When a friend approached asking I give a hand in organizing an indigenous cannabis conference, I was actually amused. As a former football player having played sports my entire life, I’m pretty straight edge. I don’t drink much, don’t do any drugs, and I always thought of marijuana as something for hippies and stoners.
While growing up, my friends thought I was weird because I didn’t smoke or drink, but they respected that I had goals, and would often defend me when people questioned why I didn’t partake. So it is kind of amusing that I’ve gotten involved as the guy who never smoked weed but is now advocating in favor of cannabis and hemp at the First Nation Economic Advancement Conference (FNEAC).
Reflecting on my involvement and experience as both an organizer and a participant in Calgary’s “Idle No More” helped me decide whether or not to get involved with this cannabis conference stuff, and I came to one conclusion: We as First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples NEED to be involved in anything that impacts our Right to self-determination, and our sovereignty, and we need to be involved in the creation of any and all legislation impacting these things. We also need to create our own laws to govern our own territories to demonstrate our ability to do so.
When speaking with Regena Crowchild, a Tsuut’ina Nation Elder, and a respected senior in the community, Regena said very eloquently, “We at Tsuut’ina understand there are medical benefits of cannabis. We also understand there may be economic benefits to First Nations who participate in the production, processing, and sale of cannabis and hemp products. However this is under Canadian law. The jurisdiction of the legalization of cannabis on reserve lands is with each First Nation. Tsutinna will be enacting our own legislation that will protect the interests of our citizens.”
The impact to the sovereignty issue cannot be overstated. Regina is 100 percent correct that we need to make certain that OUR laws are respected, and to do that we have to actually have laws, just like laws we’ve had since time immemorial, and laws given to us by the Creator.
Even though Regena and I are from very different Nations – she was born into the blood tribe but is a citizen of the Tsuut’ina nation, and I’m Metis with Cree blood, and raised up north – our views on this issue are virtually identical.
Regena spoke at length about the medical benefits. She said there are many people on her Rez who have been prescribed opiates as painkillers, and said cannabis could help alleviate that issue. Though harm reduction was her focus, she understands the potential for economic development as well, and her Reservation is well positioned to become a powerhouse in this field.
Being from the far north, I’ve watched the lumber industry slowly atrophy, and the oil patch die, and have seen friends who’ve worked hard their entire adult lives suddenly have no job. The effect on a community already struggling with poverty and social issues cannot be understated.
My family has always been heavily involved in the Native Rights movement. My father Mervin helped author the Metis Proclamation, and was heavily involved in the creation of the settlements appeals tribunal in Alberta.
I see great economic opportunities in the growing and production of cannabis, and that’s one reason I believe we need to lead the way and get involved. When I discussed this with my dad, Merv surprised me by saying “I think it’s a good thing. I know I used to make fun of your stoner buddies, but you never hear of them getting stoned and then beating up other kids. They get stoned and then build a birdhouse, or go to sleep. And that’s all I care about. Will it hurt us, or help us, as a community? Pills make people aggressive, and booze even more so.”
Merv talked about how easily we could build greenhouses, dedicating some of them to growing cannabis and some to vegetables, and to encourage food sovereignty, which is an issue that’s very serious up north where the price of food can be excessive.
He was legitimately excited about the potential for a positive economic impact, and it being sustainable, and creating jobs in a region where people are desperate for work right now. More jobs leads to less poverty, which means only good things.
So you see, it’s not all that strange that a guy like myself, who doesn’t even smoke weed, thinks this could be paradigm changing, and that’s why I chose to help out and get involved. This conference is going to help us help all our Nations position ourselves for success.
