Three new headstones are expected to be marked this week at the Hay River Cemetery to acknowledge the services of Indigenous veterans.
Floyd Powder, who has been working with the Indigenous Veterans Initiative with the Last Post Fund to ensure that deceased past Indigenous soldiers get a proper headstone, said he is looking forward to seeing the town fully acknowledge the contributions made by native people and other soldiers.
Specifically this week, headstones will be erected for Second World War veterans Hal Dwight Hendricks and Arthur James Dechief as well as Lawrence Clarke.
There were plans to hold a ceremony sometime this week. Arrangements were still being made with Hay River Legion Branch #250, which is expected to facilitate an event featuring other service people in town.
Vince McKay, president of the Legion branch said that initially headstones were to be installed by Eagle 88 Enterprises on Tuesday however due to other work demands it is expected to be put off until later in the week.
Powder said he has been impressed with the upkeep of grave sites at the South Slave cemetery as he has taken it upon himself to keep track of records where he can find them all across the North.
He has been the go-to person for the NWT for the Montreal-based Last Post Fund which is making a national effort to ensure Indigenous people are properly recognized with headstones.
“I was in Hay River last year and I went through cemetery and went through a list of Hay River veterans and we are fortunate that quite a few headstones are already there and funded by Last Post and Legion,” he said.
He said he has been grateful to Peter Osted, long time Legion member and a former commanding officer of the Cadets who has provided a wealth of knowledge on the town’s veterans.
Maria Trujillo, Indigenous program co-ordinator said that since Powder began working on this research in recent years her organization has been able to identify what headstones are needed and where they should go.
“Since last October, one of the biggest accomplishments we have made is that we have ordered large grave markers that Floyd brought to our attention,” she said of the NWT.
“Some of them are already on their way and will be installed this July.”
Trujillo estimated that there are a bit more than 15, with a large number of them going to Yellowknife but also other communities like Hay River, Fort Simpson, Fort Smith and Behchoko.
Trujillo explained that once an Indigenous veteran is identified, the family is contacted for basic grave information like birth date and death dates and are given the option of a Metis symbol, a military crest or a cross to go on the headstone.
In some cases if there are unmarked graves, the Last Post Fund has a program to provide for a headstone for that, too.
“Because we are based in Montreal, we are so far away that there is no way to do the work without Floyd,” she said. So we have been very grateful for him and he is sort of really the driving force behind these getting all the grave markers and getting them installed.”