Keeshig dreamed of portraying First Nations war hero

It has been one of Keenan Keeshig’s life long dreams to play Francis Pegahmagabow. “I manifested this,” he said of his role in The Ace and the Scout where he plays the legendary Anishnaabe sniper.

Keenan Keeshig grew up in Shawanaga First Nation. He will represent legendary sniper Francis Pegahmagabow in the coming film “The Ace & the Scout.”  

Legendary WW1 sniper Francis Pegahmagabow had 378 confirmed kills making him the deadliest sniper of the First World War.

Despite being the mostly highly decorated Indigenous soldier in Canadian military history, Pegahmagabow is relatively unknown. He was an expert marksman and scout. He was awarded the military medal with two bars. He is credited with killing 378 German soldiers during the war, while also capturing 300 more.

The movie, which premiered in Sarnia and played to crowds at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia Saturday, centres around two Canadian privates who were inspired to enlist by the heroics of flying ace Billy Bishop. It is set in August 1918 on the Western Front in northern France and tells the true story of the turning point which led to the 100 Days Offensive, which led to the Armistice on Nov. 11.

The Canadian soldiers find themselves cut off from resupply after they take back a front line trench from the enemy. Pegahmagabow is among them as they fight to survive under these dangerous conditions.

“I have a lot of pride,” said Keeshig about taking on his first lead role in a movie. He hails from the same First Nation as Pegahmagabow, the Shawanaga First Nation. Writer and Director Aaron Huggett of Oil Springs consulted with Pegahmagabow’s family when he cast Keeshig in the role.

“It was a huge undertaking,” said Keeshig, a welder, steamfitter and father, who is currently studying social sciences in Indigenous studies at the Western University in London. His first acting role was as an extra in The Rez, which aired in the late 1990s. He was 11 years old at the time, but it gave him his first taste of acting.

Keeshig has been careful about taking on roles, not wanting to portray an Indigenous person in a negative stereotype. Since taking on the role of Pegahmagabow, he has been asked a lot whether the two are related as well, something that he just learned is true.

Being a part of The Ace and the Scout has lit a spark in him.

Before getting the role, it was an emotional time for him as Keeshig saw people around him struggling with drugs, suicide and family breakdown. The film has allowed him to go on a self healing journey, motivated him and given him new energy.

One of his future goals is to play Tecumseh, who he is an eighth generation descendent.

Keeshig would also like to study in the acting program at the University of Windsor in the future.

He wants to get into a mentorship role. He has been teaching a traditional land based program at Riverstone Resort near Durham. It is important for him to give back to the community.

By  THE INDEPENDENT Local Journalism Initiative Reporter. The LJI program is federally funded.




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