First National Indigenous Cannabis & Hemp Conference, will be held on November 18-21, 2018 at Tsuut’ina Grey Eagle Resort, Alberta. Panels. Featured speakers include; Sen. Lillian Dyck, Former Ontario AFN RC Isadore Day, Dr. Evan Adams C.E.O, BC FN Medical Authority, Thunderbird Foundations Carol Hopkins O.C., Manny Jules FN Tax Commission, Opaskwayak Chief Christian Sinclair. (See www.nichc.ca for more information)
Part of a series of People Making a Difference for National Indigenous
Jiles Potts is from the Paul First Nation. He is the youngest of four boys, all raised by a single parent. Jiles graduated from Ross Sheppard High School in June 2013, and since that time has been working and educating himself, gaining valuable life experience and knowledge for his life journey. Jiles has completed self-awareness programs and for the past seven years has been helping out at Nechi, learning from and working with the Eminent Scholars and Elders who facilitate Nechi’s cultural program. Being raised alcohol/drug/tobacco free has developed an understanding that alcohol and drugs are not part of who he is as an Indigenous man. Although Jiles lives an addiction-free lifestyle, the addiction experience with alcohol/drugs is very dear to his heart. Jiles has watched family members and friends struggle with addictions and seen children being apprehended because of addictions. Throughout his time at Nechi and working with Eminent Scholars, Jiles communicates with the numerous students attending the Nechi cultural ceremonies. As a result of being around wellness and healthy lifestyles, Jiles made a decision to become a student at Nechi. Jiles responds well to challenges and makes every effort to put forward his good intention to benefit others. Jiles is excelling in the Indigenous Addictions Services Certificate Program at Nechi. “Now I am a part of the Nechi experience, and humbly acknowledge that I have been selected as Class Valedictorian 2018 to represent the students at Nechi and share my experience. What an amazing journey it has been for me, and the awareness that has been facilitated to me has been amazing! I am grateful”
Part of a series of People Making a Difference for National Indigenous Peoples Day
Mairead Kenny was born and raised in Vancouver and Inuvik, Northwest Territories. She considers the explanation on how to pronounce her name as a, “long, boring explanation,” so, mostly to bug her mother, she cheerfully goes by, “Maire.”
Mairead is Irish and means strength and independence. Kenny’s background is Irish-Canadian, Gwi’itchin Indian and Inuvaliuit.
She spent one year of her childhood in Inuvik where she learned to trap and fish with her father, who was a part of Kenny’s life only briefly, as she and her mother returned to Vancouver.
Over the next 20 years, in Vancouver, Mairead Kenny strives to live up to the meaning of her name.
In 2010, Kenny was accepted into the Aboriginal Cadet Program with Vancouver Police Department (VPD), where she met VPD Officer Carla Arial. Arial became her mentor and today remains a good friend in her life.
While in the program, Kenny said she was very fortunate to participate on the Pulling Together Canoe Journey, calling the experience, “one of the most enlightening, positive and emotional experiences of my life. It was incredible to be part of this community and paddle together throughout the Lower Mainland with people of all backgrounds and ages.”
Following this, Kenny became a mentor with the Urban Native Youth Association (UNYA), and mentored two teenagers.
“It was endearing to reach out and spend time with youth who can benefit from role models and learn things together,” said Kenny. “One of our most memorable outings was kayaking with a big group from UNYA and encouraging my teens to challenge themselves.”
Kenny worked as a guard in the VPD Jail. Here, she interacted with people every day, many of whom were dealing with personal struggles including substance abuse, mental health and socio-economic issues.
“This was definitely eye opening and often difficult, but it built my confidence in my ability to communicate with people who faced these difficulties,” said Kenny. “I learned everyone has their story.”
In late 2014, when her recruiter told him she has been hired as a police constable with VPD, Kenny said she cried on the spot.
“I couldn’t contain my emotions because I was so happy, overwhelmed and definitely anxious to start my career,” said Kenny.
Three years later, Kenny is working as a patrol officer in Vancouver on the west side. Her role, like thousands of her fellow officers in Canada, is personally important.
“I enjoy this role, regardless of the demands and challenges because I know I worked endlessly to get here and am thankful for everything I have learned,” said Kenny.
Even when we are born, with just our cry we know the breath of life is a sacred gift from our Great Creator/Great Mystery, Great Spirit. That first cry brings us into life, it gives us that sacred fire and that sacred breath as a part of the four winds that move Creation all about, even sometimes in the form of a hurricane that is part of the Great Mystery. Our old elders teach us that Great Creator put a piece of his sacred fire into each and everyone of us. We all work for the Creator because he is so great.
Started getting up at four am every morning so I can get to my work in the correctional system, my job is to run Sacred Ceremonies/counselling and discussions pertaining to healing and drugs and alcohol. After seven months I can feel the strength of the Brotherhood growing in those who have worked with me in our Sacred Circles, giving Thanksgiving to Mother Earth and passing the Sacred Eagle Wing from hand to hand until everyone has given thanksgiving in their own way to Mother Earth and prayed for healing and the protection of their loved ones outside. The amount of positive energy and respect being created from the Sacred Ceremonies in my classroom is overwhelming by the feedback I get from my students now! There is a sense of respect coming from the correctional officers as well; I can feel it whenever I see them or talk in the workplace and I am proud to be working with the youth and adults who want to change their life. I have never seen or worked with such a respectful and professional staff and Social Workers concerned for giving guidance to people who are trying to find a way to be positive and healthy! When I arrived at my workplace, it was already a healing place: it just got better with the energy from our teachers that I carry and share. I am honored to be a part of a work that brings native culture to people who want to learn sacred teachings of the people who care for environmental protection and peace, justice, harmony and respect.
