By: Mike Anderson

It may seem like a simple, grey cotton sweatshirt. But look closely, and you’ll see it conveys an important message: honour our veterans and try to be worthy of their sacrifice.

Designed and sold by the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation (CGIFN), the sweatshirts will help raise funds for the Sutton Legion, which has been closed for a year due to COVID-19.

“I heard they needed money to start back up, and they didn’t do the ice fishing derby this year. And, there’s no golf tournament. So, I knew they lacked funds. And, I was racking my brain how to do a fundraiser with COVID,” said Suzanne Howes, CGIFN’s Project Coordinator, who came up with the unique fundraising idea.

“This is the best way because there’s no contact. You can just sell sweatshirts. So CGIFN and Island View Business Centre got together and donated the funds to make this happen because we appreciate our veterans immensely. “

Ms. Howes designed the sweatshirt herself and used a quote she found online for the back: ‘If you want to thank a soldier, be the kind of Canadian worth fighting for.’

“I wanted to do something to make them more interesting. So I went online and saw this design. I changed it a little bit and put it on the sweatshirt. I just wanted to show the veterans that we really support them,” she said.

Front and Back Design

The sweatshirts cost $30, with all proceeds going to the Sutton Legion. There are more than 200 available, with sizes from small to XXXL. You can purchase them now at Virginia Beach Marina, Sutton Legion or Elaine’s Black River Coffee in Sutton.

Ms. Howes said that both her grandfather and grandmother served, and her uncle Graydon, who her son is named after, was also a veteran. So, the Legion has always played a role in her family’s past.

“My grandfather, my uncles, all went here. And, you know that mental health is key, and this is a place where they can swap stories, share their memories, their troubles. The veterans need to have a place to come. And they’re always helping the community, with Easter parades and Christmas brunches, and they’re always giving back. So we need to give back to them.”

Councillor Bill McCue also agrees that it’s important to support the Legion.

“Our First Nation had over 90 per cent of the able-bodied men, and some women, join the army during the Second World War,” said Mr. McCue, whose own father served overseas in the army for five years.

“I think every family on the Island has someone that was in the army. And I know that the Legion supported our members throughout this time. So, we need to show that we support them as well.”

First Nations have a long and proud tradition of military service in Canada. During the Second World War, more than 3,000 First Nation members enlisted in the army. Over 200 were killed, and at least 17 decorations for bravery in action were awarded.

One of those casualties was Pt. Thomas Big Canoe, from Georgina Island, who died liberating Holland on March 8, 1945, just two months before the war ended.

But, while Indigenous soldiers were considered equals on the battlefield, many encountered discrimination when they returned home.

Indigenous veterans did not receive the same benefits as non-indigenous veterans, mainly due to restrictions in the Indian Act.

And it was not until 1995 that Indigenous veterans were allowed to lay Remembrance Day wreaths at the National War Memorial to honour their fallen comrades.

The Royal Canadian Legion (RCL) and its members have tried to redress past wrongs by honouring First Nation veterans and telling their stories.

“They have a Cenotaph on the Island. When you look at it, you realize that an entire generation was impacted by the Second World War. We have a close relationship; we honour First Nation’s veterans on our wall, and we speak to the kids at the Island school. It’s a relationship we cherish, and we’d like to keep going,” said Stephen Wiebe, Sutton Legion Branch 356 President, who’s grateful for the CGIFN’s fundraising efforts.

“They have always been right beside us the whole way, no matter what. There’s always representation on Remembrance Day. They come here, they talk to us, and it’s just been a great relationship between us.”

“The wording on the sweatshirt pretty well explains it,” Mr. McCue said.

“If you enjoy your freedom, you need to support our veterans and the Legion. It’s not just for those who fought in the World Wars, but for those who have chosen a career in the Canadian Armed Forces. And especially those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice. We’ve got to honour the accomplishments and contributions that our soldiers make to our country.”

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