Anishinabe soldier Francis Pagahmagabow who fought in the First World War may not be a well-known name in Canada – but he’s celebrated in Europe.
Pagahmagabow was one of the soldiers honoured at a ceremony in Belgium at the beginning in November for his service during the war.
It happened on the anniversary of Battle of Passchendaele.
About a hundred people wrapped in warm coats, and scarves stand with their hands in their pockets while speeches are read from the podium – and a wreath laid at the cenotaph.
This isn’t the first time Julia Pegahmagabow has honoured her great-grandfather, Staff Sgt. Francis Pegahmagabow – but it’s her first time in Belgium visiting one of the places where he served.
“It was indeed a great sacrifice,” she told APTN News. “Just as with the rest of the Canadian soldiers who came here and lost their lives here.”
(The headdress belonging to Pegahmagabow on display at the National War Museum. Photo: Annette Francis/APTN)
2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele.
It was one of the deadliest for Canada – 4,000 dead, and another 12,000 wounded.
Francis Pegahmagabow from the Wasauksing First Nation fought in many battles as a deadly sniper.
Pegahmagabow enlisted just days after Britain declared war on Germany.
“He left Canada as a person who really probably thought of himself as a treaty person, who came as an ally and not as a subject,” she said.
“Who was honouring his commitment to Treaty by joining the commonwealth an enlisting for this war.”
Initially, the Canadian government discouraged Indigenous peoples from enlisting.
But that didn’t stop Francis Pegahmagabow.
He ended up being known as the deadliest sniper of World War One – credited with 378 kills, and capturing 300 more.
And his skills helped him carry messages along the frontlines.
“We may have been a small portion, 4000 people, 4000 men enlisting from indigenous communities but the contribution was great,” said his great-granddaughter.
(Medals belonging to Pegahmagabow on display at the National War Museum. (Photo: Annette Francis/APTN)
Francis was awarded the Military Medal – one of many he would take home from the war in Europe.
First Bar at the Battle of Passchendaele.
The second at the Battle of the Scarpe where he braved enemy fire to collect ammunition in No Man’s Land.
But despite the bravery, her great-grandfather showed on the battlefield fighting alongside Canadian and British soldiers, nothing changed when he returned home.
In Canada, he was again under the control of the Indian agent – but he started a news fight – one for the freedom of Indigenous people.
“He was certainly in the war a sniper and scout,” said his great-grandson Brian McInnes. “But Francis was also a father, a good community member, former Wasauksing councilor, chief and also national chief, of the time, the national Indian government.
McInnes said having been an equal in the trenches, risking his life and sustaining injuries, his great-grandfather found it unacceptable to be under the control of an Indian agent.
As well as living with other Canadian policies meant to limit Indigenous rights and freedoms.
“And that’s was what really Francis referred to after the war as his greatest war,” said McInnes. “To ensure the legacy of his people forever into the future.”
Francis Pegahmagabow wanted to unite and strengthen the rights of Indigenous people of Anishinabe of Wasauksing, and eventually the entire country.
To have Treaties honoured, and to be recognized as equals.
“I think the biggest accomplishment was that he came home,” said Julia Pegahmagabow. “He got to come home and we’re here because he was able to come home.”
After speeches are given, there is a moment of silence.
Then the band plays one last song to honour the fallen.
Julia Pegahmagabow hopes the legacy and heroism of her great-grandfather and all Indigenous soldiers is taught more in schools so their service is never forgotten.