Award-winning short film Cree Code Talker exposed the value of the role when it was screened Jan. 18 in High Prairie.
Charles (Checker) Tomkins of Grouard was honoured in the film for his service in the Second World War.
More than 200 people gathered in the gymnasium at St. Andrew’s School to view the 14-minute film produced by Alexandra Lazarowich and Cowboy Smithx in 2016.
“We are ecstatic about the response from the community and we thank our invited and special guests,” says Jamie Chalifoux, success coach with HOSTS (Helping Our Students To Succeed), which co-hosted the event with the school.
“Recognizing our veterans is important,” says Jessica Richardson, teacher of Aboriginal studies at St. Andrew’s.
“Cree Code Talker is just the tip of the ice berg of what we don’t know about war and this opens the door for us to learn.”
Several special guests shared words about Tomkins and the film.
“We won watching this film,” says James (Smokey) Tomkins, 82, a brother, who spoke in the documentary along with brother Frank Tomkins.
As the two spoke on film, they described the character of Charles Tomkins who died in 2003 at 85 years of age.
“He was a great man and he gave his heart,” says James Tomkins.
Born in 1918, Charles Tomkins shared very little about his service as he took his sworn secrecy to the U.S. Air Force very seriously.
Tomkins was one of five Cree code talkers from northern Alberta.
He worked with the US Air Force and the development of the code talkers communication system as the Cree language was used as a vital secret weapon in combat.
With various scenes from the Grouard area and some oral recorded statements by Tomkins, the film has inspired his brother to spread the word about Cree code talkers who have not been recognized by the Canadian government.
“I think every area where Cree code talkers are from, I really think that the government and Legion need to present a plaque at the local Legion to acknowledge what they did to serve their country,” James Tomkins says.
Members of the Tomkins family, Aboriginal veterans in the region, and members of the Royal Canadian Legion and the Royal Canadian Air Cadets 539 High Prairie were among the special invited guests.
“If we don’t recognize those who fought for us, we will not have peace and the lifestyle we have today,” says Pearl Calahasen, mother of Lazarowich, and spoke on behalf of the co-producers who were unable to attend.
“They were never compensated for what they did.”
She specially acknowledged the Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta, which was a strong driving force behind the project to document Cree code talkers.
“It is an historical film,” says John McDonald president of the society.
“With our help, I hope this can be seen all across Canada.
“We forget so many who stand on guard, to keep us all safe.”
Words were also expressed from the High Prairie branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.
“This film shows that we have to remember,” president Don Ebbett says.
“Remember, the soldier’s greatest fear is not dying, but his greatest fear is being forgotten.”
One of Charles Tomkins’ close friends also shared.
“Checker would have been proud to see this,” says Louis Bellerose, a member of the Metis Nation of Alberta.
More screenings of Cree Code Talker and festivals will be posted on the Facebook Page at Facebook/CreeCodeTalker.