New Indigenous spiritual symbols for military headstones are unveiled at the National Military Cemetery
From: National Defence
June 21, 2022
Today, during a solemn ceremony at the National Military Cemetery (NMC) at Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) unveiled the first two symbols representing Indigenous spirituality for military headstones. The two symbols are the First Nations Medicine Wheel and the Métis Infinity symbol.
In spring 2021, the NMC acknowledged the need to personalize the final resting place of Indigenous CAF members and Veterans in order to better represent their spirituality. A consultation process was launched in order to engage with Elders and Indigenous groups to ensure that appropriate signs would be selected.
The addition of First Nations and Métis spirituality symbols to the military headstones of the NMC is made with respect to the various traditions unique to Indigenous communities across Canada. The Commander of the Canadian Army and Defence Team Champion for Indigenous Peoples, Lieutenant-General Jocelyn Paul, had the honour of revealing the symbols during the ceremony, which was also attended by Brigadier-General Dyrald Cross, Commander of Canadian Armed Forces Transition Group, and Captain (Navy) Bonita Mason, Chief of Staff to the Canadian Armed Forces Chaplain General.
“The inclusion of the Indigenous spirituality symbols for military headstones is another important step toward reconciliation. Every step, every effort, and every change is meaningful and contributes to the larger journey of reconciliation between the Government of Canada and Indigenous Peoples. Changes like this one allow the greater Defence Team community to acknowledge the Indigenous communities’ rich history and embrace the unique qualities that Indigenous Canadian Armed Forces members have to offer.”
The Honourable Anita Anand, Minister of National Defence
“Throughout our history, First Nations and Métis people have been a vital part of Canada’s armed forces. Engraving their symbols on headstones recognizes the invaluable contributions made to Canada as a whole. I am incredibly proud to see these symbols take their rightful place among the choices open to serving members, Veterans, and their families.”
The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence
“As Defence Team Champion of Indigenous Peoples, the unveiling of the First Nations Medicine Wheel and the Métis Infinity symbol marking Indigenous Spirituality is an important step on our journey to reconciliation, where unique customs and traditions of Indigenous Peoples are respected and honoured. This inclusive change embraces the distinct qualities of Indigenous Canadian Armed Forces members and allows for an authentic and personalized expression of beliefs.”
Lieutenant-General Jocelyn Paul, Commander of the Canadian Army and Defence Team Champion for Indigenous Peoples
“Spirituality and resiliency go hand in hand for many Canadian Armed Forces members. All members have the right to practice their ancestral cultural and spiritual practices while serving Canada alongside their colleagues in the profession of arms. We are very honoured and grateful for the dedicated work of everyone who was involved in the consultation and selection process for the First Nations and Métis symbols.”
Captain (Navy) Bonita Mason, Chief of Staff, Canadian Armed Forces Chaplain General
- This is the first time in the National Military Cemetery (NMC) history that Indigenous spirituality symbols are officially approved to be engraved on military headstones.
- It is now possible for Indigenous Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members and Veterans to request that their Indigenous name be also engraved on their headstone at the NMC.
- There are eleven religious and spiritual symbols approved for engraving on military headstones at the NMC: Christianity (Cross), Judaism (Star of David), Islam (Crescent Moon), Buddhism (Wheel of righteousness), Hinduism (Om or Aum), Bahai (Nine Pointed Star), Sikhism (Khanda), Taoism (Yin-Yang), Wicca (Pentagram), Métis (Infinity Symbol) and First Nations (Medicine Wheel).
- Consultations with Elders and stakeholders are underway to determine the appropriate approach for the Inuit as their approach to spirituality and grief is different than that of First Nations and Métis. In some Inuit groups, the mourning process is very quick as life in the North is very challenging and it is important for survival that life goes on.
- The NMC was officially opened in June 2001. It is the resting place for all CAF members and Veterans whose death was either related to or not related to service, and have chosen to rest among their peers. Each grave also allows the inclusion of another deceased next-of-kin of the CAF member or Veteran.
- Only religious and spiritual symbols that have been authorized by the Office of the CAF Chaplain General are approved for engraving on headstones at the NMC.
- The NMC is part of Beechwood Cemetery in the National Capital Region and is managed in partnership by the Department of National Defence through the CAF Transition Group, Veterans Affairs Canada and Beechwood Cemetery.
Capt Stéphany Lura
Canadian Armed Forces Transition Group Public Affairs Officer
Department of National Defence