When I talk to our elders, chiefs and clan mothers back home, there is always news of ups and downs, environmental struggles, elders crossing over, ceremonies coming up and Sacred Conferences that will bring people together for healing and cultural justice for all people and Mother Earth! Our elders always have something positive to share or talk about and our old elders have their stories about how things went in the old days how things went in the ceremonies and who was around in the old days. Alice and Lehman Gibson are featured in my film Mohawk Wisdom Keepers; also in my films are our spiritual leaders Tom Porter, Judy Swamp and Harriet Jock speaking about respect and native values. These elders in the film Mohawk Wisdom Keepers I also bring into my classroom because I feel my own teachings and understanding are not enough for my students. Now I am bringing in my teachers and my friends whom in the past I filmed because I knew they would not be here forever and their wisdom was too important not to document. Sometimes I will tell our students our old elders cannot be replaced; in fact, I have said that all summer long, now fall has passed and winter is here. What we say now is that every people is a spiritual people. In our ceremonies we give thanks to the spirit of the four races of people, the four seasons and the four directions and I say why four then: four races of people in the spirit world are watching over us and we don’t know what spirit decides to help us. My wife Alicja, she is white, she was Polish and she’s the best Indian I ever met; Nelson Mandela is black, we cannot choose who is helping us. When we are praying it just happens.
Things happen in our life we cannot explain, we can only try. When we watch the film Unmistaken Child, on the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama’s brother, we find a lot of information that can help guide us all to better know that the great mystery is powerful and we need to learn more about life and the spirit world. When my students are with me, I say: “When you are here with me, you are free because you are now out of the drug culture, you are out of the gun culture and you are clean and sober and we need to look at our minds like they are a Sacred Garden”. When I was young, our old elders filled us up with love and healing because they knew we had to know how to take care of ourselves and how to take care of our woman and families, but most of all our old elders taught us how to talk to Mother Earth, how to give thanks to Creation and life and to honor the Great Mystery, Our Great Creator! My uncle Robertjohn says: “When you were on the street, you would not listen, but now you are in here and you have to listen”. If my students were still on the street, they might be murdered or killing someone from the drug and gang culture.
Tom Porter and uncle Robertjohn worked in the prison system 20 or 30 years and were community leaders; so was Cree Elder Vern Harper, who is now I believe spiritual leader of Toronto. All these things I say out of truth and love of life and my teachers! The last time I spoke in the Sacred Circle I said: “You need to know how to see things in a spiritual way; that’s why drugs and alcohol kill our mind, body and spirit. It stops us from seeing and drugs and alcohol disconnect us from being guided by spirit world. Chief Richard Maracle, Aussie Staats Norm Jacobs, Ann Jock Leon Shenandoah, Alice and Lehman Gibson were my friends and teachers when they walked on Mother Earth. Now they crossed over. They are Mohawk ancestors and our spirit helpers, maybe they help me every day?
When we are clean and sober, we can see things and feel things that are sacred and real. When we are stoned out, we are in the ultimate fantasy world and we need to come back to the real world: our people need us, all the people need us, Mother Earth needs us. The greatest thing in the world is the work we do for ourselves and others and all of life. Every time we step into the community to talk, work, eat or do ceremony we energize ourselves. Tom Porter says ceremonies energize us. We all need to energize ourselves through our Traditional culture or books and films and art or through all forms of the arts pertaining to healing and protecting Mother Earth. It’s all simple, but because we get hurt in our youth, it becomes trauma and when we see things when we are young, it stays with us till we are adults or adolescents and we copy it and act out because it was too painful to see or hear or feel violence. So I always ask my students if they ever saw their parents fighting when they were young. I always ask my students: “Did you ever see your parents drinking alcohol or doing drugs when you were young or did your parents break up when you were young?”, because these situations are devastating for young people to feel. Our prisons are full of people who imitate and copy what they saw and heard and felt when they were young and some never had ceremonies, medicine or love to heal with!
Our prisons are filled with our youth who became wounded men and women who need help and healing in today’s world. Doctors, social workers, caregivers, therapists and psychologists are on the front lines doing everything they can to create harmony and balance, but indigenous ceremonies, medicine, songs and way of life create respect. Our prisons need programs and farms and gardens and farming, for healing and restoration of the spirit, mind and body. Healing should supersede punishment! Our Sacred Ceremonies are full of healing, respect, love, balance, wisdom and harmony. That is why the Sacred Circle is so important to the prison system.
