NAUGHTON, Ontario – Roger Chum, President of the Ontario Native Education Counselling Association (ONECA), is asking Canadians to help honour Francis Pegahmagabow, the most highly-decorated First Nations soldier of the Great War.
ONECA leads a committee dedicated to creating the first life-sized bronze sculpture honouring the legendary war hero from Wasauksing First Nation. The bronze will be installed at the Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts in Parry Sound, Ontario, and will be unveiled in June 2016. Inspired by this initiative, the Broadcasting – Television and Video Program at Canadore College, North Bay is working with one of its First Nations students to produce a video about Francis Pegahmagabow and military contributions made by Canada’s First People.
The fundraising campaign kicks off today. “We’ve applied to the public sector for funding, and we need to raise $85,000 in matching funds,” explains Mr. Chum. “The Wasauksing First Nation (Parry Island) has taken the lead, and pledged funds to honour one of its bravest sons. We want Canadians to hear Pegahmagabow’s story, to remember him, and to learn more about aboriginal people’s military service to Canada.”
Roxane Manitowabi, Executive Director of ONECA, and Roger Chum proudly displayed some of the gifts which will be offered in thanks for donations at various levels. “We’ve arranged for gifts which promote First Nations culture and heritage. For example, we have books, signed by their authors, about the historical and contemporary experiences of aboriginal people, as well as art prints and cards by First Nations artists,” said Ms. Manitowabi. “I encourage people to go to www.oneca.com to read about the project, and to make a donation online, through Pay Pal.”
Roger Chum added: “Our hope is that this monument will be spirit-building, and an inspiration to all, especially aboriginal youth.”
Tyler Fauvelle, a professional sculptor based in Sudbury, Ontario, will create the monumental sculpture. (www.tylerfauvelle.ca)
Francis Pegahmagabow enlisted in 1914, and fought overseas for almost the entire war, seeing action in some of its most horrific battles: Second Battle of Ypres, the Somme (where he was wounded), Passchendaele, and the Battle of the Scarpe. A superior scout and sniper, he was awarded the Military Medal in 1916, and later received two silver bars to the Military Medal, denoting further acts of valour under fire. Fewer than 40 Canadians have ever been awarded the Military Medal and two bars; to this day, no aboriginal soldier has ever received as many battle awards.
Pegahmagabow continued to fight when he came home, but this time the enemy was oppression and racism. Fueled by pride in his Great War accomplishments, Pegahmagabow persistently agitated for change. He twice served as Chief of the Parry Island Band (Wasauksing First Nation), and as Supreme Chief of the Native Independent Government, an early aboriginal political organization.
Suffering from lung damage caused by chlorine gas during the war, Francis Pegahmagabow died in 1952.
Donations can be made by cheque payable to “Parry Island Hero”, and sent to ONECA, P.O. Box 220, 37 A Reserve Road, Naughton, Ontario, P0M 2M0, or online (via Pay Pal) at www.oneca.com.