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It was 1918 and the Elders were sitting by the lake telling stories. They foresaw things. Then one time, the sky was red with northern lights and they said, "there is going to be a lot of bloodshed." This had happened before and it was going to happen again.
Gordon Ahenakew takes you back with him to his experiences of the second World War. Ahenakew knows all too well what the Elders were talking about. He was seventeen when he decided to go to war. He remembers the Elders questioning what would happen if Hitler invaded Canada. The Elders were concerned about the protection of their Treaty rights. Ahenakew remembers thinking, "if Hitler really does win the government, we will also lose our Treaties, too. If this is true maybe I can help and do something about Hitler. Maybe somehow I can stop Hitler from treating us like dirt, like we are nothing. If this is really true, I will do my best to help prevent this situation."
Ahenakew served sixteen months overseas where he was employed as a "machine gunner" of his total service in the United Kingdom, Holland and Germany. Ahenakew, now almost seventy, tells what Remembrance Day means to him. Ahenakew says "I think about the guys that got killed when I was in the war. I knew the parents that received the telegrams of the ones who did not make it. I get very emotional. They were friends of mine and when you're in the war, you're really good friends no matter if they were white or black We were like a close family because our lives
Like every war veteran, Ahenakew remembers the difficult time he experienced after the war. "When I came back," he says, "I had nightmares. What did I do? I prayed. I also got drunk. A lot of us war veterans became like that. The people on the reserve thought we were crazy but I never said anything because they don't know what kind of torture we went through."
At some point in the war Ahenakew remembers artillery exploding behind him some distance away. This explosion resulted in a loss of hearing in his right ear. After consulting a doctor about his problem he was told that his ear was damaged by something else other than the war and it happened in the fifties (after the war). "I told the doctors about it. What did they give me? Eardrops and aspirin," says Ahenakew.
Many Indian war veterans who served in the first and second world wars the Korean War never enjoyed the medical and financial benefits that other Canadian war veterans did. Some who did get the benefits did not receive it until much later. "It is a tragedy that the Indian veterans and the Metis veterans were not given the information that they would have access to the benefits that the other war veterans enjoy," says Ahenakew. "The Indian agent who encouraged us to go to war never saw fit to give this information about the benefits and you don't dare argue with the Indian Agent because you would go to jail," says Ahenakew.
Ahenakew thinks about what it meant to defend his country and he explains that this is one of the freedoms he fought for: the freedom of being able to leave your reserve without having to be issued a pass from the Indian Agent or being put in jail for leaving without a pass. Ahenakew says, "I think I paid the price and now I am getting a disability cheque of forty or fifty dollars a month. Big deal, generous Canada. It seems that somehow a lot of veterans who served in the war and who are now dead never really got anything."
Although veterans like Ahenakew and many other Indian and Metis veterans fought a bitter battle both during and after the wars, like many other Indian and Metis veterans, Ahenakew feels that not only did they achieve freedom for Canada, but it also meant freedom for he rest of the world.
"I am very fortunate to be talking about my experiences. Very fortunate for coming back to publicize, not only my experiences, but also those of others so that our people will learn and realize that we had a very big part in winning the freedom that we have today. Every Indian person has a right to hold his head high because we have paid for this freedom."
Ahenakew goes on to say that, "as the whiteman says, `we spilled our blood,' so that this generation and the generation yet unborn would be able to live in peace and with dignity and pride. We had something to do with that freedom and that is what I think about on November 11."