Neskonlith band Councillor Louis Thomas carries a wreath to lay at the Salmon Arm cenotaph during the Remembrance Day ceremony on Nov. 11, 2020. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)

Neskonlith band Councillor Louis Thomas carries a wreath to lay at the Salmon Arm cenotaph during the Remembrance Day ceremony on Nov. 11, 2020. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)

Secwépemc veterans faced battles of a different sort upon return from war

Those who enlisted could return to Shuswap to find their land confiscated

When Louis Thomas lays a wreath at the cenotaph in Salmon Arm on Remembrance Day – like he did this year and many others – he thinks of his grandmother.

Thomas, a knowledge-keeper and councillor with the Neskonlith band, was raised by his grandparents. His grandmother, Christine Allen, took Nov. 11 seriously.

“She used to lay a wreath every Armistice Day, every Nov. 11. She always bought a wreath in honour of her family fighting. I think her picture was in quite a few papers, as one of the elders. She did it in remembrance of the ones that fought for the country,” Thomas said.

“Every time I go there, I think of her all the time – she left a little legacy there too. I thought it was my responsibility to carry on that tradition. After all, she raised me, she’d probably get mad at me if I don’t do it,” he laughs.

His grandmother lived to be 103. Louis’ mother, Mary Thomas, was a revered elder in the community and beyond. Louis said his grandmother was also a wealth of knowledge, and Mary called her, ‘her professor.’

Thomas recalls the history of his grand-uncle, William Perrish (also spelled Pierrish on the veterans’ list), who came back from fighting in the First World War.

He had lost an arm in the conflict but soon discovered he’d lost much more. Land.

He was the first to go for land title and rights, Thomas said.

“They used to have a summer cabin over at Palmer’s Creek. Because of the cool breeze and the fresh water there, they used to camp there every summer. Then one summer he went to camp over there and a farmer told him to get off his land, and he was wondering how come, as they had been going there for years. So he decided to pursue the title and rights because they were losing their land.”

Perrish made the long journey to England to petition the Queen.

“When he got over to England, they told him he went over there for nothing. They told him that the government over there, they had transferred the responsibility over to the Canadian government. He didn’t even get to see the Queen.”

Read more: Secwepemc community honours veterans

Read more: Secwepemc Lakes Tourism projects aim to support Indigenous youth, entrepreneurs

Thomas also remembers a story regarding the Neskonlith soldiers and their families at home.

“One old guy went outside and sat there beating the drum and singing for four days and four nights. On the fourth day he came in the house and said, ‘Oh they’re all okay. Some of them are hurt but they’re all okay.”

Thomas said a cable came about a week later, stating that his grand-uncle William had lost his arm, another one was gassed, a few others were hurt but they were all okay.

How did the old man know?

Thomas said he thinks because the family units were so close at that time, it was like what twins can do, they sense each other.

Asked about Indigenous Veterans Day that’s now held to honour veterans, Thomas said he has mixed feelings.

“It’s really good to honour them, they’re protecting the land and that’s been handed down over the centuries – we have to protect our land.”

However, it’s taken a long time for the recognition. He’s heard of many injustices suffered by Indigenous veterans.

“A lot of things they missed out, like not getting entitlement to land if you served in the army, and losing your status if you joined the army. There were a lot of things we lost our status on… If you went past Grade 8, if you went to graduate, you lost your status. It was part of the assimilation – to get rid of the native, to get rid of the Indian.”

Read more: Only equal on the battlefield: Efforts underway to honour Indigenous veterans

Read more: Secwépemc Landmark to be located by entrance to Salmon Arm wharf

He said it was after the Second World War that so much of the culture was lost.

“Alcoholism became rampant, abuse came in. My mom, we looked at that, the history of our people and we talked about it. She was one of those that got abused by her husband. A lot of them came back and they all converted to alcoholism. We started losing quite a bit of our culture, and our old ways were disappearing.”

The Aboriginal Veterans Tribute Honour List (A to K) and (L to Z), founded in 2002, now lists more than 7,000 Indigenous people who served Canada in both world wars and other conflicts. The list includes veterans from throughout the Secwepemc territory, including the four bands from this region. Thomas names a number of Secwépemc men who enlisted.

“I think it’s kind of the warrior blood – I think it was the need there to protect the country. We didn’t have a warrior society or anything like that. To me, it’s a traditional thing. It’s creating that sharing responsibility of our people. That’s why they went over to fight, to keep our people safe. It’s always been like that through the centuries. If there’s any invasion or hostilities, our people went to fight to protect their territory,” he said.

“The only ones we didn’t fight were the early settlers. We welcomed them with open arms.”
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

#Salmon ArmIndigenousRemembrance Day

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here


Louis Thomas’ grandmother Christine Allen is his inspiration for laying a wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day every year. (Photo courtesy of Neskonlith band)

Just Posted

Amanda Parsons, a registered nurse on staff at the Northwood Care facility, administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine to Ann Hicks, 77, in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-Pool
61 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

Twenty-nine people are in hospital, seven of whom are in intensive care

Ladybug Landing Child Care Centre in Salmon Arm remains open as one person who was at the facility tested positive for COVID-19. (Lachlan Labere/Salmon Arm Observer)
Salmon Arm daycare owner upset by rumours related to positive COVID-19 test

Ladybug Landing’s Leigh-Anne Chapman impressed by response from Interior Health

Police are seeking further witnesses after an elderly woman who was struck by a vehicle in Salmon Arm succumbed to her injuries. (File Photo)
Salmon Arm pedestrian dies after being hit by truck along Highway 1

Collision took place on Jan. 15 in downtown Salmon Arm, police looking for witnesses

Responding to recent cases of COVID-19 confirmed at Shuswap schools, School District 83 Superintendent Peter Jory has asked staff and the public to be vigilant when it comes to the practice of good behaviours that help prevent the virus’ spread. (File photo)
COVID-19: North Okanagan-Shuswap school communities asked be vigilant

Superintendent Peter Jory responds to increasing COVID-19 numbers at schools.

In a Jan. 18 notice, Interior Health and Salmon Arm West Elementary confirmed a member of the school community tested positive for COVID-19 and, due to a possible transmission, advised students who ride School District 83's Monkey Bus be monitored for symptoms of the virus. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)
COVID-19 case reported at Salmon Arm West Elementary

Interior Health advises students who ride Monkey Bus be monitored for symptoms

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

A couple living at the Summerland Waterfront Resort is trying to sell their unit because of strata changes which will require them to pay significantly higher strata fees or have their unit included in the resort’s rental pool (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Couple living at Summerland resort facing high increases

Permanent residents of Summerland Waterfront Resort told fees will more than double

(Big White Ski Resort)
28 more cases of COVID-19 linked to Big White cluster

More than 200 cases have been identified since the cluster was announced

A cow moose wanders around the Silver Star Elementary School neighbourhood Tuesday, Jan. 19. (Contributed)
Moose chases two people near North Okanagan school

Conservation and dog control attending to the situation

The sale of the Kirschner Mountain Development for $22M marks the largest in Realtor history, in the Okanagan. (Contributed)
Kelowna mountain development sold for $22M

The sale of the 640-acre Kirschner Mountain development has made the history books

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
British Columbia government lax on cybersecurity practices, auditor reports

The audit did not highlight a specific threat, but it found breaches in cybersecurity are increasing globally

Most Read