The 70th anniversary celebration of the Royal Canadian Legion Mohawk Branch 219 last Saturday was emotional for Kahnawa’kehró:non Arlene Jacobs. It’s with honour that she accepted an award on behalf of her father, Ernie Jacobs, one the 15 founding charter members of the Legion in Kahnawake.
Along with other families, she came to commemorate her father, a Black Watch Canadian Army World War II veteran, and the 14 veterans who created the Mohawk branch together seven decades ago because local veterans had nowhere to call their own.
“It was just very emotional to remember,” said Arlene, moved to tears. “It was their vision to get something for our own people, to go to a place to laugh, to share stories, and to sit with someone who could relate to the feeling that they have.
“They had vision, they had wisdom, they had courage, and determination to make this happen. And they did it.”
Arlene said her father never talked about the war, at least not that she knew of. But he always wanted to create a place dedicated to Kahnawake veterans, and at that time when she was young, all her family was involved in starting the Legion.
“As they were raising money, they had bingos and bake sales,” Arlene said. “We helped my mom to count money, the pennies, the nickels, and the dimes.”
Now decades later, she was touched to see all the families of veterans who have created the Legion come together.
Around 120 people gathered at the Legion for the military-style gala, including executives, dignitaries, elder veterans, and the family members of the original 15 charter members of the Kahnawake Legion.
According to the Legion’s president, Ray Deer, this event is all about the families of the 15 founding members.
“We are honouring them for creating the Legion in Kahnawake,” he said, “And if you look on the road here, you’ll see all the banners on the telephone poles with the veterans – those are the 15 that started this Legion. It is pretty significant. It’s especially good to hear from the families.”
There are currently 96 veterans in Kahnawake, according to Deer. But after World War II there were 178 who had contributed to the war effort.
“When they came home, they had nothing,” he continued. “There was no Indigenous Legion in Canada, and these guys used to go outside the reserve to Lachine and Chateauguay and different areas to go sit with other veterans.”
The main idea of creating a spot for the veterans in 1953 was to commemorate the fallen and to support each other in conversations about their experiences, “as only veterans know what other veterans have gone through,” Deer said.
General manager Peter Jacobs believes the celebration is also about highlighting the military history in the community.
“It is just to bring pride back to the people with their ancestors, with their fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers.
“We have participated in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Iraq, we served everywhere,” Peter said. “My brother was sent to Vietnam.”
According to him, the Legion has always tried to raise awareness amongst the younger generation by starting conversations in schools about the Legion’s history in Kahnawake. Tara Jacobs-White, United States Marine Corps veteran and first vice-president, believes recognizing all the fallen veterans and those soldiers who are still in the military means remembering their role in society.
“I thank the whole community for their participation and support of the Legion,” she said. “We are here to celebrate many more years with the community.”
Roddy Diabo, United States Marine Corps veteran and a former president of the branch, read the brief history of the Mohawk Legion, saying he was fortunate to know all 15 founders.
“These men realized they had that opportunity to try to start their own Legion and to give other veterans a chance to join and serve the community,” he said.
Minister of crown-Indigenous relations Marc Miller said the Legion has always been at the heart of the community.
“It is always nice to see how well these people treat their veterans, who served on both sides, in Canada and in the US in military service,” he said.
“This Legion is full of vitality and full of life, and it is fun to be here and see it has been active,” he said. “I just want to say thank you for your service, and on my personal behalf I want to thank people here who observe and acknowledge the fallen soldiers and the families of the fallen for the defense of the allyship to Canada, and defense of your own people and your land.”
Among other speakers were Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, representative of the US Consulate General Kian P. Tomas, lieutenant colonel Francis Roy, sergeant major of the US Army Lisa Deer, and Provincial Command special advisor Norman Shelton.
Shelton underlined the significance of the culture and the history of the community and on behalf of the Quebec Command presented a plaque to the branch to commemorate its 70th year in the Royal Canadian Legion.
“This branch brings the community together with all the veterans,” Shelton said. “This branch takes care of the community and all the kids. They have picnics, Christmas, Easter events, they have so much for the community. It is fantastic!”