Pikwakanagan – A retired member of the Canadian Armed Forces and former chief of the Algonquin First Nation at Pikwakanagan is one of several Indigenous military personnel being honoured in original portraits by a renowned Canadian War artist.

Wendy Jocko, a 23-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, is one of several Indigenous veterans being honoured in portraits by Elaine Goble, who several years ago, began painting  Indigenous veterans to honour their service.

Ms. Jocko’s portrait was unveiled at a ceremony last week in Ottawa to mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Croatia, where Ms. Jocko served on two separate occasions as a member of the United Nations peacekeeping force and the second with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Her first of two six-month deployments there was in the spring of 1993, at age 33, and she returned for a second deployment in 1998 at age 38.  

“I am extremely honoured to be here this evening participating in this anniversary marking 30 years of a solid diplomatic relationship between our two great countries based on common values around democracy and respect for human rights, “Ms. Jocko said at the unveiling. “I am also honoured, indeed humbled, at having my military service recognized by the unveiling of my portrait, for I was just one soldier among many that served.”

She thanked His Excellency, Vice Skracic, Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia to Canada for hosting the unveiling, and His Excellency, Gordan Grlic Radman, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs for the Republic of Croatia for his attendance at the event.

Her interest in the military began when she was just four years old when she saw a soldier on the streets of Petawawa, and decided she wanted to grow up to be like him. She also has a familial connection to the military, that dates back six generation to her paternal great-grandfather (times six), Pierre Louis Constant Pinesi, an Algonquin grand chief, who fought alongside the British in the War of 1812.

Four of Ms. Jocko’s great-uncles enlisted to fight in the First World War, and then, her father and five of his brothers in the Second World War.

Ms. Jocko joined the Canadian Forces when she was 19 and served for 23 years, before taking up other vocations, including as the chief of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation. Her son James, McMullin, now retired, was in the military as well.

“A lot of not just Algonquin people, but Indigenous people in general, took up active service during all the conflicts – because they were protecting their home,” said Ms. Jocko in an interview with the Globe and Mail for the unveiling. “But a lot of Indigenous soldiers were forgotten about as soon as they returned home.”

Several years ago, in an effort to highlight their service, Ms. Goble began painting Indigenous veterans. Ms. Jocko told The Leader she learned of the portraits in 2020, when she was invited to speak at the unveiling of the first portrait of veteran Phillip Favel at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. She said Ms. Goble had started a second portrait of veteran James Eagle, but sadly he passed away just last week. A third subject was selected, an indigenous member of the RCMP, but due to circumstances, that project was not followed through on.

Enter Helene Cayer, an Algonquin woman who was a former employee at the National Arts Centre, and who first suggested to Ms. Goble that she consider a series on Indigenous veterans.

“It was Ms. Cayer who approached me and said Elaine Goble would like to paint my portrait,” Ms. Jocko explained. “I thought oh my gosh, what an honour, and I said yes, of course.”

She said the plan was to showcase her family’s military history, right back to Grand Chief Pinesi, as well as her uncles from World War 1, her father, and her son, James.

“Helene called me a few months ago prior to the election (at the First Nation), I met with the Croatian ambassador, they told me of the 30th anniversary, and they asked me if I would come to say a few words. They wanted to have private unveiling and they did.

“It was just a photograph of the portrait, it’s not ready, it’s not framed yet, but it will be unveiled on November 8, with the full series of paintings, on Indigenous Veterans’ Day.   

That painting stands nearly two metres tall and shows Ms. Jocko in a bright red uniform, decorated with medals.

The sitting for the portrait was done about a month ago at Ms. Gobel’s residence in Ottawa.

“She took a series of photographs,” she said. “And I brought all the old photographs of my dad (Leo Jocko), my uncles, my son, and myself.

“My mother (Williamina McKay) was in the military as well,” she added. “She was in the Scottish Women’s Land Army and that’s actually how they met.”

She said while she has not yet seen the finished portrait, Ms. Jocko said Ms. Gobel was “very kind” for capturing a little bit of the younger woman that went overseas.

“I think it’s absolutely beautiful and never would have expected to have anything like this in my life.

“I’m very honoured and very, very pleased,” she added.

She believes the portrait will be in the possession of the National Library and Archive sof Cnada will have control over the portraits.

“They could be hung in Parliament or various locations,” she explained. “They’re not going to be put vault at the War Museum for nobody to see them.” 

“And she’s  (Ms. Cayer) to take them on a road show across Canada,” she added.

Ms. Jocko said it would be wonderful if the exhibit would make a stop at Pikwakanagan.

“That would be very fitting,” she remarked.

Ms. Jocko noted the First Nation has been working with personnel at the museum at Garrison

Petawawa to also showcase the Indigenous veterans.

Situation Tense In 1993

When Ms. Jocko arrived in Croatia in 1993, she said the situation was very tense in the country that had declared its independence from Yugoslavia two years earlier.

“We did have casualties in the Canadian peacekeeping force,” she recalled. “The Dutch contingent lost men while I was there.

“So we did have casualties, even though they say it’s peacekeeping, there’s obviously still the risk of casualties,” she added.

Ms. Jocko said however it is something she would definitely do all over again.

“It was my destiny really. I loved the military life, it’s certainly not for everyone, but I really enjoyed my career.”

In Croatia, Ms. Jocko travelled each day from Daruvar to Zagreb in her role as a local purchasing agent. But in her spare time, she settled into another routine: daily visits with a Roma family – a woman named Maria, along with her two young children and grandmother. They were living at the edge of a landfill in a small plywood dwelling. Ms. Jocko would bring them food and clothing in the morning, and in the evenings, they would often sit together around a little fire.

“I can’t speak the language. But what I have learned is that you can communicate with other people, even though you can’t speak,” Ms. Jocko said, noting that she learned of Maria’s story through the translator she worked with.

“You have a calling in life,” she said. “And mine was to help people.”

 Vice Skracic, the ambassador of Croatia in Canada, said at the unveiling his country had declared its independence from Yugoslavia about two years earlier.

“We had peacekeepers all over the place. A quarter of our country was occupied,” he said. “Not unlike what’s going on in Ukraine now, is what was happening to us in the nineties.”