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We amplify marginalized voices and create meaningful work for those experiencing poverty

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Indigenous Generations Served

Mike McNeeley
Writer, Photographer

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”When they wake the lion up, it is going to growl.”

The comment on the war raging in the Middle East comes from Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) veteran Kelvin Bee.

“When America goes into other countries, they want to implement [the values of] their Constitution, but these countries already have their own. When you start deploying Canadians to other countries, Canadians get killed. We can’t go in and fix the problems unless other countries want us there. We need to help without sending guns. We need to bring people to the table.”

These are some of the suggestions Bee has on world affairs. The former master

sergeant in Canada’s Armed Forces is a 61-year-old Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation elder known as Howolcomees who now works at The Aboriginal Front Door Society in the Downtown Eastside. Bee’s father and grandfather were also in the military. His niece is currently serving as a peacekeeper overseas. Bee joined the RCAF in 1982.

“My father said, ‘Be loyal to the service.’ I wanted to be like my dad.”

While enlisted, Bee experienced a lot of racism. He was called a savage and an Indian.

“The people at the top tried to weed out the undesirables,” he said, adding he saw his non-Indigenous friends move up in the ranks ahead of him.

It was the support of his parents that kept him going and eventually, he was sent to Afghanistan to work as a re-fueller on C-130 aircraft.

“You don’t have to work at getting back to Earth real soon, if you make a mistake,” Bee quips about the powerful planes.

While there, he was asked to take part in a reconnaissance mission. The plane he was on was refitted with cameras and Bee was in charge of them. An aircraft that was sent out before his was blown out of the sky. Bee’s reaction to this is, “When you’re given an order, you need to follow it through. Why run away with our tail between our legs?”

During his mission, a missile hit the wing and his plane went into a wide curve. The captain made the decision to hit the ejection button. Bee was lying on the floor when it dropped out.

All 10 of the crew ejected with parachutes, nine survived. When Bee landed, he was captured and put into a crowded holding cell for four or five days. It was there that Bee a saw the horrible effects of chemical weapons. He was on a top secret mission and did not have identification. All Bee had to do to avoid torture and to ensure staying alive during the interrogation was to give his captors information about his mission, but he refused to talk, remembering his father’s teachings.

Eventually England and Canada negotiated his release, and Bee made it back home — keeping the RCAF secrets and himself intact.

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Mike McNeeley

Mike McNeeley

Writer, Photographer

Mike McNeeley was born in Kincardine, Ontario and moved with his family to Vancouver more than 45 years ago. He calls the Downtown Eastside home. Mike is a Megaphone vendor and avid photographer; he's had his images published many times in the magazine, Hope in Shadows calendar and Voices of the Street literary anthology. When he's not shooting pictures, Mike enjoys other creative pursuits such as sculpture and live theatre. He is part of The Shift peer newsroom team and member of the Binners Project.

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