Remembering Indigenous peoples who served on D-Day, despite freedom from conscription
Published Thursday, June 6, 2019 5:28PM CST
Last Updated Thursday, June 6, 2019 6:50PM CST
Among the grave stones on Peepeekisis Cree Nation is that of Edward Bellegarde.
He was among thousands who stormed Juno Beach 75 years ago.
“He said it was foggy when they landed and he said they were walking in water up to their waist. They had to hold the rifles above their head so they wouldn't get wet,” Bellegarde’s daughter Arlene Johnson said.
Edward "Butch" Bellegarde and his brother Vince joined the army in 1943. Butch was a rifleman with the Regina Rifle's, and both brothers fought many battles in the war.
The brothers stormed Juno Beach in 1944, but within minutes of landing, Butch was shot by enemy fire.
He watched his fellow soldiers push on, in shock, bleeding and lying on the beach. One officer came to his aid, and placed his own jacket over Butch.
Butch never saw that officer again.
"For First Nations people, there was freedom from military conscription,” Butch’s nephew, Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations said. “In fact the treaty commissioner promised the chiefs that their warriors not be called out to fight the Queen's wars, but yet First Nations volunteered."
Butch recovered from his injuries in England, before returning to Canada.
He and his wife Georgina raised a family on Peepeekisis, but the memories of his service were never far from his mind.