Emile Highway’s path has taken him many places but his upcoming journey to Europe may be one of the most important.
The First Nations veteran plans on touring Europe from April 20 to May 2 with his brother, Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Coun. Francis Highway, to pay homage to fallen First Nations veterans.
The two men will be stopping at various military memorials and gravesites
“The reason we want to go there is to visit and honour and pray at the gravesites of these men who are laid over there in all the cemeteries, so we don’t forget them,” he explained.
“To me, it’s a personal journey,” he said.
Although he would love to bring a First Nations drum group and a group of elders to do a pipe ceremony at the final resting spots of fallen First Nations veterans, he realizes that the tour will likely be much more modest in scope.
Highway said that what will likely happen is that the two men will do a smudge and prayer ceremony at gravesites.
It’s important to remember that more than 200 status Indians died in service in both the First World War and the Second World War. But no records were kept of any mixed race or Métis soldiers so a real tally of casualties is lost to the ages.
Some sources say that there was very little discrimination in the trenches. On the Canadian Forces website, one First Nation soldier said that it was more difficult coming home than it was serving.
Nothing had changed at home when they returned; in some respects it was similar to African American soldiers who served in the same conflicts and faced hardships in their own country.
Emile Highway served in the Canadian Armed Forces from 1962 to 1982, spending about half of his service in Western Canada and the other half in Continental Europe and Cyprus.
He describes more abundant racism during his service and admits that he struggled when he returned to the Prince Albert area in 1982, chronicling his problems with the bottle.
After two stints in rehab to deal with his alcoholism, he spent 15 years as an addictions counselor. He now serves on the Saskatchewan First Nations Veterans’ Memorial Tipi Committee – an organization charged with making sure people remember Canadian First Nations’ contribution to the Canadian Armed Forces.
Highway posed an interesting question during the interview he did with Tyler Clarke of the Daily Herald
“The history of this country is nothing to be proud about in the treatment of its native people,” he explained.
“Despite that, a lot of our men and women took up arms, tore down the wall and fought for this country, despite the ill-treatment, despite the persecution, even, of native people in this country.
“What would make a man do that? It makes a guy think, you know? What was it that was so forgiving in their hearts that they would do something like that?”
It’s a question worth considering.
Prince Albert Daily Herald