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Marking graves and reconciling with veterans

A non-for profit group is looking for researchers as part of a program to properly name Indigenous unmarked graves. (Courtesy Last Post Fund)

Mina Mazumder

In April, Canadian non-profit organization the Last Post Fund (LPF), officially kicked off their Indigenous Unmarked Grave Program for anyone with a service number and an Indigenous background in need of a military marker and a tombstone.

“We really want to recognize the veterans for not only who they were in the military but who they were for their community too,” said Maria Trujillo, the Indigenous project coordinator at the LPF. 

The Unmarked Grave Program was created in 1996 for veterans without a marked grave across Canada. In October 2018 the organization came up with the idea to create a program specifically for Indigenous veterans after a researcher Yann Castelnot found 18,000 names of Indigenous veterans. 

Trujillo said this initiative was to support the current reconciliation climate in Canada. 

“There are a lot of efforts now as a Canadian society that are being put forward towards better relationships between settlers and Indigenous people,” she said.

Trujillo added that the two programs are both funded by Veterans Affairs Canada, so any families that contacts the organization will not need to worry about any costs involved if the qualify for the program. 

“The main part of the program is to provide military markers for those that didn’t have the financial means to get one at the time of death,” said Trujillo. 

The Indigenous Unmarked Grave Program differs from the original Unmarked Grave Program in two ways. 

First, the Indigenous program includes the use of the Indigenous veterans’ original names to be marked on the tombstone with the families consent. Second, the Indigenous program includes researchers, who contribute with data and names of veterans who do not have a marked grave. Researchers are later compensated per honourarium for their work, said Trujillo. 

“We ask our researchers to help us identify locations where there may be unmarked Indigenous graves,” said Justine McIntyre, the communications coordinator at the LPF. 

Castelnot, researcher and amateur historian, made a significant contribution to the LPF for their Indigenous program. After two decades in his research, Castelnot gathered 154,000 names of Native soldiers, 18,000 who served for Canada, and the rest in the US. 

These soldiers served in both World Wars and the Korean War. 

“Sometimes the names come from monuments within communities or graves in cemeteries,” said Castelnot. “Most of the list comes from research within the archives.”

Edouard Pahud, the executive director of the LPF, soon after contacted Castelnot for the names of Indigenous veterans as a contribution towards the Indigenous program.

People from Kahnawake can get involved by contacting Trujillo if they know of a veteran who has not been marked with a tombstone or a military marker. 

“There are so many Indigenous communities across Canada,” said McIntyre. “Some of the communities are very small and people have their different burial traditions. So it’s easier for them to come to us.”

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