Alice Gibson Speaks out in the film Mohawk Wisdom Keepers:
“Long ago when I was a child we were more family-orientated because we had our grandmother and grandfather. My grandparents lived behind us. Every time you spoke to my grandmother you only needed to speak Indian. If you spoke English she wouldn’t talk to you. I used to get mad at her and I didn’t speak to her for a long time. Then I’d start again in Indian because I don’t know if she knew it but that was her rule: if you spoke English at all she wouldn’t speak to you. Now I am glad she did that. We were always at my grandparents home because they always had time for us kids.My cousins too we all were always at our grandparents’ place down the hill. Me and my sister were kind of bad, we used to tease our cousin Robert. If my grandmother or grandfather saw Robert raise a hand or even smart mouth me they’d just be all over him or make him go to work or else they’d send him home. We always got tired of playing with him and he bugged us; then my grandparents would send him out to bring in wood. They had no hydro and I always wondered how they lived because they wouldn’t apply for old age pension for the longest time. I know my dad and mom helped them. It was a nice place to visit growing up. In those days it was very strange growing up with all the things that happened.
We used to go to a one-room schoolhouse. When I first started school I was only five years old and we had to walk a mile everyday. In those days we were taught not to use our own language and I know my older sisters when they’d only speak in Indian because that is the way we were raised. It was my generation I believe that started using more English at home than Indian. I blame that on us. Because English was surrounding us more and more. We would get a strapping at school if we spoke Indian. Our language was really frowned upon in school. So we tried to use more and more English: that’s how it all got started. I think the kids were nicer back then. They weren’t mean. There’s violence now in the classroom that I find with the young people. Now I don’t know if every old person says this, but there’s no respect any more for old or young or for each other. We’re losing respect for each other as people. In our days you just dare hit anyone, especially your brother or sister, and your hand would burn. They always told us your hand was burning up because it was a sin to hit anyone. Nowadays you go into the classroom and bang bang bang. There is no respect for each other, older people or younger. I find that really sad. But you talk of respect, there’s two sides of that. It’s the same with the adults today: they show no respect to the little kids and little kids deserve as much respect. You give what you dish out. I think respect is lost also from adults to the little kids. It’s just completely lost altogether, which is causing turmoil in the homes and around the world. Now there is no respect for other people, small or big. To me that’s one of the most important things. It really bothers me today about Six Nations and around the world, around me. It really bothers me and I said I am now a teacher. I’m in the classroom a lot of the times and you can see it in the kids. It’s the neglect; some kids are so like, not looked after. They’re abused, physically and mentally. Some of them will go hungry. It bothers me. What’s the most important thing in the world? I’ll tell you: before anything The Creator. He cares for the small babies and little children and the the old people. We stand in between. We’re the ones who have to carry the caring for both. That’s our future and there are so many people now that seem to have no love or caring for their children. This really bothers me, not only among us Indians; it’s in the papers every day. I wish this would change in the world!”
Hannah’s a freelance writer who writes for First Nations Drum. The story you’re about to read is her perspective on a distribution of $3,500 she received as a member of the Siksika First Nation. On March 15, 2016, Siksika Nation members voted in favour of a $123 million deal that saw them give up claims to the Castle Mountain area in Banff National Park.
The distribution was for financial compensation for the Castle Mountain, located in the heart of the Banff Provincial National Park.The financial settlement was meant to compensate Siksika for illegal use of the 70-sq.-km land granted to them in 1892.
The Crown allowed timber sales and other transactions to continue on the land without compensation to the nation, and in 1908 the land was returned to the Canadian government without consent.
