Deceased Indigenous veterans in the Northwest Territories should be recognized with a proper headstone for their service, Floyd Powder says.
Powder, a 32-year veteran himself, is one of 12 Indigenous community researchers across the country involved with the Last Post Fund’s Indigenous Veterans Initiative.
The Last Post Fund aims to ensure that all deceased veterans receive a dignified burial and a permanent tombstone to mark their service within five years of their death. The Fund, supported by Veterans Affairs Canada, is one of the oldest non-profit charities in Canada, active since 1909.
The Last Post Fund states that there are close to 12,000 Indigenous people who have served in the Canadian Armed Forces to date.
The charity’s Indigenous Veterans Initiative program, launched in March 2019, also covers special inscriptions for Indigenous vets related to their identity. In the case of First Nations, for example, they can be provided a symbolic eagle, or a Metis veteran could receive a Metis symbol. The program also provides inscriptions in traditional language.
Powder has a full-time job but has been doing research on his own on a voluntary basis for the charity. He has found that there are numerous burial plots throughout southern NWT without markers to give past service people the recognition they deserve.
In 2015, Powder’s father Eddy, an Indigenous Elder who in the Second World War was a private in the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada – an infantry regiment of the Canadian Forces Reserve – died at the Fort Smith Health Centre. Eddy was believed to be the last veteran in the town.
Last February, Floyd applied to get his father’s service documents and it was then that the Last Post Fund asked for help in locating veterans in the North.
In his spare time over the last five years, Powder has been creating a list of Northern veterans who should be noted. He has been reaching out to veterans’ families to let them know about the Last Post Fund and the services it provides.
“That was when (Last Post Fund) asked me to help identify other Indigenous veterans that they thought were buried in Yellowknife and that is what got me involved,” Powder explained. “As the snow cleared away at the end of last April and into May, I went to Lakeview Cemetery a few times and noticed there were a few graves, even in the Field of Honour, that didn’t have a headstone. We were interested in who they were.”
Based on his own research, Powder has been able to identify and confirm seven sites at Yellowknife’s Lakeview Cemetery this year that meet the criteria and will have new headstones installed next spring.
Throughout the territory, there are also two sites that have been confirmed for headstones in Fort Smith and one in Behchoko.
Another two have already been installed in Fort Fitzgerald, Alta. earlier this month, he said.
There are several others that he is researching mainly throughout the North and South Slave, he added.
Maria Trujillo, program coordinator with the Indigenous Veterans Initiative, said Powder’s efforts are appreciated because it’s not always easy to find people to do research or keep in contact with families who have lost veterans.
“We get volunteers like Floyd, who is very dedicated, or we get in touch with anyone would want to do research for us and they then work from that community and find unmarked gravesites,” Trujillo said. “Floyd has been extremely helpful and we have been very lucky he has been on board in the project. We have needed someone on the ground to talk to families or go to cemeteries to do the research.”
The organization reports that there have been 68 unmarked Indigenous veterans’ graves found in total across the country. Of those, 36 had headstones set to be placed this past summer.