Statue of First Nations WWI Hero unveiled

Detail of the statue unveiled to commemorate Company Sergeant-Major Francis Pegahmagabow’s contribution to the Canadian Armed Forces.

Detail of the statue unveiled to commemorate Company Sergeant-Major Francis Pegahmagabow’s contribution to the Canadian Armed Forces. Photo by MCpl Precious Carandang

Capt Jonathan Link, 4th Canadian Division Public Affairs ~

One hundred years after earning his first of three medals in the Great War, a life-sized bronze statue of Company Sergeant-Major (CSM) Francis Pegahmagabow was un-veiled at a ceremony in Parry Sound, Ontario, on June 21st, 2016, National Aboriginal Day.

The event, attended by Lieutenant-General Marquis Hainse, Commander of the Canadian Army, representatives of the Government, First Nations, the Canadian Military as well as other dignitaries, honoured the incredible life of CSM Pegahmagabow both on and off the battlefields of France and Flanders.

“Company Sergeant-Major (CSM) Francis Pegahmagabow is one among many indigenous people who chose to proudly serve their country. I was delighted to attend the unveiling and recognize such an important military and historical figure,” said LGen Hainse in a prepared statement for National Aboriginal Day.

The monument was commissioned by the Ontario Native Education Counselling Association, which raised half of the $169,000 needed to realize it. The remaining half was provided by the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Standing approximately three metres or 10 feet tall, the monument depicts CSM Pegahmagabow in his wartime uniform with an eagle above and a caribou at his side. The eagle represents the connection to the Creator while the caribou represents the Pegahmagabow family clan.

“He stands for something more than just who he was,” said Tyler Fauvelle the Sudbury-based sculptor of the statue, noting CSM Pegahmagabow’s life as a warrior in peace and war. “His fight, both here for Native rights and on the Western Front, resonates with all Canadians.”

It is difficult to overstate CSM Pegahmagabow’s accomplishments. When war broke out in 1914, Pegahmagabow, then a 24-year-old orphaned member of the Wasauksing First Nation, joined the Army to do his part to defend Canada.  Four months later, he found himself in the trenches where he became a scout, messenger and a sniper of unequalled skill. During the course of the war, CSM Pegahmagabow was gassed, wounded twice requiring hospitalization and won the Military Medal three times for bravery in the face of the enemy.

Although he was hailed as a great Canadian hero during the Great War, when it was over, CSM Pegahmagabow’s struggles did not end. Upon returning from the war where their skills were treated with great respect and Aboriginal members enjoyed the comradery of their peers, Aboriginal veterans found that they returned to a Canada that had not changed with respect to the treatment of their culture.

“It’s disheartening that the equality of the battlefield left so quickly. It was taken from him,” said Fauvelle. “But that experience gave him the strength and the courage to fight for Native rights for the rest of his life – and his starting call has brought us to where we are today.”

CSM Pegahmagabow is the most decorated Aboriginal soldier in Canadian history and is still today the 11th most effective sniper of all time. For a quarter century however, CSM Pegahmagabow was the deadliest sniper alive, achieving 378 confirmed kills. In addition to many noted acts of bravery during the Great War, he is also credited with capturing over 300 prisoners.

After the war, he remained active in Canada’s Militia, eventually becoming Company Sergeant Major. He twice served as Chief of Wasauksing First Nation and pushed the Native rights movement forward until his death in 1952.

“[The Statue] represents a positive and long overdue recognition,” said Dr. Brian McInnes, great grandson of CSM Pegahmagabow, Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and the writer of Sounding Thunder: The Stories of Francis Pegahmagabow. “I’d like to think this is a part of the truth and reconciliation process but we don’t know that it is yet. Will this just be a statue or will meaningful and measured action go with this act? That is the hope.”

CSM Francis Pegahmagabow is buried in a military marked grave on Parry Island, Ontario.  His medals honouring his personal achievements are on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

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