It’s never too early to start teaching children about the importance of Remembrance Day, Colin Bernard believes.
The significance was driven home some years ago while he was chaperoning a group of Second World War veterans on a tour of their comrades’ graves in Holland.
“They do so much there. It’s amazing,” the Millbrook First Nation band councillor and member of its Veterans Committee said.
The Netherlands was liberated by the Allies from the occupation of Nazi Germany on May 5, 1945 and Remembrance Day there is held May 4.
This week, standing in Millbrook’s Sacred Heart Cemetery under a slight drizzle of rain, Bernard recounted a particularly special moment just prior to the parade during that visit in 2001.
“It’s two o’clock in the afternoon and I look at a kid sitting on a road and I said: ‘How long you been there?’
“He goes: ‘I’ve been here since 7:30 in the morning … I want to make sure I see my heroes.’”
Both Bernard’s grandfathers served during the Second World War and he is a strong advocate of ensuring his people’s veterans are not forgotten.
As is the case in other communities this time of year, power poles along the streets in Millbrook bear banners with names and pictures of veterans past. Last year, however, the Veterans Committee decided to expand that effort to include banners of veterans who are still living.
For the veterans who have passed on, the banners read: “Millbrook First Nation remembers those who served.”
For those still living, they read: “Millbrook First Nation honours those who served.”
In addition to military veterans, that includes band members who have become police officers.
“They also said it’s important to recognize our law enforcement,” Bernard said, “because they are doing the same types of duties.”
Friday morning, Bernard will be back at the cemetery to witness a group of preschoolers placing Mi’kmaq flags on the graves of the heroes buried there.
The band has also created lapel pins bearing the Mi’kmaq, Canadian and American flags, available to everyone who attends their Remembrance Day services.
And this year, for the first time, the band has created weatherproof grave markers with the same symbols.
“We want to make sure the kids know where the grave sites are, so they can each have a flag and go right to the graves,” Bernard said. “They feel more involved when they do that.”
Next year he hopes to somehow involve the band’s junior high and high school students in some capacity.
“One of the things I said I was going to do before I leave this earth myself was make sure that these guys are remembered,” he said. “Because we don’t know, and we don’t understand how lucky we are that we’re able to vote. We’re able to work, we’re able to play, we’re able to live and do all these things. That’s why it’s important for me to get our kids more involved.”