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Inuk veteran to receive military grave marker

Barriere Star Journal - 9/8/2018

A Nunavik Inuit veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces will be honoured for his service with a new military grave marker next year. Eddy Weetaltuk was a veteran of the Korean War and served 15 years with the Armed Forces. He died at home in Nunavik in 2005 at age 73, and was buried in the cemetery outside his home community of Umiujaq, along the Hudson coast.

Weetaltuk's gravesite is adorned with artificial flowers and a wooden cross, but at least one community member felt like something was missing—any mention of his military service. That's until Alan Patterson, a retired Umiujaq police officer and former Armed Forces veteran, wrote to the Prime Minister's office earlier this year to ask to have Weetaltuk honoured.

"I knew Eddy when I was a policeman here," Patterson said. "Eddy went to war for our country, and that's something that needs to be recognized. Every military member is entitled to a military grave marker."Patterson's request went unanswered for several weeks until he recently heard back from the Last Post Fund, which delivers Veterans Affairs Canada's funeral and burial program.

The Fund has agreed to design and deliver a marker to Umiujaq, which will be installed at Weetaltuk's grave site sometime in 2019. The granite slab will include Weetaltuk's name, rank, military unit and the motto "lest we forget." And it may be the first grave marker of its kind to be laid in an Inuit community; Weetaltuk is considered the first and one of the few Inuit to have served in the Canadian army.

"Inuit participation in the Forces isn't that high, besides the [Canadian] Rangers, so he may be the only one," Patterson said. "It just bothered me that as a veteran, he didn't have anything there." Weetaltuk was born on the land in 1932 and grew up with his family on the islands in James Bay—often in famine conditions.

At age 19, Weetaltuk went to Ottawa and used a fake social insurance card to join the first battalion of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. He hid his Inuit identity for many years and went by the name Eddy Vital. Weetaltuk trained as a mortar operator and served with the mortar platoon in the Korean War. He was later stationed at Armed Forces bases in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec, before he left the forces in 1967.

Weetaluktuk also wrote his autobiography, with the help of a Quebec anthropologist, which was published shortly after his death.

Edouard Pahud, the executive director of the Last Post Fund, said he's grateful that the Prime Minister's Office forwarded Patterson's email. "It finally got to us," Pahud said. "We call this an unmarked grave, where a veteran has died and his grave isn't properly marked. "Eddy's grave will be more dignified with one of our tombstones." Staff at the Last Post Fund will spend the next months gathering and verifying Weetaltuk's military history. Weetaltuk's grave marker is among the first—if not the only—one made for an Inuk veteran, Pahud said.

"There's not a great enough awareness that we exist," he said. "And that's a challenge we'd like to address."

 
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