Contest seeks to connect students with veterans’ stories

WIIKWEMKOONG—Canadian veterans sacrificed a lot when they enlisted in Canada’s military services to fight for their country, but none more so than Anishinaabe volunteers. Many young Anishinaabe do not know about those sacrifices, but a Wiikwemkoong woman came up with an innovative way to bridge that knowledge gap.

Kathleen Eshkibok decided to put up her own money to establish ‘Veterans’ Story,’ a collage, visual arts and essay contest and leveraged her own contribution with funds from Wiikwemkoong’s chief and council and the Little Current Royal Canadian Legion Branch 177.

“We want students to tell us the importance of knowing your history and the proud choices our veterans have made in current and past conflicts,” said Ms. Eshkibok when she dropped by The Expositor offices in Little Current last week.

“Would you give up your citizenship to go fight for your country?” she asked. Yet this is exactly the choice that faced the Anishnaabek when they stepped forward to enlist. “You were enfranchised (given citizenship and the right to vote in Canadian elections, most First Nations residents did not have that right prior to the 1960s) and if you lived off of the reserve for four years you were removed from the band list.”

In her own experience, Ms. Eshkibok recalled her father, Henry Eshkibok, settling in the Sault Ste. Marie area following the war. He selected a piece of land that he liked, with a nice secluded place to build a house, but soon learned that a petition was being circulated in the neighbourhood to disallow him settling there.

“My father was a very proud and brave man,” she recalled. He eventually did build his home, but rather than tucking it away out of sight, he built it front and centre so that the community would see him there every day. “He was a tough guy,” she laughed. “I want our youth to stand proud and gather the information, stories of the people in their community who gave up so much to defend the land.”

There are two categories in the contest, a collage/visual arts or mixed media category with a top prize of $300 for first place and a $100 second place; and an essay contest with the same prize structure. The contest is open to high school-aged youth and the deadline for submission is November 7. Winners will be announced on November 10 at the Wiikwemkoong High School Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Ms. Eshkibok stresses that she is not alone in creating Veterans’ Story. “Samantha Cooper has helped me a lot and Natalie Neganegijig at the Youth Centre did the poster.”

For more information, contact Mike Staruck at 705-859-2870.