Indigenous veterans call ancestors back to Vimy

Article / October 27, 2017 / Project number: 17-0166

By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

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Christian Island, Ontario — It was cold when the Battle for Vimy Ridge got underway in April 9, 1917. The 20,000 Canadians who marched forward at 5:30 a.m. to claim the position from German forces did so through sleet and snow.

Fast forward to 2017. Sergeant (Retired) Roland Monague, a Canadian Army (CA) veteran who hails from the Christian Island First Nation on Georgian Bay in Ontario, was among a group of about a dozen Indigenous veterans who attended the ceremony held on the site in France to mark the 100th anniversary of the battle. They were asked to perform a Sunrise Ceremony at Vimy the day before the commemoration.

That was also a cold day, Sgt (Retd) Monague recalled, but a joyous one.

“We brought our ancestors back; the ones who participated in Vimy during the war,” he said. “We did the ceremony to ensure they were there with us, to ensure they witnessed it. It was a beautiful ceremony. The Vimy memorial is just beautiful when the sun rises. It really put into perspective what the ceremony represented and it had so much meaning to it. You could just feel the ancestors there when the wind came in.”

The Battle for Vimy was successful in large part due to artillery bombardments that paved the way for infantry. This is why the commemoration itself had an additional personal meaning for Sgt (Retd) Monague who served with the 1st and 2nd regiments of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery.

“It meant so much, seeing the grounds, what people had to endure,” he said. “And seeing the terrain they had to fight through. There was really nowhere to hide. It was all open field down below. So that’s why it took so long for Vimy to be captured but the artillery played a big role. When you stand on the ridge you just feel everything. That’s the way I felt - very proud of what our soldiers accomplished.”

On their way to the commemoration, the group paused to honour one Vimy fighter in particular.

“One of our senior veterans, his grandfather had died at Vimy and he found the grave site,” Sgt (Retd) Monague recalled. “We asked the bus driver if we could detour and we conducted a ceremony. It made us feel good because nobody had ever been there to visit. And to bring the medicines into that ceremony was just so uplifting. It was very powerful.”

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