The Castle Mountain was granted to the Siksika Nation in 1892 by the federal government, then returned to the government without Siksika’s consent in 1908
I didn’t want the money, but the yes vote won. I voted no. I made a point to, too, because I knew most of the votes would be yes. They told us if we voted yes that we’d get 3500 bucks, and that this big, thick document would be approved. I didn’t read it. I went off of what I heard about it from my Dad, who read some of it. He didn’t like it, and he has a good mind about these kinda’ things. I mean, he grew up on the rez. So, with a blind trust in his thoughts, coupled with a suspicion as to why the government felt it necessary to make amendments to a document that gave Siksika rights to this spot of land with this super sweet mountain on it, I voted no. But, the yes vote won by a landslide – I think only 20 percent voted no. Or so I heard. So, I went to pick the money up. I biked cuz it was sunny out. When I got there, I was at the wrong building, so I hadta’ bike a dangerous route to the actual building, across Barlow trail (a busy road), up a grassy hill to 16th Avenue (another busy road), and then along its median strip. It was kinda’ elaborate, come to think of it, but I made it to the place on time, and I got the damn cheque. It felt gross, picking it up, having it in my hands. I crumpled it up and stuffed it in my pocket, loosely. If it falls out, it falls out, I thought to myself. I got back to my bike, and, instead of going back the elaborate route, I just took the long way home. It rained most of the way – just poured. It was late in the summer, so it wasn’t cold or nothin’, but I thought it was weird, y’know, right after I picked up that damn cheque. Anyways, unfortunately the cheque didn’t fall outta’ my pocket, so I went to put the damn money in the bank. I wanted to get it done and over with. But the teller was suspicious of its authenticity, so he told me it would take a week to be approved. I ended up going in the next day to speak with the manager about it, and he said that that shouldn’t have happened and lifted the hold on the cheque. I mean, it was a government cheque in my name after all. I suspect the initial teller was being weary of my last name, but who knows. Anyways. I spent the money on a damage deposit and first months rent for an apartment that, after a year and a half of living in, I had to move out of abruptly after being unable to pay rent. I didn’t get that damage deposit back. A few months before that, I let a good friend of mine move in. We ended up not getting along all too well, and had some fights, and then a really big fight, and now we aren’t friends anymore. That place was a bad vibe place. Anyways, I also spent the money on some whiskey. The first and only time I drank it, I really made a fool of myself. I went to this party, sporting some heels I’d bought with the money, and mixing those with that whiskey, I slipped – hard – hit my head on a door, and woke up in the host of the parties bed. I was fine, but had a large goose bump, and had lost my cool. I haven’t talked to the girl that threw that party since. I kept that whiskey in my cupboard, which was a terrible idea. I should have just poured it down the sink then and there, but I didn’t. This had its consequence. One night, my sister stayed at my place so she could use my laptop to do some work. I wasn’t there, but she had the key, so it was all well and good. But, she found the whiskey, and, well, she drank some, n’ I reckon she got good and drunk, cuz she spilt a good sum of it on my laptop. It seeped into the cracks of the keyboard, frying my hard drive, instantly erasing my library of hundreds of films and thousands upon thousands of songs. It took years to compile that library, and that damn whiskey just wiped it all away. It was a major loss. The money also got me a pair of jeans, which ripped the first time I wore ‘em, and a bunch of other frivolous things. I was superstitious of having any of it, y’know, just real weary of it all. Anything I bought with that money was no good. It was blood money, I tell ya’. I remember my Dad saying that a lotta’ people on the rez died after getting that distribution, in strange ways, too. I mean, it may be superstitious to think the money had anything to do with it, but considering some of the things that happened to me, it really musta’. I can imagine that if I was in the state-of-mind to have bought more whiskey with that money, I’d have had some real bad luck. And I bet some people did have some real bad luck with that money. Be it the intentions they had when they used it, the things they bought with it, or the reason they voted the way they did, the bad luck came out of somewhere. It did for me, anyways, I just shouldn’t of spent that money on anything. I regret it. Around Christmas time of the same year, I dropped everything I bought off at a homeless shelter. It felt good – but… stale. I shoulda’ just donated the money to charity in the first place. But, that’s how it happened. The only thing I still have that I bought with the money is a record player, speakers, and some vinyl. I suspect something will happen to that stuff, but, nothing so far.
The ten war medals of Canada’s most decorated aboriginal war hero Sergeant Thomas George Prince, a veteran of WWII and the Korean War, returned to the Prince family after being lost for over 30 years. Thomas Prince
“I was out in Halifax for the AFN meeting when I got the call that the medals were coming up for auction. We re-organized our committee and began to write letters for a fundraising media campaign and I did some radio talk shows,” said Jim Bear, nephew to the late Thomas Prince.
Money and pledges poured in from across the country. Bear, a prominent member of the Winnipeg aboriginal community has been after the medals since 1995, when the medals first re-surfaced after eighteen years after the death of Tommy Prince in November 1977. The medals were auctioned off by a Winnipeg coin dealer for $17,500 in 1997.
The ten medals were bought by the Prince family at a London, Ontario auction for $75,000 on the third bid.
The medals from WWII includes the King George Military Medal and the US Silver Star, which was presented to Prince at Buckingham Palace by King George VI, for his five years of outstanding service as a member of the First Special Service Force, a combined Canadian-US elite airborne unit that came to be known as the famed “Devil’s Brigade”.
