By George Paul
A mother’s prayer for their son or daughter’s safe return home echoes throughout the Mi’kmaq Nations of Atlantic Canada and Quebec.
The Iraqi War may be far from home, but the harsh reality of war for most Mi’kmaq communities is real and terrifying.
Before there were provinces and borders, the Mi’kmaq people were scattered around what is today eastern Canada. After all the hardships the Mi’kmaq have gone through in the last 400 years, close ties to America still exist.
The 1794 Jay Treaty between George Washington’s 13 Colonies and the Mi’kmaq and Maliceet Nations enables Mi’kmaq and Maliceet to freely pass borders. Today First Nations communities across Canada can live freely in America without following immigration laws.
A time-honored tradition of Mi’kmaq men and women enlisting in the American Services (more often the U.S. Marines) represents great honor and prestige within Mi’kmaq communities. Growing up in a Mi’kmaq community young men and women always had the option of enlisting in the United States military.
For one Mi’kmaq family in Eskasoni that option wasn’t welcomed but accepted. This is one story of a family coping with a son, a big brother, a role model, in the forefront of the Iraqi War.
Three years ago, at this time, Elaine Denny, a single mother of four, reluctantly said good-bye to his oldest son Charles Francis Jr. Like every mother, Elaine did not want her baby boy to leave home. But Charles, then 20 years old, set his sights on the U.S. Marines and nothing was going to get in his way.
After boot camp Elaine noticed a great change in Charles’s attitude.
“When he came back, there was a big difference,” said Elaine.”He was more sure of himself, confident and he told his brothers to listen to Mom.”
Elaine knew Charles had made the right choice in life.
But on September 11 the whole world changed. The war against terrorism eventually led the United States to declare war upon Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein. Then this Christmas Elaine knew something was going on.
Now a Corporal, Charles’ Christmas break was abruptly cut when he was told to return to base as soon as possible. Events prior already had Elaine concerned. Charles asked his good friend Nicholas Basque, if he could borrow his late father’s U.S. Marine ring. Upon discovering this news, Elaine was in tears, firmly holding Nicholas in her arms saying, “Your father will watch over my son.”
Nicholas’ father, Will Basque, was a proud Mi’kmaq Sma’knis (Soldier) who represented the Mi’kmaq Nation with great honor. Will Basque was a decorated US Marine Veteran of the Vietnam War. He died more than five years ago.
Charles never told his mom that war was about to break out, “He probably didn’t want to upset me,” said Elaine.
A February 27th letter from Charles confirmed war was soon to begin:
“Well, I’m in Kuwait right now, waiting on our orders to launch the attack on Iraq,” wrote Charles. Charles’ last letter, dated March 8, said that he was adapting to his environment and missed everyone in Eskasoni.
No word was heard from Charles until Wednesday, April 2nd.
Elaine knows that Charles is with the Second Battalion 8th Marine along with 2 other Mi’kmaq Marines, Ronnie Augustine from Indian Brook and Danny Boy Stevens from Millbrook at Nasiriya, Iraq.
Confirmed sources also said the Mi’kmaq men’s Battalion also played a major role in the rescue operations of Jessica Lynch, a POW since March 23. The Second Battalion 8th Marine created the diversion for special operations forces of Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and Air Force combat controllers to rescue Lynch at the Nasiriya Hospital.
On ”CBS This Morning” Danny gave a message to his mother saying that the boys are OK.
Elaine was excited to get the message.
The march to Baghdad is near. The United States is expecting greatest resistance from Iraqi Forces and civilians. Elaine is fearful for his son’s safety but gives great credit to the entire community’s support and prayers.
“Eskasoni has great people,” said Elaine.”People are coming up to me and asking me how I’m doing. And that they are praying for me and Charles. I don’t feel alone.”
Elaine supports the war and the United States troops. What keeps Elaine strong is what Charles said to her, ‘I’m in it so you could sleep good, Mom.’
“I believe what my child says,” says Elaine
Siblings of Charles are proud of him. Katelyn, 14, looks up to big brother and wants to follow in his footsteps.”He’s a role model. I’d like to go into the marines also but Mom won’t let me,” said Katelyn.
Younger brother Brandon, 21, who is in his third year at UCCB says, “I’m proud of my brother and I hope he comes home safe.”
Brandon also emphasized, “But I don’t support Bushes actions. It’s all just about oil.”
Elaine wrapped yellow ribbons, representing hope, around her yard.
She is also waiting for a poster of the Mi’kmaq Flag and the American Flag side by side with the inscription, “God Bless Our Mi’kmaq Troops.”
Canada’s military role
In times of war, many natives have signed up for the Canadian military. At least 4,000 volunteered in the First World War, another 3,000 served in the Second World War and several hundred went to Korea.
In the First World War it is estimated that 93 percent of eligible men from Mi’kmaq communities served for Canada. Many Mi’kmaq men died for Canada.
It is not certain how many Mi’kmaq men and women are currently in the U.S. Military but these are the numbers collected; Eskasoni- 2, Big Cove, NB- 2, Indian Brook, NS- 3, Millbrook, NS- 5, Listuguj, Quebec- 2, Burnt Church, NB- 5, and Waycobah- 2.
A total of 21 Mi’kmaq men and women. Other reports state there are 29 Mi”kmaq.
To send words of support to Elaine and her family email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.