President Chartrand of the Manitoba Metis Federation, also the Métis National Council’s Minister of Veterans Affairs, reflects on his travels to Vimy Ridge and Juno Beach as part of the delegation led by Prime Minister Trudeau.
The trip started with excitement, to visit Vimy Ridge, France, the very place where our young Métis warriors went to defend a people they didn’t even know 100 years ago. Adding further to the challenge, they were there to fight for a country that didn’t see them as a people. Just 30 years earlier, Canada had sent its army to attack the same Métis Nation that had stood to defend its homes and families, killing many of our warriors in the battle of Batoche.
This didn’t stop the fighting spirit of our people to defend those that can’t defend themselves. So it was the buffalo hunters who jumped into those ships, joining in hundreds, then thousands, virtually emptying many of our communities. At home, they had become landless people who some called the road allowance people but they had gone to fight for Canada to defend strangers who were losing their lands, their homes, their future.
Let’s talk about the great heroes. First, starting with Vimy Ridge, the battle that changed the First World War 100 years ago, where our sons of Canada, our sons of the Metis Nation, went to the battle which can only be described as HELL. The size of two football fields they fought through mud and rain infested by rats, sickness, the smell of death. The artillery fire we heard was deafening. The hell of those 4 days when the casualties of our sons numbered over 3500 dead, 7000 injured. Some described the painful sound of those screaming for help, as they lay in water and mud dying a slow death. The exchange of bullets was so endless, you were ordered not to stop as you saw your brother beg for help drowning in mud and water and in his own blood.
The horror didn’t stop there; many brought it home to remain in their lives, in their minds forever. The warriors who joined as kids won the victory but lost the war as the psychological effects would never end.
One great memory that can be taken from this war ridden hell hole is the great monument that stands in honour forever to remind us never to forget what was sacrificed in Vimy- what we lost but what we gained! This 100 year remembrance was very special as our sons, our warriors were honored by over 10,000 students from Canada who saw first hand the evidence of what was lost. I’m sure the learning experience will last a life time and I hope they will tell the stories to their friends and they tell their friends and so on. So the memory, the story must live forever. There were also thousands of Europeans and people from all over the world on hand to tell our great warriors: thank you-you matter.
The second visit was to Juno Beach, Normandy a battle that happened 27 years later where the loss of Canadians was again staggering. The beach was filled with our boys laying either dead in the water or lying dead on the sand. It didn’t stop our brave warriors, as again Canada proved our fighting fearless fighters were up to the task. The casualties were great, again we lost so many of young soldiers. It should be amazing to the world to see our country with such a small population producing some of the greatest warriors in the world. A museum has now been built on the beach of Juno to honour our great warriors, the sacrifices they made and never forgetting the sacrifices their families made.
We must never forget, we must always honour them. I took the opportunity to bring some sand from Juno Beach to keep in my office, to always keep alive for our Métis Nation the reminder that it was our Métis boys who came to the aid of Europe one more time.
I can tell the Métis families as I visited one of the graveyards that it was in immaculate condition. Our time was short, as the Prime Minister’s schedule was tight, but I found L. Chartrand’s grave from Camperville and laid one of our Metis pins on his grave on behalf of the Métis Nation and his family.
Although this trip was short, it was intense. For two days we were in the most historic locations of the great wars. As your president, I carried our nation’s presence with great honour and pride. On behalf of our soldiers, who now lay in the foreign land and many graveyards in Europe, and also those who lay in their graveyards at home, and to the families, I say thank you on behalf of Métis government. Let’s all reflect on the great honour of our heroes, our soldiers, and our warriors! WE WILL REMEMBER THEM!
Britain’s Prince William(R) and Prince Harry (L) at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in Vimy