Cpl. Hil­liard Paul Kah­peay­se­wat was given the nick­name ‘Un­kil­l­able’ by the Tal­iban. At home on Moo­somin First Na­tion, he’s known as Golden Ea­gle. On the Na­tional Day of Hon­our, we tell of his jour­ney from al­co­holism and poverty to the bat­tle­field

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On Sept 1, 2009, Cpl. Hil­liard Paul Kah­peay­se­wat was en route to Afghanistan, leav­ing Canada for the first time.

When he stepped off the plane, the tem­per­a­ture was a swel­ter­ing 55 C.

Six hours later, a rock­et­pro­pelled grenade ex­ploded in front of him.

“That’s when I re­al­ized it was real. These guys aren’t fool­ing around and I’m go­ing to have to pro­tect my­self,” he said. It wasn’t un­til later that he no­ticed his knee had been hit by shrap­nel.

Kah­peay­se­wat, the first Afghanistan vet­eran to come from the Moo­somin Re­serve near North Bat­tle­ford, was sta­tioned near the Pak­istani bor­der in South­ern Afghanistan in the Pan­jwai district. Part of his job was driv­ing an ar­moured ve­hi­cle. He spray painted an Au­to­bot sym­bol on it be­cause it looked like a Trans­former.

Over his nine-month tour, he was shot at re­peat­edly and drove over five im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices.

The Tal­iban gave him a nick­name — Un­kil­l­able.

Kah­peay­se­wat joined the army when he was 36. Al­though it had al­ways been a dream of his to en­list, it was only when the army con­tacted him af­ter Sept. 11, 2001 that he de­cided to sign up.

“I’m def­i­nitely one of the older guys to join, but I’m like 250 pounds of mus­cle … I’m a ma­chine,” Kah­peay­se­wat said.

At that time, he was work­ing odd jobs and strug­gling with al­co­holism.

“Ba­si­cally the war saved my life,” he said.

He was in­spired to join the army to pro­tect his nieces and neph­ews in Canada and help the people of Afghanistan, he said. It was also for him­self and his own peace of mind.

“(The re­serve) was not the health­i­est place to bring up a child; there is al­ways drugs and al­co­hol. People don’t think that you can get out,” said his sis­ter, Denise.

“It took a lot of guts, and now people see that if he can do it, so can they. It was a proud mo­ment for his fam­ily.”

In 2005, he picked up and left for train­ing in On­tario and Que­bec with­out telling any­one. Af­ter sev­eral gru­elling months that in­cluded many sleep­less nights, ob­ses­sively clean boots and long runs with heavy back­packs, he grad­u­ated near the top of his class. Then came Afghanistan. “At first I was re­ally gung-ho about it, and then I re­al­ized I could get killed and no one in my com­mu­nity or fam­ily knew,” he said.

He told ev­ery­one his plans when he re­turned to Moo­somin. Then he dis­cov­ered his brother Ja­son had cancer. He wanted to drop out to spend time with him, but his brother pushed him to stay in the army.

“Do this for me and for yourself. Show the youth what can be done, and be some­body,” Ja­son told him.

Be­fore he left, his com­mu­nity held a ban­quet and nam­ing cer­e­mony for him. Elders gave him the name Golden Ea­gle and of­fered him a feather which he wore or put on his ri­fle in Afghanistan.

Much of his time there was spent on re­con­struc­tion ef­forts, pro­tect­ing girls as they walked to school, and pa­trolling. One day, the vil­lage got elec­tric­ity and tele­vi­sion.

“Af­ter the TV came, you should have seen how many Fonzies popped up,” he said. “Leather jack­ets in the desert — come on.”

He got to know some of the lan­guage and would hang out drink­ing tea with the Afghan po­lice. They were fas­ci­nated with him be­cause they had never seen an abo­rig­i­nal per­son be­fore, he re­called.

“I taught them about the cul­ture. I showed them Dances with Wolves and they were shocked. I was a lit­tle celebrity. I couldn’t even go to the bath­room some­times,” he chuck­led. “I un­der­stood them be­cause they’re kind of like na­tives; they’re tribal.”

Kah­peay­se­wat spent sev­eral months liv­ing in a pla­toon camp with the Afghan people, sleep­ing out­side and pro­tect­ing them from the Tal­iban and wild dogs. Grow­ing up in Moo­somin, there was no run­ning wa­ter. In Afghanistan, wa­ter was so scarce he couldn’t take a shower for three months. When he called home, he would al­ways ask for baby wipes.

“It was 24/7 on alert for nine months. I was so played out at the end,” he said.

He didn’t see rain un­til his plane home first landed in Tren­ton, On­tario — and started do­ing a rain dance on the tar­mac. His army bud­dies laughed, but when they re­al­ized the lux­ury of clean, cool, abun­dant wa­ter, they ran out and joined him.

When he saw his fam­ily again in Ed­mon­ton, Ja­son — who has since died — ran up to him like a lit­tle boy to give him a hug, Kah­peay­se­wat re­called. His mom, Mary, said she was cry­ing like a river.

He is now con­sid­ered a hero in his com­mu­nity and is in­spir­ing chil­dren on his re­serve to think about join­ing the armed forces.

“He wanted to see the world. He was al­ways a dreamer,” said his mom, who at­tended a res­i­den­tial school and has over­come her own strug­gle with al­co­hol.

“Now, if he says he’s go­ing to the moon to­mor­row, I would just say, ‘Well, OK, let’s pre­pare,’ be­cause I know that he’s go­ing to do it. We know how to sur­vive — most people on the re­serve do. I’m proud of him and ev­ery­one in my fam­ily.”

In the army, Kah­peay­se­wat lost three friends who were like broth­ers to him. He is still re­cov­er­ing from post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der and has re­tired from the army due to his knee in­jury. To­day, he works the night shift as a se­cu­rity of­fi­cer at the Gold Ea­gle Casino in North Bat­tle­ford.

He hasn’t had a drink in two years.

“My goal right now is liv­ing. I might go back in the mil­i­tary,” he said. “Now I’m see­ing all this stuff about Rus­sia, and I’m hav­ing sec­ond thoughts.”

Cpl. Hil­liard Paul Kah­peay­se­wat says the army helped him turn his life around, to es­cape al­co­holism. ‘Ba­si­cally the war saved my life,’ he said


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