t have cared less about him. I think of the freedoms that we as Canadians have now, because of the sacrifices of the veterans that stand and salute, shakily, at cenotaphs across the country.
They, and he, didn’t necessarily make that sacrifice for Canada. He made that sacrifice for me, so that I can tell you this now. They made that sacrifice so that we could have free choice.
When you remember our veterans today – like my grandfather, William, whose sacrifices enabled Britain to win against Germany, or my cousin, who is a veteran in his 20s – don’t think of the glorification of war.
Instead, think of the men and women who lost their lives, lost their limbs, lost their souls – so that you can stand here today, freely, without fear of recourse for your words.
Lest we forget.