Cenotaph unveiled at Bonaparte First Nation on Remembrance Day

The cenotaph at Bonaparte First Nation commemorates missing and murdered Indigenous women. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)The cenotaph at Bonaparte First Nation commemorates missing and murdered Indigenous women. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
The cenotaph at Bonaparte First Nation commemorates the Band’s veterans. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)The cenotaph at Bonaparte First Nation commemorates the Band’s veterans. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
The cenotaph at Bonaparte First Nation commemorates the 215 unmarked graves found at the former Kamloops Residential School this past summer. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)The cenotaph at Bonaparte First Nation commemorates the 215 unmarked graves found at the former Kamloops Residential School this past summer. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
(from l) Bonaparte Councillor Neal Antoine; Kukpi7 Frank Antoine; Gerry Etienne; Const. Janice Stewart; Const. Ace Stewart of Bonaparte First Nation. (Photo credit: Bonaparte First Nation)(from l) Bonaparte Councillor Neal Antoine; Kukpi7 Frank Antoine; Gerry Etienne; Const. Janice Stewart; Const. Ace Stewart of Bonaparte First Nation. (Photo credit: Bonaparte First Nation)

Several dozen people gathered at Bonaparte First Nation on Remembrance Day, Nov. 11, to mark the unveiling of a cenotaph commemorating the 14 Bonaparte members who served in the military in wars throughout the last century.

The cenotaph, which also commemorates missing and murdered Indigenous women and those buried in the 215 unmarked graves discovered this past summer at the former Kamloops Residential School, has been in the works for almost a year, explains Karen Warren, a youth worker at Bonaparte.

“We got a grant for a cenotaph just before Christmas 2020, and began work on it June and July,” she says. “It started taking shape in August, and then we worked on it for four months.”

The cenotaph was created from a large boulder that has sat in the parking lot adjacent to the Band office since it opened several years ago.

“Elders said they wanted it to be a cenotaph, so we went looking for a grant,” says Warren. “We got input from Elders, from Percy Casper and Gerry Etienne.

“One residential school survivor said we should commemorate the 215, and they wanted missing and murdered Indigenous women there as well. We did a sketch of what we wanted, to go with the grant application, and it turned out better than we had hoped.”

A plaque with the names of the 14 veterans is on one side of the cenotaph, while red handprints on another side commemorate missing and murdered women. Yellow footprints on a third face of the cenotaph represent the 215 graves in Kamloops, and the fourth side has been left blank to commemorate any Bonaparte First Nation first responders who lose their life in the line of duty.

A medicine wheel will be added to the cenotaph, and Warren says that in the spring benches will be added to the site. They will have the names of Bonaparte First Nation residential school survivors.

Bonaparte First Nation Kukpi7 (Chief) Frank Antoine says the word that comes to mind about the cenotaph is knucwentws, which means “working together”.

“It’s the first time our community has ever really come together,” he notes. “People are starting to come out of their houses. We have more than 700 members off-community and they’re starting to come home for events, and getting involved with economic development like Hat Creek Ranch.

“We’re starting to form more relationships within the community and reaching out via social media to those outside the community, and there’s more transparency. When [this council] got elected in May we wanted to change the opportunities our community has, which seemed limited. Now we’re growing capacity. We were laying people off because of limited economic capacity, not growing it, and now we have close to 60 staff members.

“We’re getting community groups together like the Elders’ group, and moving down the road of building relationships and working within our territory to assert who we are as the Bonaparte, internally and in surrounding territories.”

Warren says that the first time everyone got to see the cenotaph was on Nov. 11, and the reaction was positive.

“Everybody loved it. One Elder said it took 30 years, but they’re happy that it’s done.

“We started a new tradition last year of picking someone each year to tell a story about their family in the war, to give us some insight, and this year it was Gerry Etienne. We had drummers, and we put up a sign and flags, and we had wreaths around it.

“I felt relieved, and also happy. It’s still a work in progress — it will have grass around it, and flower boxes, and some other finishing touches — but it was nice to see so many people come.”



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