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Regina Rifles honour Indigenous members with commemoration at Peepeekisis First Nation

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With 20 per cent of the Royal Regina Rifles regiment being comprised of Indigenous servicemen from across Saskatchewan, Peepeekisis First Nation held a ceremony in commemoration of its past and current First Nation veterans.

The event was dedicated to a memorial statue dedicated to the sacrifice of Royal Regina Rifles during WWII.

"We had quite a bit of members that landed at the beach where this statue is going,” explained Chief Francis Dieter of Peepeekisis First Nation.

The statue was previewed to the public in Regina earlier this month and will be permanently installed at the 80th commemoration of D-Day at Juno beach in Normandy, France.

Dieter said because there were 60 Peepeekisis men who volunteered to fight on D-Day, honouring their sacrifice in the community is essential.

“I don’t think they were afraid to fight,” Dieter said, pointing out the fact the small community saw the enlistment of so many men. “In total there’s over 100 veterans, that’s including all of the wars. A little over 110 from all of the File Hills area. My grandfather came from Okanese First Nation, James Tuckanow. I never met him, but he was a veteran also. I have four or five uncles that went to war.”

“It’s very touching, very honourable.”

Although many Indigenous men fought with the Royal Regina Rifles on D-Day at Juno Beach, they did not receive the same appreciation as their non-Indigenous counterparts, added one resident.

“When they mentioned [during the ceremony] it was 20 per cent of our people that were part of the Regina Rifles, I was happy that they knew that,” Peepeekisis member Pat Deiter said laughing.

"Finally, we're getting our recognition here because in our communities it's of course the veterans that are our heroes. They were the ones that came back with leadership skills.”

One of the many veterans named in the ceremony was Peepeekisis veteran Charles Bird.

Bird signed up to go overseas and was part of the Canadian force which stormed Juno Beach – one of the five beachheads stormed on June 6, 1944 as part of Operation Overlord.

“He [Charles Bird] had the opportunity landing on Juno’s Beach,” explained Allan, Bird’s son.

“He was wounded there and went back to heal, but after he healed they sent him back out to the war again where he carried on. He was a major part, along with Canada, to make that change towards D-Day.”

Allan said seeing the Regina Rifles honour Indigenous veterans, including his father, was endearing.

“Some of the words talking about my dad and our community, it really hit home,” he expressed.

“It really choked me up, it was really emotional because I'm so proud of my dad and I'm so proud of our veterans, of my uncles.”

To help fund the creation of the statue, the Royal Regina Rifles put together an 18 month long fundraising campaign in which they are still gathering funds.

On May 1st, the eight-foot tall bronze statue will be flown to France before it is permanently installed in a ceremony on June 5th.

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