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Inuit teen proud to participate in Beaumont Hamel ceremony

Despite the notoriety of his great-great uncle, Ethan Shiwak did not know much about the history of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and its role in the First World War.

Ethan Shiwak of Rigolet is one of two Inuit teenagers who will participate in the Beaumont Hamel ceremony on July 1 in France.



That all changed when Tony Tibbo sparked an interest in him, and others in the Labrador area of Nunatsiavut. A group of 14 youth and three adult chaperones have embarked on a tour of England and France, and will be taking in the 100th anniversary ceremonies of Beaumont Hamel.

Not only has Shiwak of Rigolet taken an interest in the history of the war, but also the pride of his ancestry now resonates strong. John Shiwak was a notorious sniper with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, who was killed in battle in 1917.

Shiwak, 16, says his family has a great appreciation for what his great-great uncle was able to do and the sacrifice he made. They are also proud of him for participating in the trip, he said, and taking an interest in their ancestry.

“I found it pretty good learning about my Uncle John,” Shiwak said. “I didn’t know him before, so it is good to know about your culture and your relatives. Knowing he was in World War One makes it an even better experience.” 

Shiwak, along with fellow student Taylor Ivany, will recite in Inuktittut a verse of the “Commitment of Remembrance” during the July 1 Canada Day celebration at Beaumont Hamel. It was arranged through the federal Department of Veteran Affairs.

The young man said it is a great honour to recite the verse in his native tongue. It is a chance to share their culture with the world and in front of Prince Charles and other dignitaries.



Tibbo is a social studies and history teacher at Jens Haven Memorial School in Nain. However, this trip is not a school event, but something he is doing in the community because of his strong interest in Newfoundland and Labrador history.

He, like so many Newfoundlanders, also has a family connection to the First World War. His Great Uncle Horatio Barbour died at Beaumont Hamel on July 1, 1916. 

Tibbo is looking forward to visiting his gravesite at the Beaumont Hamel British Cemetery in Somme, France.

“Visiting his gravesite will be a bucket list item for me for sure,” he said.

That is the type of experience he hopes to share with each of the 14 youth he is taking on the trip. He said the role dozens of Inuit and Innu soldiers from Labrador played in the First World War are recognized, and the Nunatsiavut community has good reason to celebrate that.

Twitter: TC_CoryHurley

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