Literature | Honour Song


In grade four

Mrs. Pony wrote Hanukah across the blackboard

And in front of the entire class

She asked me if she had spelled it properly

It was awkward

Because I didn’t know if she spelled it right

Because everyone else was starring at me

And I knew that they were wondering why she was asking me

I said that I thought it might be spelled with a C in the front

In grade seven

Mr. Vernor gave me a pep talk

For homework we were supposed to do an assignment on our family backgrounds

All week kids got up in front of the class and talked

I told him I wasn’t going to do the assignment

He implored that I had so much to talk about

He was visibly mad at me when I refused

I churned like a fast river over rocks

In high school

Mr. Richardson in Geography did a unit on Native Issues

I did a presentation on something

He stabbed questions at me trying to draw blood

I didn’t know what he wanted me to say

I didn’t have the answers


When a student asked if Indians got “free” University

He looked at me and replied, “If they can get in”



I got a shirt at a powwow

It had four hands reaching inwards

It represented the four directions




But I wore it at school

And a kid made fun of me

So I put it into the trash

To this day

My mom still mentions it

What ever happened to that nice shirt?

Remember you got it at that give-away?

You were wearing it in one of your school pictures!

What happened to that shirt?



We used to play this game

It definitely wasn’t fun

We’d take off our socks

In the dead cold month of January

Maybe it was a little bit fun

Our backyard was half an acre

Of snow

We’d race bare foot to see who could go farther

God dam god DAM God DAM DAM GOD dam it was fucking cold

Like razor blades across your eyes

If you couldn’t go any farther

You’d lie down on your back

With your feet in the air

Safe from the stabbing ice-blood-glass-shards

You might laugh or cry or freak


You still had to go back the way you came



Honour Song is a 4 minute audio-visual art piece inspired by the contributions Aboriginal peoples in Canada have made during the Second World War (and other wars). It is also inspired by their experiences of discrimination … It is my hope that this Song honours and highlights the experiences of Aboriginal veterans who had to cope with the difficult memories of war, while at the same time dealing with the fact that the Canadian Government did not honour their wartime efforts with equality. Honour Song draws upon the stories and recordings of seven Aboriginal veterans.

-Howard Adler

Editor’s note: Please be advised that this video contains graphic images that may be disturbing to some viewers.


Howard Adler  holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Indigenous Studies from Trent University, and a Master Of Arts Degree in Canadian Studies from Carleton University.  In 2009 Howard won the Canadian Aboriginal Youth Writing Challenge.  In September 2010 his documentary film “Niizaatikaang: Return to our Lands” was screened at the Biindigaate Film Festival.  Howard is currently the Co-Director of the Asinabka Festival, an indigenous film and media arts festival taking place in Ottawa in June 2012.  Howard is Jewish and Ojibwe and a member of Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation in North-western Ontario.  (His twin brother Nathan Adler also has a submission in the Indigenous Shtetl special edition.)