As we look ahead to marking the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we at the Jewish Heritage Centre express our unequivocal support for the Calls to Action made by the National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation. We have a responsibility to do all we can to foster reconciliation and to firmly condemn the systemic racism that continues to be a stain upon our country.
As Canadian Jews, we identify with the injustices suffered by our Indigenous brothers and sisters. Like them, we remember the pain of racism and exclusion, as well as both recent and historical crimes committed against us, including the burial of millions of unidentified Holocaust victims in mass graves.
For far too long, a false narrative of the history of Indigenous peoples has been taught to generation after generation of Canadians, a history that ignored the genocide committed against our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
We acknowledge that the Jewish Heritage Centre is located on original lands of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation. We respect the Treaties that were made on these territories, we acknowledge the harms and mistakes of the past, and we dedicate ourselves to move forward in partnership with Indigenous communities in a spirit of reconciliation and collaboration.
We have searched our archives for photos we have acquired over the years that illustrate some of the earliest contacts between Jews and Indigenous peoples on the Prairies as well as other photos depicting Indigenous life on the Prairies. We also highly recommend reading David Koffman’s Immigrant Jews and Indian Curios: Four Expansions in the Canadian West, which was the 2014 winning submission of our Switzer-Cooperstock Prize in Western Canadian History.
Harry Flam and his family lived and worked in the town of Scanterbury on the Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation for three decades. Harry worked closely with the Aboriginal community and attempted to aid their economic development and to receive fair compensation for the resources being extracted from their land. The Flam children developed close friendships with the children from the First Nation, including a lifelong one with war hero Sgt. Tommy Prince.
Flam immigrated to Canada in 1929 and opened his general store in Scanterbury due to its proximity to Winnipeg. Later operating a mink farm and a brick factory in the community, he provided employment to dozens of members of the Ojibway Nation in each of the businesses. He attempted to act as a liaison with the settler community to try to develop land after seeing people being exploited during harvesting of natural resources. He also donated business supplies to development projects.
Harry’s wife, Rose, also provided social assistance to the community, donated clothing and organized the local Red Cross during World War II. Their daughter, Perle, said of Sgt. Tommy Prince: [he] “was the most decorated soldier in the Can.[adian] Army. He kind of grew up with us + as he received his medals he sent them to me. I returned them.” Prince served on multiple fronts during World War II in addition to service in the Korean War. In addition to his other decorations, he was one of only three people to receive both the Silver Star from the U.S. Army and the Military Medal from King George VI.