The wartime experience of Sergeant Tommy Prince is the stuff of legend. He was a quiet ordinary man who had greatness thrust upon him by the force of one of the greatest conflicts in the history of Western civilization. It’s as if he was born and bred for one great task and then cast aside by the very society he fought for. He was a true son of his people and a great warrior.
His life story is told in the publication Manitobans in Profile: Thomas George Prince, 1981, Penguin Publishers Ltd., Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s a fascinating piece of Canadianna.
The early years
Thomas George Prince was the great-great-grandson of the famous Chief Peguis, the Salteaux chief who led his people to the southwestern shore of Lake Winnipeg in the late 1790’s from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. One of eleven children, Tommy Prince was born in a canvas tent on a cold October day in 1915.
When he was five, the family moved to the Brokenhead reserve just outside of Scanterbury, some 80 kilometers north of Winnipeg, where he learned his father’s skills as a hunter and trapper.
As a teenager, Prince joined the Army cadets and perfected his skill with a rifle until he could put five bullets through a target the size of a playing card at 100 metres.
World War II
When war broke out in Europe in 1939, Prince volunteered at 24, and was accepted as a sapper in the Royal Canadian Engineers, which he served with for two years. In June 1940, he volunteered for paratrooper service. The training was hard and very few successfully completed. Prince was one of nine out of a hundred to win his wings from the parachute school at Ringway, near Manchester, England.
It wasn’t his ability to “jump” that made him a good paratrooper. Prince had a natural instinct for “ground”. He would land, creep forward on his belly with the speed and agility of a snake and take advantage of small depressions in an otherwise flat field to conceal himself from view. He was a crack shot with a rifle and crafty as a wolf in the field.
Prince was promoted to Lance Corporal as a result of his impressive skills and in September, 1942, flew back to Canada to train with the first Canadian Parachute Battalion and was soon promoted to sergeant. It merged with the United States Special Force, the airborne unit known as the “Green Berets.”
The First Special Service Force was an experiment in unity that was composed of 1600 of the “toughest men to be found in Canada and the United States.”
All the men were qualifies paratroopers and received training in unarmed combat, demolition, mountain fighting and as ski troops. They were described as “the best small force of fighting men ever assembled on the North American continent” and the “best god-damned fighters in the world and a terror to their enemies.”.
This combined elite force was first called into action in January 1943, when the Japanese occupied Kiska, an island in the Aleutian chain of islands near Alaska in the Pacific but the Japanese had already withdrew.
They went to the Mediterranean, followed by the Sicily landing. By a daring maneuver, it captured strategic Monte la Difensa, an extremely difficult piece of ground. Fighting side by side with the US Fifth Army, it maintained an aggressive offensive throughout the Italian campaign. The liberation of Rome was the culmination of its daring exploits.
A natural hunter, Prince’s fieldcraft was unequalled and in recognition of unique abilities, he was made reconnaissance sergeant. At night, Prince would crawl toward the enemy lines, mostly alone, to listen to the Germans, estimate their numbers and report back to his battalion commander.
Before every attack, he was sent out to reconnoiter enemy positions and landscape formations that could provide cover for an attacking platoon.
Prince’s most daring exploit was on the Anzio beach-head where the Special Service Force had fought for ninety days without relief on the frontlines.
On February 8, 1944, Sergeant Prince went out alone on a voluntary assignment to run a radio wire 1500 metres into enemy territory to an abandoned farmhouse where he established an observation post.
From his post, Prince could observe enemy troop movements unseen by the Allied artillery and radio back their exact locations. Armed with this knowledge, the Allied artillery could lay down an accurate barrage and successfully destroyed four enemy positions.
When the communications were abruptly cut off, Prince knew what had happened. Shellfire from the opposing armies had cut the line.
Without concern for his own safety, Prince stripped off his uniform and dressed in farmer’s clothes left behind. At that time, many Italian farmers persisted in remaining on their farms despite the war that raged around them.
Acting as an angry farmer, Prince went out into the field shaking his fists and shouting at the German-Italian line and then to the Allied line. Taking a hoe out into the field, he pretended to work the field in plain view of the enemy line while he secretly followed the radio line to where the break had occurred.
Pretending to tie his shoe, he secretly sliced the line together and continued to work the field before retiring back to the farmhouse where he continued to relay enemy positions. With the positions of the enemy revealed to the Allied artillery, the enemy soon withdrew.
Only then did Prince return to his CO, Lieutenant-Colonel Gilday who recommended Prince for the Military Medal for “exceptional bravery in the field.”
