Following on from the great success of John McCrae 150 last year, The Maple Leaf Trust, Canada UK Foundation, Canada UK Chamber of Commerce and Canada Memorial Foundation came together for a second time to support an international remembrance event for schools in the UK and across Canada.
Stories behind the Poppy, took place on Indigenous Veterans Day, 8 November 2023 and focus on the experiences of Indigenous people during the First World War. John Shiwak, Francis Pagahmagabow, Cameron Brant, and Edith Monture – four names among 4000 Indigenous men and women who served at the Western Front during the First World War.
Co-production was at the heart of this event with leadership and insight from the fantastic Faith Decontie, one of the Maple Leaf Trust scholars currently studying in the UK, and CTV journalist Nelson Bird, whose grandfather and father served in the First and Second World Wars, respectively.
Nelson shared his family history and recalled his experience of the ‘Calling Home Ceremony’, an extraordinary journey undertaken by Indigenous Canadian representatives to recover the spirits of those who died in both World Wars. Watch his film here.
Schools were also able to see for themselves the sites of commemoration on the Western Front thanks to Wouter Sinaeve at the In Flanders Fields Museum who made a short film at the Passchendaele Cemetery and Menin Gate.
Faith Decontie co-presented Stories behind the Poppy live from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg located in the Algonquin Nation community where she grew up, with Big Ideas’ Cassie Cramer in London, UK. Faith also invited Odeshkun, a youthful tribute singer to close the events. A powerful performer who has represented his community nationally and internationally, Odeshkun chose to perform a love song, dedicated to those who had served.
The Canadian High Commissioner, Ralph Goodale who introduced the film from fellow Saskatchewaner, Nelson Bird and tribute singer Odeshkun.
Stories behind the Poppy was an opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of Indigenous people who were excluded from society during the war and whose communities are still marginalised in Canada today. 78% of the teachers who registered were covering the stories of Indigenous veterans in the classroom for the first time. For the vast majority, this important topic was an opportunity to break new ground.
Classes commented on Odeshkun’s moving performance and sent in their responses, such as this from Crestview Public School in Toronto:
We speak to the spirits of those who have fought for peace: “Thank you for your service. Thank you for making Canada a better place to live in. Thank you for keeping peace among people! Thank you for your sacrifice and your bravery. Thank you for protecting those who could not help themselves, and bringing peace to our world. THANK YOU!!! We hope that freedom and peace are brought to each of us, even today. We wish that you have peace in your spirit, and that you know we still REMEMBER!!!”