Last Post: Remembering Indigenous veterans of N.W.T. one unmarked grave at a time

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Floyd Powder identifies and marks graves of Indigenous Veterans in Lakeview Cemetery, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Photo by: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN

Floyd Powder kneels down in the fresh snow beside an old wooden cross and staples a sheet of paper with the name Joseph Xavier Powder printed in bold font.

He’s diligently working to give each veteran the recognition they deserve.

Joseph is one of many whose unmarked grave bears no mention of his heroic contribution in service.

“I noticed there are several grave plots that don’t have a headstone and they are known veterans. That struck me as not being right so I started getting involved,” Powder said.

When he’s not working his full time job, he’s volunteering as a community researcher with the Last Post Fund  – an Indigenous veterans initiative.

The non-profit charity works to ensure all veterans who have died have received a proper burial with a proper tombstone that recognizes their service.  The Fund is backed by Veterans Affairs Canada.

Since the initiative began in March 2019, Powder has been building upon a list of veterans in the Northwest Territories.

“Even in the Yellowknife cemetery in the Field of Honour. If this was happening here, it struck me likely in the smaller communities that don’t have the same support, or a legion and those services to support veterans,” Powder said.

“There’s probably other veterans that aren’t identified.”

Born and raised in Fort Smith, N.W.T. Powder is Métis and 32-year veteran.

He’s worked in several departments and held various jobs, including the completion of three peace keeping tours.

Nowadays, his research has taken him across the southern part of the territory where he’s been able to confirm sites for headstones in Fort Smith, Behchokǫ̀ and Fort Fitzgerald on the Alberta border.

Powder tells APTN News, one of his most valuable tools so far has been conversations with Elders who have been helpful in helping him the location of veteran’s family.

“They (Elders) mentioned in a few comments, if we tried to do this ten or even five years from now it probably wouldn’t happen, that’s because we wouldn’t be able to track down the family and get them to review the documentation for accuracy before installing the headstone,” Powder said.

The charity also includes veterans to receive inscriptions related to their identity such as an eagle, Métis Infinity symbol and text in traditional language.

Watch Charlotte’s story on the Last Post.

According to The Last Post Fund, there’s close to 12,000 Indigenous people who have served in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Maria Trujillo, the Indigenous project coordinator with the organization says the project has been the most successful when there’s been boots on the ground.

“It isn’t just about us placing headstones and then it’s done. It’s more about us working with a local researcher from the community because they know their veterans well,” Trujillo said.

She mentions community organizations can connect with the Fund and ask for a list of Indigenous veterans as a starting point, should the community want to cross reference and add to the list.

Powder’s father Eddy, an Indigenous Elder and a private in the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada in the Second World War, passed away in 2015. He was believed to be the last veteran in Fort Smith.

When APTN asked if Powder had any photos of his father in service, we were told he didn’t, and that it was common for families N.W.T. to not have much as soldiers had to travel down to Alberta to enlist.

Last year, Powder began the process of obtaining his Father’s records.

“Especially for young people from the north joining they had to make their way down south. So that story of leaving home to go down there and then enrolling and how his (his Father’s) service came to be. It would be good for my knowledge and then to pass that information on to my kids,” Powder said.

Justin Powder is following in his family’s footsteps and says he’s excited to learn more about his family history.

“As I’ve only heard about the stories through my dad, so it would be another point of view about my grandfather because I never really learned too much from himself,” Justin said.

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Floyd and Justin Powder look back on family history of service, including highlights of their own contributions. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN

Having already spent six years in 2837 Yellowknife Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corp. in summer 2019 he earned his wings at the same base his father did years before.

Justin says while there’s some representation of the north in service, Indigenous visibility isn’t always as widely understood.

“Usually you don’t get people coming up and asking you where you are from, but then on parades when I wear my métis sash and basically that’s when I’m the only one wearing this and people ask what is the big red thing is for,” he says.

Both Justin and Floyd agree it feels good honour veterans north of 60.

“I’m hoping to have the remaining headstones here about a dozen and get them ordered. My intent is if we do get headstones and have them installed we will have a commemorative ceremony,” Powder said, not before he invites APTN to attend.

After all, he insists remembrance is for everyone.

Video Journalist / Yellowknife

Charlotte joined APTN in January 2017 as a video journalist in Yellowknife, N.W.T.. Before coming to APTN she interned at CTV Lethbridge, earned her BA in feminist research from Western University and her obtained post-graduate in journalism at Humber College.