It was at Anzio that the Force earned the name “Devil’s Brigade.” In the diary of a dead German soldier was a passage that read, “The black devils are all around us every time we come into the line.”
The passage was a reference to the Force’s tactic of smearing their faces with black and sneaking past Axis lines under the cover of darkness and slitting the throats of enemy soldiers.
Following the capture of Italy, the Devil’s Brigade took part in the seizure of coastal islands during the invasion of southern France. The Force gained the mainland and proceeded up the Riviara until they reached mountainous defenses held by German forces.
To break the impasse, the Force would have to launch a surprise attack, destroy the enemy defensive line and quickly capture the reserve battalions before they could be brought up as reinforcements.
To accomplish this daring move, the Force needed to know the exact location of enemy reserves and details of roads and bridges.
With only a private, Prince breached the enemy line and located the reserve encampment.. On the way back to report, Prince ands the private came upon a battle between some Germans and a squad of French partisans. From a rear position, the pair began to pick off the Germans until they withdrew as a result of high casualties.
When Prince made contact with the French leader, the Frenchman asked “Where is the rest of your company?” Pointing to the private, Prince said “Here.”
“Mon Dieu. I thought there were at least fifty of you!” said the astonished Frenchman.
The French commander recommended Prince for the Croix de Guerre, but the courier was killed en route and the message never reached the French Commander-in-Chief, Charles de Gaulle.
Returning to his own line, Prince was again sent out to the action on the frontline, despite his fatigue. Then, the enemy line was breached and an attack was launched on the German encampment reported by Prince.
When the battle had ended, Prince had been without food or sleep for 72 hours, fought two battles and covered over 70 km on foot. For his role, the Americans awarded Prince the Silver Star.
The Prince meets the King
One of his proudest moments and most cherished memories was when King George VI pinned on the Military Medal and the Silver Star, on behalf of President Roosevelt, and chatted with Prince about his wartime experiences.
Sergeant Thomas Prince was one of 59 Canadians awarded the US Silver Star and one of three who were awarded the King George Military Medal.
In December 1944, the Devil’s Brigade was disbanded. The war in Europe ended while Prince was in England. He returned to Canada and was honourably discharged on June 15, 1945.
Prince returned to civilian life on the Brokenhead reserve and found that few things had changed. He worked in a pulpwood camps and was a heavy drinker on weekends. In 1946, at a dance a woman attacked him with a broken beer bottle and badly cut his right cheek requiring 64 stitches.
It was a major turning point for Prince. He resolved to leave the reserve and get a job in Winnipeg.
With the assistance from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, he established his own cleaning service with a half-ton panel truck and cleaning supplies and, for a time, prospered.
At the time, the Manitoba Indian Association had been seeking an influential spokesperson and on December 1, 1946 elected him as chairman. The federal government had recently announced the formation of a Special Parlimentary Committee to revise the Indian Act.
Building a better community
The Manitoba Indian Association were concerned about the slow encroachment on their hunting and trapping rights. They wanted better housing, roads and educational opportunities for their children and financial assistance to start up businesses.
Prince arranged for friends to run his small, but profitable business. As chairman, he consulted extensively with aboriginal communities across Manitoba. He developed clear, well-documented arguments that made clear the Manitoba Association’s concerns in a brief presented to the committee on June 5, 1947.
Prince was overcome and frustrated by the legalese government officials threw out to counter his arguments. The committee hearings dragged on for two months, Prince became increasingly frustrated.
He tried to persuade other aboriginal representatives to travel to London and appeal to King George VI whom he had met.
While some changes were made the Indian Act, life for Canada’s Indians remained unchanged. Prince came to realize from the committee hearings that Indian people lacked prestige in the eyes of post-war Canadian society, who generally looked down on Indian people. To change this widely-held view became somewhat of an obsession with him.
He returned to Winnipeg with the intention of building up his business but instead found that his “friends” had wrecked his truck in an accident and was sold for scrap metal. With no recourse, Prince returned to the lumber camps a and worked at a local concrete factory in the summers.
Then, at the age of 34, one week after the Canadian government announced its involvement in Korea, Tommy Prince again volunteered.
As part of its UN commitments, the Canadian government formed and trained the 2nd Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2PPCLI), which Prince joined as a seasoned veteran. He and other veterans were re-instated at their former ranks, in charge of training fresh recruits.
Tom Prince exalted in the military tradition of the 2PPCLI, where he was the hard-boiled sergeant whose legendary exploits were held in awe by the fresh recruits.
Following basic training at Wainwright, Alberta, the 2PPCLI sailed across the Pacific on December 7, 1950 and was the first Canadian unit to land and to become part of 27th Commonwealth Brigade in Korea.
