Grief and pride are tearing at a northern Saskatchewan First Nation as band members say goodbye to two young soldiers and rising stars who were killed in separate car crashes on the same day.
Kyle Whitehead, a private in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, died Aug. 22 when a car he was driving on the Big River First Nation went into a ditch and rolled several times.
In another country thousands of kilometres away, another soldier from Big River, Sgt. Darby Morin, 25, who was serving with the U.S. Army, died in a vehicle rollover in Afghanistan.
“The young people that died here are certainly role models,” Chief Lawrence Joseph of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations said after Whitehead’s funeral Friday.
“This young man we buried made a choice to serve in the Canadian Army. He made a choice as a young person to do something, extremely dangerous work when we know that there are conflicts around the world, but he made that choice.”
Whitehead joined the Canadian Forces in August 2008 and was posted to Edmonton in June 2009.
At the military funeral held Friday, Joseph said about 1,000 people packed a hall to remember 23-year-old Whitehead. Tears flowed and young people clung to each other as they filed by the casket.
“I think they felt the pain because this guy was so celebrated . . . in the sense that he made a big impact not only in the First Nations country but in the lives of young people in general,” Joseph said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press.
The deaths also hit close to home for Joseph, who was born on the Big River First Nation and was related to both young men.
He was Whitehead’s great-uncle and Morin was the grandson of Joseph’s cousin.
Joseph said the family is in pain, but also proud.
“They feel extreme grief and in some respects I think they feel kind of . . . ripped off because it’s such young men, young people. But overall I could see and feel the extreme pride that my relatives feel,” said Joseph.
Whitehead was described as “a broker of friendship” — the kind of guy who could resolve conflicts. Morin was “a star right from day one,” said Joseph.
“He was somebody that wasn’t satisfied with just being Darby on the reserve. He was destined to do things and certainly he did. I think the excitement of travelling the world and actually being in combat is what moved him to go to the States and join up there,” said Joseph.
“Darby . . . wasn’t a chance taker but he was an adventurous young man. I knew that he was going to end up doing something great and that he did.”
“When he was 11 years old, Darby told his mother Irene he would make her proud some day when he joined the army,” says Morin’s obituary.
The nuclear, biological and chemical non-commissioned officer spent four years stationed at Fort Eustis, Va., before being transferred to Fort Drum, N.Y., in April 2008. He was deployed to the Charkh District in Logar Province, Afghanistan in December.
Morin and his wife, Veronica, had two sons, Christian, 3, and Blue Sky, 19 months.
His funeral will be held on the Big River First Nation this coming week.