Prince’s service on the Korean frontline was intense, but brief. Second in command of a rifle platoon, the 2PPCLI were part of a commonwealth effort to push back the North Korean forces from hill and mountain strongholds.
In February, 1951, Prince led a “snatch patrol” of eight men into enemy territory and captured two guarded machine gun posts as part of a demoralization effort. The tactic was repeated successfully many times with Prince in charge. But his commanding officers felt that Prince took too many chances with the men’s lives and eventually assigned him fewer patrols.
Prince was with the 2PPCLI when, together with the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment, were awarded the United States’ Presidential Unit Citation for distinguished service in the Kapyong valley on April 24 and 25, during one of the toughest actions of the war.
The Patricias were to hold a defensive position on Hill 677 so that a South Korean division could withdraw during an attack by Chinese and North Korean forces. Although at one point the battalion was surrounded and re-supply of ammunition and emergency rations could only be accomplished by air, the Patricias held their ground. The enemy withdrew. Ten 2PPCLI men were killed and twenty-three were wounded during the battle.
His knees were subject to painful swelling as a result of the constant climbing of the steep Korean country side. Following a medical examination in May 1951, he was hospitalized and then assigned administrative duties. In August, he returned to Canada.
Prince remained in active service as an administrative sergeant at Camp Bordon in Ontario.
His knees responded to the added rest and in March 1952, Prince volunteered for a second tour of duty and sailed for Korea in October with the 3rd Battalion PPCLI.
In November, the training of the 3PPCLI was interrupted by fighting on “the Hook”, a key position of the Sami-chon River that overlooked much of the rear areas of the UN forces.
When a Chinese battalion gained a foothold on the forward positions of another UN unit on November 18, the 3rd PPCLI was ordered in to help defend the sector. By dawn, of the following day, with the assistance of the 3rd Patricias, the UN unit recaptured the post. Five Patricias were killed and nine wounded, one of whom was Sergeant Prince.
He recovered from his injury, but began to have continual difficulties with his arthritic knees He spent several weeks in the hospital between January and April. In July, 1953, the Korea Armistice was signed and Prince returned to Canada. He remained in the army until September 1954, when he was discharged with a small pension because of his bad knees.
Unskilled and unable to fit into the post-war boom, Prince retained only menial jobs and was the subject of scorn from white workers ignorant of his wartime gallantry. His skills as a hunter that made him one of the best soldiers had no value in the urban centre of Winnipeg in the early 1950’s.
In many ways, Tom’s problems were typical of a certain type of returning soldier. These men had been unskilled workers prior to joining the army. From being in low socio-economic position, they suddenly became respected and honoured men who wore a uniform and commanded attention. Men like Prince were promoted to the rank of non-commissioned officers and had authority over others. When they were demobilized from the army, all the power and respect which their uniforms generated suddenly disappeared.
Nevertheless, Prince met and married Verna Sinclair shortly after and had five children together. By the early 1960’s, nothing had really changed for Indian people. Prince still suffered from discrimination at the jobs he could get. Often he simply quit.
His arthritic knees got worse so he drank more. All of this led to money problems and he and Verna separated in 1964. His five children had to be placed in foster homes by the Children’s Aid Society.
Prince tried to keep in touch with his children but they were often moved to other foster homes. Only his daughter, Beryl, who remained in one foster home for seven years could he keep in touch with and he visited monthly and never gave trying to keep in touch with his other children.
In the years before his death, Prince “was a truly forgotten man.” It was during these years that he pawned his prized medals.
Tommy Prince died at Winnipeg’s Deer Hospital on November 1977, at the age of 62. At his funeral, a delegation of Princess Patricias served as pallbearers and draped a Canadian flag over his coffin for the memorial service attended by active soldiers, veterans and representatives from France, Italy and United States, friends and family.
As the coffin was lowered onto the ground, Beryl and Beverly Prince, Tommy’s daughters, shed tears. When the officer in charge presented Beverly with the Canadian flag which had been draped over the coffin the flow of tears increased. Who were all these strangers, both military and civilian, honouring her father with apparent sadness and great respect? Where had they been these past years when her father, crippled from machine- gun wounds, was forced to do menial jobs to keep alive? Were the honour and respect given only after his death? Did these people really care or was this just a colourful pageant performed by white people for entertainment?
The ten medals of Sergeant Thomas Prince have been verified as the originals by the War Museum in Ottawa and will be held in trust for the Prince family at the Museum of Man and Nature in Winnipeg.